Associated Press journalists who stayed in Mariupol to report on Russia’s siege of the Ukrainian city last year saved “tens of thousands of lives”, it has been claimed.
Two of the AP team, the only journalists for an international news organisation who stayed in Mariupol amid a communications blackout in the city soon after the war began last year, were recognised at the RTS Television Journalism Awards on Wednesday night.
Producer Vasilisa Stepanenko was named Young Talent of the Year while video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, who himself won best young talent in 2015, was awarded Camera Operator of the Year.
They, along with photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, spent 20 days documenting the Russian bombing before they were helped to escape in fear of Russian soldiers targeting them.
Chernov was not present at the awards, as he was filming near Bakhmut as a battle for the city raged on.
Derl McCrudden, AP’s vice president for global news production, accepted the award on his behalf and described an “extraordinary” message AP received from a special adviser to the now-exiled mayor of Mariupol in January this year.
“He thanked us for their work and he told us that AP’s coverage of Mariupol became a central point in the negotiations with Russia over the opening of humanitarian gate corridors for the civilian evacuation of the city. He said, without exaggeration, you saved several tens of thousands of civilians and it’s difficult to overestimate your personal contribution here.
“It’s a rare moment where journalism has a real and substantive impact,” McCrudden said.
In his own speech, sent to McCrudden to read out, Chernov said he “felt terrible” when picking up his previous award in 2015 because he felt he should have been filming the Russian bombing of Ukraine going on at the time.
“I blamed myself for not being there and not filming it,” he said. “Today, those same Russian forces are bombing and trying to take the city of Bakhmut… Nine years have passed. Nine years of fighting and seemingly nothing has changed. But thanks to the work of international and Ukrainian journalists, the world is finally seeing the truth, the true face and scale of this invasion.”
Stepanenko was present at the awards to receive her recognition and received one of only two major standing ovations of the night (the other belonged to Jeremy Paxman collecting his Outstanding Contribution Award).
Stepanenko described being in Mariupol near the start of the invasion with people coming up to her and her team, having seen their flak jackets identifying them as press, asking for information.
“But we had no information. At that moment, I understood that information is even as important as food.”
Others recognised for their work in Ukraine included CNN International with the Breaking News award, BBC News for News Coverage – International, Sky News chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay who was named Network Television Journalist of the Year, and BBC News presenter Clive Myrie who received the Network Presenter of the Year prize.
After thanking colleagues, Myrie said: “I’d also like to thank the people of Ukraine because they have opened up their hearts to so many of us in this room to chronicle this horrible war of choice and I pay tribute to them.
“I’ve heard a lot over the last year about spheres of influence and great power rivalries, and Putin has to be let down with a bit of dignity and don’t upset Biden. All this kind of stuff – professors, politicians, lecturers, everybody. But what I hear not enough are the voices of Ukrainian people. What do they actually want? And, frankly, I think that’s bullshit. I think we need more of that.
“And their country is not just a plaything for superpowers. It’s a country in which they live and they work and they breathe and they rear their children and they have lives and we need to hear more of what they want out of all this. So this is for them.”
Ramsay, who was shot in an ambush of his team in the first week of the war last year, paid tribute to the colleagues who were with him at the time including producer Dominique van Heerden and camera operator Richie Mockler.
Ramsay said that in the absence of an RTS award for producers, he would share with Van Heerden.
“She is a stickler for truths and facts and lectures me often about how it’s got to be right, it’s got to be right, it’s got to be right as if I wouldn’t want to get it right, he said. “But in this modern era of fake news, attention to detail is more important than I think it’s ever been.”
He also paid tribute to the people of Ukraine, including those who stayed behind to work as fixers, drivers and translators, saying journalists “owe [them] so much for our news coverage”.
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