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March 1, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:05am

John Sweeney on reporting freelance from Ukraine: ‘This really is evil versus good’

By John Sweeney

Former Panorama journalist John Sweeney has spoken to Press Gazette about the challenges of independent war reporting in Ukraine.

He is one of at least 36 UK-based reporters currently filing from Ukraine, a small minority of whom are independent freelances (Press Gazette has compiled a Twitter list of them here).

Sweeney left the BBC in 2019 by mutual agreement and is currently funding his journalism via his BBC pay-off and support from nearly 1,000 subscribers on the platform Patreon.

Read Sky News presenter Mark Austin’s Ukraine war reporting diary for Press Gazette here, and 5 News chief correspondent Tessa Chapman’s dispatch for Press Gazette here

This report was filed from Kyiv on 1 March.

“Reporting from Kyiv is one of the things I’m most proud to do in my whole life because this really is evil versus good. Fascism versus democracy. Brutality versus fun and life and sweetness.

“And the idea that we are the independent eyes and ears of the world, of the free world – that’s kind of a self-regarding cliché, and it’s true. We’ve got a little kind of club, we call it the Kyiv ‘we’re all a bit special club’ and we’ve got each others’ backs.

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“There’s two guys, two brothers, Josh and Nick Stubbins, and my pal Oz Katerji who I came out with. We live in separate places but we check up on each other and we’ve got each other’s back.

“Obviously I’m the only one with the pensioner’s tube pass [Sweeney is 63] and everybody’s a third of my age, but it’s good to be here.

“Money’s an issue as ever if you’re a freelance. I’m living on what’s left of my BBC pay-off and I’m doing very well with Patreon which I’m pushing via Twitter, but that money won’t arrive for another month or so. In the meantime I’m doing OK.

“It’s going to get more difficult.

“Putin, frustrated that this war is not doing well, will start to pummel the Ukrainians into submission by blasting Kyiv to bits. That would be a war crime but Putin is a war criminal.

“I’m looking at this from the perspective of somebody who used to be with the BBC, but probably Tony Hall’s BBC wouldn’t have sent me. I think Tim Davie’s BBC is different and better.

“I envy my colleagues from the big organisations their support, the people in place watching their back, their ability to leave Kyiv. I think that my friends in the big organisations might envy me a little because I’ve decided to stay here.

“I voted remain in 2016 and I’m voting remain in Kyiv in 2022.

“There’s a little film I put up of me on Twitter by the river saying: ‘Oh Vladimir Putin, do fuck off.’ And I couldn’t have done that at the BBC. So I’m enjoying it.

“I think it’s going to be dark ahead. But we’re here to spread a little light.”

You can listen to John Sweeney’s audio report for Press Gazette here:

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