Crimea is becoming a footnote, but footnotes are also reference points — Dr. Hiepko-Odermann

29 / 12 / 2021

“ …. I’ve been on TikToK for a year and I’ve got 15,000 mostly Ukrainians that are getting information from me in English. And they’re actually learning English. And I have a teenager myself and I saw how her social media consumption was and how she was really into TikTok and I did it at first to see what it was all about.”

Dr. Kari Hiepko-Odermann on her Karistocracy TikTok channel covers the events on the international arena that concern Ukraine. She explains the essence and meaning of those events with knowledge, understanding and at the same time, in simple language. We could not resist the temptation to talk to her and discussed issues of how Crimea and Ukraine in general are covered in the media, what issues are raised and in what vein they are covered.

O.:  Recently we conducted monitoring on foreign media: USA media, British media, some European media, like French, German. And we came to some conclusions, so we’d like to ask you a few questions, to verify if our observations match the reality.

According to your experience, how are events in and around Crimea covered in media after seven years of occupation. What we noticed was that there is usually a really brief, like 3 lines, mention “since in 2014 Russia annexed Crimea and helped the separatists in East of Ukraine”. So what impression or what picture of this conflict do people in North America or Europe have about what has been happening?

K.:  You’re right, there’s always at the end of an article, if it’s in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, at the bottom, last paragraph: “In 2014 Crimea was illegally annexed by Russia”. It’s there. It’s kind of like how to wrap up a story. It’s three, maybe four sentences at best. It’s important, however, how in journalism they write in an inverted pyramid with the facts at the top and the not so important information at the bottom. And it’s been relegated to the not so important information, something that is what it is and it can’t be changed. It is, however, starting slowly to be used as the prime example for why this Russian troops buildup in Eastern Ukraine should not be tolerated, because it is showing a pattern. And that is a relatively new trend that I I’ve been seeing maybe in the last three or four weeks.

You have to remember though that it was quiet and there were troops building up early in November. And US CIA director did visit Moscow, did talk with his counterpart. Secretary Antony Blinken was at the NATO meetings and the OSCE meetings in Europe last week [note – December 1]. But there was a lot of scrambling on the side of the Americans, when they realized it wasn’t only troop buildup, but there were also people that were being brought in – and that could actually lead an invasion. It wasn’t just soldiers and equipment like last time, there has been some statements, some indications that it really made the Americans think twice, and their allies and partners, what was going on because of who was being moved in position.

 This is what has given all of this a different atmosphere, and of course they look at 2014 and they see some of the same patterns.

So yes, I agree with your assessment that Crimea is becoming a footnote. But a footnotes are also reference points. And this is people starting to bring that forward again.

O.: What we found that now the main topic is this call of Biden and Putin. Two weeks ago and a week ago the main topic was the troops near the borders of Ukraine [note – end of November]. And I guess it was in July or at the end of June, when the incident with this British Defender and positions about that of Russia, Europe and America were covered in all media.  But mainly media are not covering any other topics in and around Crimea like violation of human rights etc..

K.: No, they’re not.

O.: Eventually, why and how the news agenda for this media is built like? Is only the topic of this pre-sharp stage of conflict important? Because the for example in media about Taliban now in Afghanistan there are some mentions about the human rights, what changed, what they have prohibited etc. But with Crimea, nothing from inside comes out.

K.: Well, the United States isn’t involved in Crimea and sometimes they guide the media narrative.

It also could be with the information that’s coming out of Crimea. People aren’t always necessarily sure which sources to trust. And you know if you speak with some people, they’ll say that allegedly most Crimeans are happy and the referendum had 90% of the people who wanted to go to Russia. And things like that. They used the West own weapon of saying it was a Democratic decision.

I think sometimes with the information coming out of Crimea people are not always trusting the sources. How many Ukrainian journalists are actually going into Crimea and reporting things?

I do know that sometimes the Kyiv Post and the journalists of Kyiv Independent reported twice on things happening in Crimea in the past two weeks of people being jailed [note – mass detentions of Crimean Tatars in November]. So I’m sure it’s frustrating for an organization like yours because of what’s happening there. And how powerless you feel.

O.: Eventually it was my next question, what sources of information do media rely on. Do they only use the official position of the government, like official position “we are supporting Ukraine”. Or they also use some other official positions? Or is there any type of verification of information or maybe cooperation with some organizations who cover the topics of Crimea?

Because there is a huge flow of misinformation and Russian propaganda and eventually pro-Russian propaganda, which at some points is even more dangerous. So do they somehow verify sources or they just go with “We are not sure so we do not touch this topic.”

K.: I think journalists need to err on the side of caution, and they’re not getting first person sources. They’re getting indirect sources.

I think that you have to look at this in terms of the normalization of behavior to understand it. And this is this is a tool of the Kremlin and administration in Russia: something becomes normal and then you ratchet it up  and then when it’s actually a big thing people still connect it to this normality that has been developed. So this is how normalizing is used psychologically to get people to accept this. And the same thing can happen with journalists. I mean, when people were being arrested two years ago, it was inconvenient for them and it was an infringement on their human rights. People are still being arrested and it’s scaling up. But it’s the same story. It’s still wrong, so that might be why the media isn’t reporting it.

O.: And eventually, Crimean Platform was launched in August and, as it was declared, the purpose was “to return the topic of Crimea to international agenda”. And in your opinion, after three months, was this goal achieved? Did something change on both levels: on the level of official positions of governments, like international level of communication, and on the level of media.

K.: I would be reluctant to give any organization or action credit for anything that’s changed. I would say something has changed, but that has more to do with between Russia, the Kremlin, and other world leaders.

Again I don’t know if anything Ukraine has done has changed people’s view. It’s more, unfortunately, about what’s going on with Ukraine through other people doing. I mean look at the Minsk Agreement is being mentioned in the last 48 hours again and again in the media [note – first week of December]. And this was something set up by France and Germany, and oftentimes I feel like Ukraine didn’t even really have a good seat at the table. Somebody else deciding things for Ukraine. And that, unfortunately, seems to be also in terms of people understanding you or the relevance of Ukraine in the Crimean situation. It’s other people deciding how important it is.

O.: Are the messages from Ukraine heard in information fields and does eventually Ukraine cope with delivering the messages?

K.: No, I know I can tell you right now – Ukraine could do better.

They have the message, but they have to depend on outside amplifier. It’s not working for them alone.

O.:  What should probably Ukraine change in information policy or sources of communication, etc.?

K.: They haven’t been successful yet. And I don’t think they’re going to be successful on their own.

And that has to do with the history of Ukraine – things being decided for Ukraine. They’re somewhat of a shadow of that on any issue involving Ukrainian politics.

I would say they would look for strong international partners.

If I was Ukraine, I would look at Australia. I would look at Canada. I would look at countries that have a large Ukrainian diaspora. In Canada, 3% of Canadians claim to be Ukrainian, I believe. There’s a diaspora also in Australia. Ukraine should have strong democratic partners who have a good record in human rights. And they should work together with them to amplify what’s going on, because they’re not managing on their own.

There also needs to be discussions of the regional and global geopolitical relevance of Ukraine.  Because that will then bring the importance of the illegal annexation of Crimea more to the forefront also. This that would be my advice.

As well I was going to say I think it’s really hard to have much of a political relationship with Ukraine when you are often sitting across the table from Ukrainian politicians that may or may not have corruption cases against them. And oftentimes I marvel at the amount of patience Western outside governments have had with Ukraine because there’s often this attitude where Ukraine will do the very most minimum to get the support it needs, if it’s from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank. If it’s fighting corruption, if it’s any of these things. It’s almost as if the corruption here is accepted and tolerated, but this is actually what’s holding cooperation in Ukraine back. I mean, you could play a game, any problem in Ukraine you can trace back to corrupt. Any problem whether it’s the health care, health care infrastructure, you know, foreign policy, anything.

O.: One more question, do you read some Ukrainian media and like what impression do you have?

K.: Yeah, I don’t read Ukrainian media and I don’t think that Ukraine has a strong platormin the sense of what the Germans have ARD, ZDF or the BBC – the publicly funded neutral institutions. The United States is much not much different, we only have the public broadcasting networks and they aren’t watched by many.

But here you know the flashing news that’s supported by commercials and it’s about getting people to watch and ratings, exaggerating or being dramatic. That isn’t necessarily the best way to get your news, is it?

O.: Thank you very much for your answers.

K.: Thank you, it was lovely meeting you. Have a great day.

O.: Have a great day too.

K.: Thank you, bye.


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