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To those who are fascinated by the situation in Ukraine

Paul Dza is a freelance reporter, who just came back from Ukraine and gave us this testimony of what he saw there. Not of the war in progress but of the way it is covered by western journalists on the ground.

Originally published by Lundi Matin. Written by Paul Dza. Translated by Riot Turtle.

This text is a testimony positioning itself in reaction to the fantasies that the Ukrainian conflict raises in some. Between bitterness and disgust, against the morbid fascination that rises.

First of all, I must clarify my position: working occasionally with a photo agency, I do not define myself as a journalist. Through photography, I can approach my favorite subjects located in the post-Soviet space. My work is based on observation, analysis and not on the illustration of “hot” news. As for each of my reports, I went to Ukraine after a careful preparation over many months.

Since February 24, when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the intensity of news coverage has not stopped. The destructive violence appears on our screens in a continuous accumulation of images, from unrecognizable bodies and cities to crowds of refugees as far as the eye can see. We have seen these scenes dozens of times before, and we could almost change them if it weren’t for the fact that the solidarity was… more distant. We speak of the “law of proximity” when it comes to our selective indignation, and it is not only geographical: it is also expressed by the speed of the information flows that are flooding us. It is thus the most morbid face of the technological advance which intervenes: everybody can directly experience the dramas of those of whom he or she was unaware of their existence until then. And move on to another page when the images are too similar to each other. In this incessant media flow, shifting the scale of suffering, what room is there for reflection? An unscrupulous agency owner recently declared in Le Monde that “for a young photographer, a conflict less than 2000 kilometers from home is still a professional opportunity”. It is therefore appropriate to remind those who, caught up in the heroism of the conflict and pushed by bosses without a conscience, would forget that war is still metal scrap and stone flying, lives and bodies affected, a part of humanity destroyed.

In Lviv, a large city in the west (of Ukraine, Enough 14), tripods and live cameras are everywhere, from the balconies of luxury hotels to the crowded platforms of the train station. It is uncomfortable when, in the chaos of the crowds, families trying to flee the war are dazzled by the flash of a television camera. Priority to live coverage. Between the air raid sirens, the locals try to live a normal life while these spectators of circumstances watch, snoop, get impatient. Refusing, for some, to accept the fact that they are useless in this romanticized conflict, many journalists blame this historical city, too ‘calm’ for their taste, far away from the images of the front. As a consolation, they try their luck on the morbid playground that is available to them, that of soldiers’ funerals. They have become a daily occurrence, allowing the cameras focused on the families to try to capture the suffering at all costs, with no regard for decency. I have seen families hustled, flowers crushed for an image that will end up on a memory card. When the coffins are opened, the cries of the mothers who bury their sons are quickly absorbed by the hubbub of the reporters who are in a hurry. These scenes accumulate, the climate is nauseous. In the crowd of journalists, many were standing back, “I can’t do that” whispering among the crackling cameras. What is left after the shame? Journalism is a profession that requires foresight. In this conflict, where independent reporters are left to their own devices, it is their responsibility to arrive with important background information in order to understand what is at stake in this situation. It is clear that this is not the case for all of them, so the question arises: how can you inform if you are not informed yourself? If you already see yourself saying that you “did Ukraine” rather than saying that you were there, go away. It is not a question of elitism but of humility towards the issue.

So, to those of you reading this, just ask yourself: what is it, if not the unhealthy reasons given by some, that you “don’t want to miss this moment”? The bosses don’t care about your lives, as long as there is “material”. In a profession where some media groups and agencies are constantly pushing for competition, where you have to prove yourself for a few hours of appreciation, we must point out the remarkable commitment of journalist Laura-Maï Gaveriaux to equip freelancers on the ground. In this nauseous climate, everything depends on helping each other facing exploitation.

So inform yourself, avoid the images that accumulate and only cultivate a trivialization of raw violence. Read and listen to those who provide their knowledge through precise analyses. Rather than experts on TV shows, fascinating researchers are there to provide you with their keys to understanding in real time. The only thing that fascinates is what you don’t know. So don’t let yourself be swallowed up by the unhealthy noise of images or by the competitive pressure for up-to-date news. Is it worth it to come back traumatized because you have been there or to feed cheap image databases?

A moving thought to those who paid with their lives for the coverage of this conflict. A thought also to the many Ukrainian volunteers and journalists, for whom the war was not a choice.

Paul Dza

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