Live from Ukraine – The Hindu

How Ukrainian civilians are using Instagram to show the world lived realities of the ongoing war

How Ukrainian civilians are using Instagram to show the world lived realities of the ongoing war

Every Sunday at 9.30pm IST, a pink halo comes around the Instagram account @travelingchapati as its owners go live. Kristina Masalova and Eugene Petrus — a Ukrainian couple who are parents to an Indian indie dog named Chapati — appear alongside their pet to update their followers on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. Based in Kyiv, the couple’s weekly streams attract followers from all over the world, particularly India. One of their latest streams discussed how power outages in Ukraine can affect them. 

What was once an account dedicated to tales about Chapati (who is also a record holder for being the most travelled dog in India and Ukraine) and travel content, now showcases the destruction in their home country. Like Masalova and Petrus, many other Ukrainians are using Instagram to show people the realities of war, one that is different from cold, hard facts or mere numbers and statistics reported in mainstream news. 

An illustration by Yev Haidamaka about the number of missiles fired by Russia in Ukraine since February 24, 2022.

An illustration by Yev Haidamaka about the number of missiles fired by Russia in Ukraine since February 24, 2022.
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Artists as reporters

For example, Ukrainian illustrator Yev Haidamaka’s (@yevhaidamaka) posts are colourful and whimsical artworks but the captions also paint pictures of personal stories and current events on the frontline. As Yev puts it, “After the war I became a mini news channel.” 

Following a similar strategy is Orest Zub (@orestzub), a Ukrainian who was a blogger and marketer in his pre-war life. Since February 24, the 34-year-old has taken to reporting on the war on Instagram and YouTube, posting his captions in English instead of Ukrainian to widen his reach. Orest’s take differs from news reports as he adds a human layer to the news, bringing forth the perspective of the civilians. 

Orest Zub reports the war from Ukraine on his Instagram and YouTube accounts

Orest Zub reports the war from Ukraine on his Instagram and YouTube accounts
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

In a post about Trostyanets, a city in North Eastern Ukraine, Orest adds a carousel of pictures, including a local sipping coffee against the backdrop of a charred building. Recounting his visit, Orest’s caption explains how life has paused in the town. “We found only one operating pizza place in a town with 20,000 residents… Young boys play, making check points on the streets, collecting donations for the Ukrainian army…”  

“Unless you go to the area, you don’t understand it fully,” explains Orest in a video interview. “I speak to people and also touch upon the history and background of the place affected. People then have a prelude to understanding the topic and area, more than knowing ‘the bomb fell here.’” 

Political battles

Orest, Kristina, Eugene and Yev’s Instagram updates serve as grim reminders: The war is not showing any sign of ending. But while soldiers fought on land, air and sea, these regular folks took to raising their voices on social media. Julia Singh, who now lives in Germany with her Indian-origin husband and child, for instance, founded Voices of Ukraine (@voicesofukraine), a collective that brings Ukrainian perspectives into English and German-speaking space. 

In March, an article in The Guardian questioned if the Russia-Ukraine war was the world’s first social media war. Most would agree. Julia, in fact, labels it an “informational battle for perspective.” The Ukrainian arsenal of words, art, photographs and videos online fight bots and engagement rates.

Kristina Masalova and Eugene Petrus with their pet Chapati

Kristina Masalova and Eugene Petrus with their pet Chapati

Changing realities

The lives of these Ukrainians have seen a stark change since before and after February 24, 2022. Their Instagram feeds too are a reflection of that. To talk about anything else made no sense, says Orest.

First came the shock, he explains, and then the adrenaline. “In the beginning you are productive. I didn’t want to do anything related to marketing then, my focus was just the war,” he says.

A war may play out on a country’s frontlines but its effects bleed into the lives of civilians as well. For Orest, there’s a palpable dissonance every time he returns from covering an affected city or town. “In a war zone, your tasks are simple. You wake up, drive to a place, film and document what is happening, then get to a safe place to eat and sleep,” he details a day in his life as a newly turned citizen journalist.

It’s after returning to a more stable situation that the autopilot mode turns off. Here, simple actions like drinking coffee, paying bills or buying a train ticket took Orest time to adjust. “It all looks insignificant. How can someone drink coffee when someone else is in a trench?” says Orest, who says it takes a couple of weeks to reorient himself. For the time being, he doesn’t see himself returning to being a marketing professional.

For Yev too, the change to becoming someone who publicly expresses political views happened overnight. “We had to forget what we did before. I’d say we are slowly coming back now, trying to find the balance. Nobody can talk about such difficult things non-stop,” she says.

Kristina and Eugene also changed their strategy of posting from daily updates to weekly ones. “We realised the war was going to go on for long and not everyone wanted the day-to-day news,” says Eugene, who feels like he has lost his future to the war. “You can’t have dreams, ideas or plans. Simply because you don’t know if you will even be alive,” he says.

The live streams then became both therapeutic and a way to tell the passage of time. “Sometimes we can’t sleep or we hear sirens all night. Without a job there’s also no schedule. But the streams happen at the same time every Sunday and that gives us some stability,” says Kristina.

In each conversation one sees how these Ukrainians define themselves in two ways: Who they were before, and who they are now.

Relationships are a part of this change too. One of the hardest parts for Julia was to watch her international friends look the other way. “You realise that sometimes strangers instead share your values and you become friends with them much faster. My social circle is expanding and I can imagine that it’ll have more new faces than old,” she says.

Each of them agrees that there is a sweeping wave of support. Every comment that expresses interest in knowing more keep Eugene and Kristina regular with weekly live streams. Channelling her despair into action helped Julia find a like-minded support system online. Yev too found hope in the kind words of strangers. “It always made me feel like things will eventually get better, no matter what,” she says.

That’s a belief Ukrainians hold onto feverishly. “Stay with Ukraine and keep this topic on your agenda,” says a confident Orest. “Consider coming here after the war is over, it’s a beautiful country and we believe we will be stronger after this ends.”  

An Instagram post uploaded by Yev Haidamaka about the war completing 100 days.

An Instagram post uploaded by Yev Haidamaka about the war completing 100 days.

Julia Singh, the founder of Voices of Ukraine

Julia Singh, the founder of Voices of Ukraine

An Instagram post by Orest Zub

An Instagram post by Orest Zub

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