Ilona Sābera – portfolio

blogging, journalism, semiotics, short stories


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The Struggle of Displaced Journalists in Ukraine

Published on Open Society Foundations

When Victoria Kryat, a young journalist from the town of Krasny Luch in the Luhansk region, came to Kyiv in August 2014, she had 300 grivnas (US$12) in her pocket. Her former workplace, a Ukrainian language TV channel called Luch, had been taken over by pro-Russia fighters.

“At first, various military groups were coming and asking us to broadcast them,” she recounts. “Then armed men stormed our office, consisting mainly of female staff, and told us we were hiding [members of the] Pravyi Sektor [a right-wing Ukrainian political party]. They probably had an order to get control of all the media.” Most of her colleagues had to leave the channel and move to other parts of Ukraine.

Two years have passed since the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv ousted President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. What followed was one of the most violent years in recent Ukrainian history. Pro-Russian gunmen took control of the Crimean Peninsula, while in the eastern Donbass region, separatist groups declared Donetsk and Luhansk to be independent republics.

As a result, in the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, a number of media outlets were forced to close down, move their offices to government-controlled territory, or compromise their editorial independence. The annexation of Crimea by Russia and the military conflict in the eastern part of the country led to assaults, censorship, and intimidation of journalists and media outlets. According to the Kyiv-based Institute of Mass Information, the number of press freedom violations in 2014 increased by 50 percent compared to 2013. That was also a year when Ukrainian journalists, fleeing both military conflict and professional intimidation, became internally displaced and were forced to start over in other cities.

“I had to make a choice between freedom and working and living in Crimea. I had to begin my life from zero in Kyiv,” says journalist Serhiy Mokrushyn. While working for the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Simferopol (now based in Kyiv), he and his colleague Vladlen Melnykov were abducted by so-called self-defense forces in June 2014. Mokrushyn is now a host of an independent television program Hromadske.Krym, broadcast online, on cable, and on satellite television. The program has been highlighting human rights violations against the ethnic minority of Crimean Tatars.

“Now we cannot purely do reporting, we have to be a platform between civil society and the government,” he says. The Crimean journalist also recognizes a need for independent and analytical information in the annexed territory. Most of the Ukrainian media outlets, including the Hromadske website, are blocked in Crimea, creating a media vacuum that is populated by biased news and pro-Russian propaganda.

Today there are 1.7 million internally displaced people from Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. People from Crimea started to flee prior to the unconstitutional referendum on the annexation of the peninsula in March 2014, while those from the eastern regions left their homes following escalation of the conflict between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists in May 2014. According to an estimate by the National Union of Journalists in Ukraine, there might be up to 600 displaced media workers, with most of them coming from the Donbass region and around 100 coming from Crimea.

Broadcast reporter Maria Ivanova was working for the regional channel Donbass in Donetsk. The scenario that played out there was similar to what happened in Luhansk. After several visits by armed men, the channel’s management banned employees from coming to work for their safety. Part of the staff was then moved to Dnipropetrovsk.

“We thought this will last for a couple of months,” she says. “Then I saw that nothing is changing and those territories are becoming frozen conflict zones. I started to worry because I did not have a proper place to live for me and my family.” Maria’s contract was eventually terminated and she had to make her living from a scarce unemployment benefit for five months before finding temporary work at another channel.

In addition to individual journalists, newsrooms formerly based in Donetsk, Luhansk, or Crimea have become exiled media in their own country. They struggle to reach audiences in a territory that is no longer part of Ukraine. “No one is talking to people in the occupied territories. Private media outlets are forbidden. Radio is the easiest way to get there. State [pro-Russian] controlled media broadcast concerts and celebrations. Still, people have a need for critical information because the life doesn’t get any better,” says Serhiy Harmash, editor in chief of the Eastern Ukrainian news site OstroV.

Many displaced people still have families left in the occupied territories. While few journalists are able to return due to being blacklisted by separatists, some still try to visit their loved ones. When Victoria Kryat went back to Krasny Luch to visit her mother for the first time in a year, they spent most of the time indoors, fearing for their safety. And while Victoria made it back to Kyiv, the former Luch reporter still gets harassed on social media. “They call me Kyiv’s spy,” she says. “It looks funny, but it is sad. We did a lot for the city, and it hurts how they treat us now.”

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Rescuing children with albinism in Tanzania

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Martha Mganga and her husband Edmund Mganga working to end stigma against people with albinism in Tanzania through the video “Watu Kama Sisi” (“People like us”).

Published on Anglican News.

“Peace starts at home. Albino children need to be accepted by their family first, then the village and finally the government,” says Anglican Martha Mganga, director and founder of Albino Peacemakers, a non profit organisation based in Arusha, Tanzania. Martha has been educating families about albinism and rescuing people in danger for almost 30 years. Continue reading


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Christian school in Nigeria more welcoming towards Muslim students

Once more I am writing about religious dialogue. Despite dominating violence discourse I want to share a positive example, this time about Nigeria.

Published on Anglican News.

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Saint Mark’s Anglican primary school in Kawo Kaduna, Nigeria, is the only church school in the diocese where prayers and Christian religious subjects are not compulsory for Muslims.

Instead of closing the only church and the attached school when Christians fled the region, the diocesan bishop, newly appointed Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, the Most Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, has insisted on a more welcoming approach towards Muslim students. Continue reading


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Producing the Anna Lindh Review 2005-2015

Anna Lindh Review 2010-2015

While working for the Anna Lindh Foundation in Alexandria, Egypt, one of my main projects was producing the foundation’s 10 years review. It was a complicated and challenging process of gathering and editing information from various units and teams, creating an appealing and simple narrative from excel spreadsheets and programme reports, selecting images that represent best the diversity of citizens and civil society of 43 Mediterranean countries and struggling with routine summer power cuts in an upper class Cairo neighbourhood while exploring full potential of creative young female Egyptian graphic designers in order to meet strict deadlines. I can now smile remembering that, but it was not all roses back then. Continue reading


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An infographic on 10 key findings of the Anna Lindh Report 2014

While working with the Anna Lindh Foundation in Alexandria, one of my challenges was creating an online publication for the Anna Lindh Report 2014. Published every three years, the Report combines a Gallup Public Opinion Poll on a sample of 13 000 people across Europe and Southern Eastern Mediterranean (SEM) region, including a wide range of analysis by a network of intercultural experts. It is a pioneering tool for knowledge on cross-cultural relations. Main topics discussed in the research are social change in the Euro-Med; differences and similarities in value systems; the religious factor in intercultural relations; human mobility; the role of culture in Mediterranean relations; intercultural citizenship; the Union for the Mediterranean and regional cooperation.

Such a variety of data and in depths analysis fits well in a printed publication. But what is the best way to present it online? After 10 key findings were defined by my colleagues working on the content, I opted for data visualisation. My choice was Infogr.am, a platform developed by a Latvian start-up allowing to create and share infographics easily. A snapshot of an infographic with some of the main data on mutual perceptions in the Euro-Med region is available below. Quotes and page numbers are added to point you to the full text of the Report .  An interactive version of the infographic on 10 Key Findings of the Anna Lind Report is on the Anna Lindh Foundation’s website.


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Guide on social security benefits in Latvia and EU

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For several months I was involved in an EU communication project on developing a reader-friendly guide on social security benefits and social security contributions. It was an opportunity to learn in detail about the EU social security systems which still greatly vary in each member state and understand the reasons socially vulnerable people take a decision to leave Latvia. Continue reading


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Anna Lindh Forum: A Need for Cross Cultural Approach to Ensure Diversity

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Father Paolo dall’Oglio speaking at the Anna Lindh Forum in Marseille in April 2013. Foto: Anna Lindh Foundation

Published on Anna Lindh Forum
Highlights of the 3rd day include: Strategic debate on Diversity, discussions on ethical cross cultural reporting, a debate of Young Arab Voices representatives with president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz.

Promoting Diversity in the Euro-Med

How to value diversity and share universal values? was the main question of one of the strategic debates that took place on Saturday morning, marking the general line of the third day of the Forum. Father Paolo dall’Oglio, Italian Jesuit priest exiled from Syria by the Assad’s regime, reminded about the ongoing conflict in the country: “Population of Syria have been abandoned by the knowledgeable so called international community. Now it is in a chance to express for the Academy.” He also underlined the necessity to show more support for Syria from civil society organisations by developing initiatives on a common ground, criticising one scale approach for different values: “Our idea or your idea for the civil society must be linked. Society is only healthy when it is like western society. We look for people who look like us. We choose our partners that look like us. I really encourage your society to be a fertile society. Destructive differences can exist not only on different shores of the Mediterranean, but also in the same religious community.

“My country suffers from fundamentalism in all three religions. Can we all be equals? Religion does not represent our identity, we should define a common ground for the identity. When the power embraces religion, there is no diversity.” pointed out Asmae Al Ghoul, Palestinian blogger and women rights activist. “Anthropological changes during centuries have not been properly accepted by my religious community. My concern is how can we reconcile ourselves with this anthropological revolution?” added father Paolo.  Continue reading