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Sat Sep 23, 2023, 02:13 PM Sep 23

Women Reporting on Ukraine for WaPo Win IWMF's Courage in Journalism Award

(heartbreaking, inspiring, important)

Women Reporting on Ukraine for WaPo Win IWMF’s Courage in Journalism Award
9/18/2023 by Max Fallon-Goodwin
The International Women’s Media Foundation honored the women of the Washington Post covering the Russian occupation of Ukraine, with its coveted Courage in Journalism award.

People in Kherson, Ukraine, celebrate on Nov. 12, 2022, after Russian forces withdrew from the region. (Wojciech Grzedzinski for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On Feb. 21, 2022, Siobhán O’Grady of the Washington Post boarded a flight from Cairo, Egypt, to Kyiv, Ukraine. Rumors had been swirling for weeks that the Russian invasion was imminent. But that did not prepare O’Grady for what would happen next: Just three days after arriving in Kyiv, Ukraine was under a full-scale attack, and she would spend the next seven weeks in the basement of her hotel. This year, the International Women’s Media Foundation honored O’Grady, chief Ukraine correspondent, with the Courage in Journalism award, along with several other women from the Washington Post reporting from Ukraine—including Ukraine bureau chief Isabelle Khurshudyan, video journalists Whitney Shefte and Whitney Leaming, contributing photojournalist Heidi Levine, Baghdad bureau chief Louisa Loveluck, national security reporter Missy Ryan, Bogotá bureau chief Samantha Schmidt, Berlin bureau chief Loveday Morris, contributing photographer Kasia Strek.

An estimated 20,000 to 50,000 women are enlisted in the Ukrainian military, but regulated to “women-specific roles,” they rarely see combat. The lack of gender diversity in combat zones has led to unique difficulties for women journalists. Despite her years of experience in combat zones, Khurshudyan said she still has to pass a proverbial “ability check” when she reports from the frontline.
“What’s frustrating to me is that men [soldiers] might take me less seriously, or won’t take me to the frontlines because I’m a woman,” she said. “That aspect definitely exists, that definitely happens. You have to try and show your credentials. Other women will try to slip in other work they’ve done.”

. . . . .

Washington Post correspondent Isabelle Khurshudyan with her great-aunt in Odessa, Ukraine. This photo was included in an essay by Khurshudyan, “I always dreamed of visiting my ancestral home of Odessa. But not like this.” (Whitney Leaming / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
. . . . .

The friendships with local Ukrainians that developed carried a kind of trauma; grief is a communal experience. As the journalists became more enmeshed in their communities, they watched as their new friends processed loss and took on a part of the pain. Khurshudyan said that at times, “separating the difficulties of being at war and the impact of that and the professional detachment you need as a journalist can be difficult to maneuver but at the same time we’re in the thick of it and that makes the reporting stronger.” O’Grady’s journalistic passion lies in “human-centric stories”—an ethos seemingly shared by the other women reporters from the Washington Post covering Ukraine. O’Grady said being a woman in journalism opens doors that may be closed to her male peers. “The benefit of working as a woman is the gift of being welcomed into women’s lives here.” This style of storytelling really shined in Shefte and O’Grady’s coverage of a “bunker” maternity ward in Kyiv which centered on the humanity of expectant couples as they waited for birth and contemplated the potential loss that lingers in the minds of every Ukrainian since the beginning of the occupation. She described the atmosphere of a wartime maternity ward as “birth and joy amid horrific suffering.”
. . . . .

Stories of motherhood, soldiers, civilians, grandparents, dogs, cats, and even the politicization of Aperol Spritz interweave in their storytelling, giving readers a better understanding of the vastness of living through a modern war.

Amongst the rubble, these women were able to uncover beauty, humor and humanity—which is perhaps best exemplified through the story of an older Ukrainian woman that stayed in her dilapidated building after a bombing that said she’d “rather sh*t outside in Ukraine than use the bathroom in Russia.” Or through the young soldier learning to use an AK-47 for the first time that said he hadn’t used a gun but had played Call of Duty. O’Grady is a testament to IWMF’s impact on women journalists; she credits IWMF with her career. When she was 23, she applied for a grant through IWMF. Despite her lack of experience, the organization took a chance on her. She went on a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she gained experience in foreign correspondence and went through their hostile environment training. This cemented her interest in this style of journalism and set her up on a trajectory that led to her full-circle career and winning the Courage in Journalism award along with her peers from the Washington Post.

The IWMF relies on donations to keep fighting for women journalists. You can donate here (https://impact.iwmf.org/give/177175/#!/donation/checkout).

If you want to attend this year’s award reception gala in DC, NYC or LA, you can learn more here (https://www.iwmf.org/awards/courage-in-journalism-awards/).

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