Fixers - The Unsung Heroes of the War in Ukraine
Free Press Unlimited has been supporting journalists and fixers in Ukraine in growing numbers since the start of the war, through our Media Lifeline Ukraine initiative. We decided to interview a renowned Ukrainian fixer to get an idea of what their biggest needs are right now. The fixer’s name will not be mentioned for safety reasons.
For those who care about independent journalism, there is every reason to support fixers during these challenging times.
In a nutshell, why is providing support to fixers important?
Because Ukrainian fixers do not enjoy the same ‘care package’ as foreign journalists from institutions. For example, if Ukrainian fixers get injured during their work assignments, they will be solely responsible for their medical bills.
It would be amazing if they would be taken care of, and to know that in case something happens to them at work, they will be taken care of too. Because both journalists and fixers in Ukraine are getting injured and are getting killed.
Do Ukrainian fixers have official work spaces to go to right now?
I travel with a suitcase and I’ve been living with it for months. I’ve been living with journalists in hotels that they rent, or I rent something myself or couch surf at friends’ places.
A fixers’ work requires a lot of research, it is not just fieldwork, but also the preparation for the fieldwork. For that, you really need a space to put your laptop and have a secure wifi connection.
Before journalists come to Ukraine, they often contact us and ask us to lay some groundwork for them: find some leads, some stories, some contacts. For all of that, you need to take a lot of phone calls.
As things are at the moment, I am doing those calls from coffee shops. It sounds super fancy- but sometimes those people are on the frontline, or high-standing officials, and you don’t want to be interrupted by a barista. Or you simply do not want to be overheard.
And with the dramatic stories that they might be telling you, you need a quiet space to just be able to listen to them with respect.
There is a media center in Lviv which is very helpful. But in Kyiv, as far as I know there is no infrastructure like that available to fixers.
Does the work of a Ukrainian fixer help to curb Russian state propaganda?
Basically all true reporting from Ukraine, all high-quality journalism that stays true to the facts, helps to curb Russian-state propaganda.
Ukrainian fixers by virtue of being on the ground and being the eyes and ears for Western media, help to shed some light on what is going on here. It is crucial that they work in tandem with international journalists, because often the trust in local written Europe/US read journalists is much higher than those on the ground. We are believed to be somehow biased or emotionally affected by the war which is true but which does not prevent us from reporting on what is happening here. So it is crucial that we work together with Western media. We provide context, fact checking, stories, contacts, and the Western media are our outlets, our channels for bringing this information to the world.
Where is the focus for fixers right now in this constantly changing climate/are there many Ukrainian fixers at work right now?
There are still international journalists here in Ukraine and they still require the help of local fixers. What is changing day by day is that fixers are becoming more and more experienced. Equivalent to war correspondents.
It is becoming more and more difficult to work as a fixer in Ukraine without being exposed to the dangers from the frontline territories. So these people do need proper infrastructure, insurance and training to report from there – especially in very high risk territories.
Naturally, people are quite diverse and have different motivations for going into fixing. Some of them have lost jobs and the Ukrainian economy imploded by the war. Others are interested in the money, using their skills and local knowledge so they can earn money. Others are more interested in knowing the truth about Ukraine.
Why is working as a fixer so risky? Why is the role so important?
We accompany journalists on the front line, we accompany journalists under enemy fire- anything can happen. Ukrainian fixers do not get institutional support- they’re on their own.
Context is key here. Foreign journalists come into Ukraine without linguistic skills and without contextual knowledge. We need local fixers to help those foreign journalists understand the history of this fight, the cultural implications, the resonances and the longevity of this fight. They need someone to inform them about the political complexities of Ukraine because otherwise they would just be applying Western patterns of understanding and they would be in the wrong.
What kind of support do fixers need most right now?
What is lacking: tactical medical trainings that would run on a regular basis for people who accompany journalists on the frontline. Other kinds of professional development trainings would also be very useful. And some kind of life insurance in case they get injured or upheld on their assignments.
Lastly, workplaces where journalists have access to secure communication are necessary in the current situation in order to maintain independent journalism and ensure safe practice of professionals.