Highlighting humanity when covering Ukraine

Roxy Toporowych Lorino discusses Ukraine’s history and her work as a Ukrainian-American filmmaker Saturday March 12, 2022. Photo by Elena Eberwein.

By Elena Eberwein

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, social media has been abuzz with the potential that this conflict may turn into World War three. 

“I would rephrase that to say, it’s here,” said Andrew Nynka, Editor-in-Chief of Svoboda and Ukrainian Weekly.

Nynka and award-winning Ukrainian-American filmmaker Roxy Toporowych Lorino became emotional in a workshop Saturday morning while discussing the state of Ukraine and the conflicts they have witnessed leading up to the recent invasion. 

They knew each other as children, growing up in the Ukrainian Diaspora in the United States. They attended Ukrainian summer camp and ski camp together. “It’s a tight-knit community,” said Toporowych Lorino. 

Andrew Nynka discusses the history of Ukraine and his experiences living there during the Orange and Maidan revolutions March 12, 2022. Photo by Elena Eberwein.

Both Nynka and Toporowych Lorino witnessed the Maidan Revolution, or Revolution of Dignity, in 2014. Clashes during this conflict led to the death of 108 protestors and 13 police officers. Nynka said he is haunted by the sound of sniper bullets hitting wooden shields. 

“Hearing an 18-year old kid call his mom and say mom I love you, we’re going forward,” said Nynka as his voice cracked. He said being captured by the Russian military is his worst fear. He has seen how ruthless the Russian military can be firsthand.

Nynka said to imagine being a Ukrainian in Ukraine in this present moment. Men from age 18 to 60 have been asked to stay in the country. Women are left making the decision of whether they want to leave their families. Nynka said many elderly grandparents are thinking “This is my land. Where am I going to go?” 

If your grandparents aren’t planning to leave, families have to decide if they are willing to leave their relatives behind.

“Nobody wants to be a refugee,” said Toporowych Lorino.

The trailer for Toporowych Lorino’s feature film “Julia Blue” left her wiping tears from her eyes.

“I’m sorry they’re all still there and I just worry about everybody,” she said referring to her cast and crew.

Toporowych Lorino has created a war room in her home. She tracks the Julia Blue cast and crew and her Ukrainian family members on a wall map. Each morning when they text her their status and location she updates the map. 

She has worked to raise money to send to a friend who has become a blacksmith during the conflict. Her friend welds the poles to hold IV bags. She also sends money to family members who sew balaclavas and mesh netting to use as protection on the front. 

“This war is such a big monster,” she said, “ I just had to think what can I do that I can actually do.”

Nynka said when it comes to covering Ukraine student journalists should remember, “You don’t have to solve the world’s problems, you have to have a passion.” He said there are so many ways to cover this story, students should look for new angles in their own communities. He also said to advocate with editors to be able to go deeper with human sources.

Students line up to ask the speakers questions after the workshop. Photo by Elena Eberwein.