With the beginning of the full-scale Russian war against Ukraine, I woke up to a new reality. A reality that is full of explosions and missiles hits.

The first days have been accompanied by constant missile attacks on Kharkiv city, saboteur’s attempts to get invade the city, and the common shock. After a couple of days, the shock has been gone and instead of it the understanding of the need to adapt right here and right now to the new circumstances has appeared. 

Almost all members of our team have decided to stay to work in Ukraine.

During the first days, our foreign colleagues actively started to contact us. Using different networks and channels they tried to keep in touch so they could understand what is going on informally or through interviews. At that moment there were a minimum of correspondents in Kharkiv and that is how to appear an informational vacuum, so journalists from the other countries have been seeking to find at least someone for the comments. So it happened that a couple of my interviews about Kharkiv I gave sitting in the basement, during the rides, or on my way to find some food in the city.

After some time I have started to notice that except for some correspondences, in Kharkiv appear dozen of foreign groups. They have also actively looked for the information and contacts of citizens for the reports about the war. Most of them did not understand the local context, they have lack of knowledge about the region and they needed translators. 

During the first days, our team was looking for the formula for “positive influence”. Those times we have faced a choice: to tell about the shootings to 100.000 Kharkiv citizens, who even without it, receive the information from the other media, or to tell the same to the millions of Italians, Frenchs, and Germans, who still do not dare to push their governments and to stop the funding of the bloody war.

That is how I get know about the concept of “fixation”, which has been mentioned by journalists and I have dedicated myself to that for around 30 days participating both as a volunteer and as a worker. 

In this column, I am sharing with you the experience that I have got being in the position of a local journalist. 

Who the fixers are and what do they are expected to do? 

It is a local specialist, who helps journalists from other countries to work in a new country or context.

They are people who link the global world to the local context.

Foreign correspondents, as I have mentioned, often do not know the language and situations, they do not know about the unwritten rules, and they are not familiar with local bodies and opinion leaders.

It is not being taught in the universities, it is not something that exists in the curriculums of Ukrainian and foreign high educational institutions.
In fact, “fixer” is a slang word. In reality help to the foreign teams could provide:

  • local journalists, who know the languages
  • editors and producers
  • someone, who knows the local and international contexts and could explain the situation, like an activist or volunteer
  • proactive translators, who are able to handle new contacts
  • bloggers, public figures, or even politicians

Personally, I prefer the term “production assistant”, which refers to the person, who ensures the production of the stories. The way how this provision will take place really depends on the skills and talents of the particular person. 

Each situation and the list of obligations are unique because teams and colleagues which whom you work are different.

For example, you can meet two freelancers from different countries, who used to work in Iraq and now arrived in Ukraine in their own car with a goal to make a report in Kharkiv since the fifth day of the full-scale war.

Or it could be a fully packed team of international speakers, who even have got a security manager, who care about their location and the accommodation of the team members. 

Or a prepared team of journalists in an armoured car with dozens of years of experience of work in the hotspots. 

In each of the cases, the list of responsibilities’ zones will be different. 

ogether with foreign journalists in Kharkiv Oblast

To sum up, the tasks, which the fixer could complete are:

  • the search and production of the topics together with a team
  • the search for interesting speakers
  • help with the region’s infrastructure and rules of the city (how do the firefighters work, how to get to the recently retaken town, how to contact the major)
  • the translation to English or another target language of the local citizens’ comments
  • the fast search of information (to find where have missile hit, when official channels have not released this information)
  • optionally, they could help with equipment
  • optionally, they could drive a car

For example, I have worked with a team consisting of three journalists: one was a fixer, and another was the driver, who also translated. But sometimes there were situations when a car is yours, and you are a driver, translator, and fixer at the same time. Obviously, in such cases, there are much more risks, stress, and workload. Frequently this combination could happen if the freelancers or correspondents do not represent the big media holdings.

Who have I worked with?

“The conflict in Ukraine is different from the conflict in Syria because here you have got a serious war: missiles, artillery, army against army. In Syria, there were groups of up to five thousand people and we were afraid, first of all of the cars with a blast by suicide attackers. By the way, it is in Syria where we have learned not to cross our legs when we sit in the car. Because if you do not cross them and the car explodes on the mine, you have more chances to stay at least with one leg” – tell one of my colleagues.

“I would recommend reserving fuel and watching the situation. And if the fights are starting in the city, immediately evacuate. My advice is to go 300-500 kilometers away from there” – one of the fixers recommended during the walk in the Northern Saltivka on the tenth day of the war.

During the first 10-20th days almost every day we have received dozens of requests about comments or contacts

My opinion is that the market of Ukrainian media is not as developed as in the West, that is why finding an experienced fixer in Kharkiv was a super problematic task, so we did just what could be done.

As a local journalist, I had an important condition for the fix: I have a right to record the same as a foreign partner on the spot. 

All understood it and agreed with that condition, however in reality it was a problematic mission. During the work, someone always will pester you, requesting to translate or suggest something. Especially, if you have been paid for your work. 

The situation changed when I bought a new GoPro camera and started to ride with it.

During the first days of the invasion, Patrick and I recorded the work of the Kharkiv Perinatal Center. At that time I neither had body armor nor transport nor a full understanding of the situation and the profession.

I gave the Patricks’s team a couple of valuable recommendations, we rode together in the city, we were recording together and shared the content. Finally, both had unique materials of the 11th-day of the war. 

 

Together with Alfredo and his colleague we visited fully destroyed buildings of Northern Saltivka. Terrifying picture.

 

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A post shared by Alfredo Bosco (@boscoalfredo)

With other Ukrainian journalists and foreign teams, we explored the downtown after the russian attacks. Cause sometimes foreign journalists struggle even to find an entrance to the metro, where people are hiding. Lately, this report has been published.

 

I worked also with the channel France24, which actively highlights the war in Ukraine. The world has seen a couple of reports with my help. 

How to create added value and release a powerful story?

The peculiarity that I am already beginning to notice in myself is the “blurring of the eye.” Over time, I really stop reacting sharply to people in basements or new powerful shelling.

This no longer surprises me and I may even miss information about the next blow.

However, for “fresh” colleagues, this is an impressive experience. Take notice of this emotional context in your work and do not forget this.

I also sometimes wonder if it makes sense to show, to offer as heroes or speakers the same people I already know. After all, new acquaintances are more difficult.

However, my advice №1: always look for new insights, new people, and narratives.

Keep in touch with everyone you work with or report on. Throughout. Directly at the place of shooting, for coffee, passing the gas station.

Hold small talks wherever you work. Do additional research on the location, find out details and gather information. So you can meet, for example, a local policy maker, who fixes electricity in the community, or find a new story that will be seen by the whole world.

 I’m packing myself into the trunk, so the press officer could fit in the car

One of the most interesting acquaintances to me happened while material production is acquaintance with Olexandr from the Northern Saltivka. He is an unbelievably charismatic man. I brought to his house the whole delegation and they disappeared together with the hero for that half of the day. I met him accidentally in the street. 

The second quite interesting contact is a guy from territorial defense, with who I have got acquainted while ordering the coffee. We still keep in touch and he directly helps journalists without any special conditions.

Another general recommendation is to send a report to the heroes of your materials and spend that spare 10 minutes. It inspires them and brings back hope, that they are not forgotten and everything will be alright.

It is also worth helping with equipment and recording: hold a tripod or camera somewhere, hand the accumulator in time or put it on a charge, and help with a backpack and with a helmet.

I work only in Kharkiv Oblast and for the journalists, who have been before it 10 days in the hotspots in Donbas, such assistance is a great help. Same as people from occupied territories, they are happy about hotdogs at the gas stations and about different products in the stores. 

 

Zones of growth between fixer and journalists 

As a local journalist, I happen to be in fact the editor of materials and fully produce the stories. 

Journalists often understood the situation just on the surface, and factually, just trusted me.

They have recorded just what I have told them. Sometimes that happened because their editor was abroad, so did not know the details, and could not correctly present the assignment. For me, it was a way directed to the role of the local producer, while the fixer is sometimes just a “guy, who gonna nailed it all”.

 Ukrainian fixers have to work on foreign journalists at least put the nametag and mention them in their materials

Especially when fixers do a really big contribution to the work on the material.

In my opinion that when together with the police you ride the whole night in under-the-Russian-fire Kharkiv and prevent the journalist with a camera, for the sake of his own safety, from running to the potential diversional intelligence group in time is a big enough contribution to have your name in credits. Or when you all day in your own car chasing the firefighter’s cars to collect the good material.

Today I am extremely interested in watching after processes and styles of the work of different foreign teams. That is an exchange of the professional experience, development of partnerships, and common work on the stories, which could make this world better, 

France24 in Kharkiv

On the other side, I, from my own experience understood that a fixer could be a true guide for the journalists; they could do fact-checking and keep an eye on journalists do not highlight the cursory information about what is going on in Ukraine.

Of course, it depends on the journalist in the first place, but for us, it is an opportunity to immerse foreigners in the local context.

That is where lies the line between fixers and dudes, who just help journalists and producers, who thoroughly work in teams on the production of great stories.

If you have any ideas for collaborations or feedback – just send me an email to discuss this article.

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