Journalists have many essential jobs, and with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, we are witnessing their toughest assignment of all. Being a war correspondent is the life-risking assignment it looks like. The journalists now reporting from Ukraine these days are often in the line of fire with tanks rolling near them, scattered gunfire all around and war planes overhead. War correspondents answer to a select calling that requires bravery and a commitment to a mission that is closely aligned with the soldiers they share a battleground with.
As with so many other previous modern-day wars, these journalists are now bringing the photos, dispatches and daily casualties to our TV screens and newspaper headlines. Without these war zone journalists we would be left only with the propaganda of Moscow and the limited daily briefings from our own Pentagon. Once again, facts matter. During wartime, journalists don’t pick sides, only the truth.
There are several reasons we care about what is happening in Ukraine, even from our safe haven of Sonoma County. Many of our families have active military men and women in Europe and within close contact with the war’s logistics, support outposts and with a heightened posture of readiness.
Sonoma County is also home to many Ukrainian and a community of Eastern European immigrants. We have become surprised by how many of our neighbors have ancestral, business and other ties to Ukraine and its surrounding region.
Sebastopol World Friends, a nonprofit association founded almost 40 years ago, recently shared several first-hand accounts with readers of SoCoNews from its sister city of Chyhyryn, Ukraine. “There may be very little that we can do to influence this situation other than to understand it, let our elected officials know that we care and send our best thoughts,” said Steve Levenberg, of Sebastopol World Friends. “One tangible way that you can do that, if you are inclined, is at #StandWithUkraine.”
Levenberg talked about the many technological and war-related obstacles for having clear communications with friends and others in Ukraine. Often, only the few minutes of evening TV news lets concerned friends and families know what is happening on the ground in the many parts of Ukraine now under siege by invading Russian armies.
Sonoma County has never been the location of any war or prolonged battles but it has been “visited” by scenes of war many times. Newsreels were shown in local movie theaters during World War II with film and narratives mostly sponsored by our own government and usually showing the enemy in retreat.
War coverage changed during the Vietnam War when war correspondents began questioning daily body counts and our U.S. generals’ claims of a “winnable” war. An “underground” press emerged in the 1960s and fueled years of massive war protests all across America.
The “shock and awe” images from the 1991 Gulf War (Operation Desert Shield) boosted the TV ratings of CNN but didn’t do much to warn us that we would soon see more pictures of war in Iraq just a decade later in 2002.
Now, thousands of Sonoma County TV sets are tuned into the nightly images from Ukraine. The eyewitness reports of the war correspondents seem to be drowned out by studio analysts telling us we are either headed to a World War III or that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is either a “genius” or a mad man. If this is how a world war gets started, we all have front row seats.
We are grateful for the first-person reporting of the Ukraine war correspondents. They are part of a profession and industry that is facing historical challenges of reduced staffing, resources and financial support. We don’t mind if they give a war and nobody comes. But if there is going to be a war, we want independent journalists to be there and telling us what is really happening from the battlefield and the war rooms.