Scores of journalists have descended Ukraine over the past few weeks. First, they came to chronicle the revolution in Kiev, then they came to cover Russia's Crimean invasion. Over 400 reporters will be in Crimea tomorrow to report on the long-awaited referendum that will decide whether Russia will reclaim the peninsula. In the foreign press, coverage has mostly concentrated on the urban areas most impacted by the invasion, and largely provides outside observers with only a birds-eye view of the situation. German journalist Tilo Jung took a different approach. The host of the YouTube news show Jung & Naiv (tagline: "Politics for the disinterested"), Jung set out on a roadtrip across Ukraine "to tell the story of the revolution," he says. "We wanted to go there to see for ourselves."
He spoke to ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and many politicians and protesters among them as he traveled across Europe's largest country. "On the roads between the major cities, you can't tell that the country's in the middle of a revolution," Jung said. What did he learn? Mostly, that Ukraine's path to democracy will be long. "Parties in the western sense don't exist in Ukraine," Jung says. "They still have to realize that part of the problem is also in their parties. That's why people are still on the Maidan. What the west needs to demand is institutional change. Oligarchs can't rise in that system."
Jung interviewed a representative of Ukraine's Pravy Sector (Right Sector) party about why violence was necessary, and asked him whether his party is excited to join the European Union. His answer: "European values are much closer to ours than those of a very authoritarian Russia, but there are a number of things that we don't agree with Europe on. For example, LGBT rights. In Europe, there are countries like France, like Denmark, and then there are countries like Poland," which has the strictest abortion laws in the E.U. and where the Catholic church dictates "gender ideology." Incidentally, interviewing a member of Pravy Sector is the reason why one of Russia's most popular independent news sites, Lenta.ru, was effectively taken over by the Kremlin this week. "Most of the people say they want Ukraine to be independent, but that also means independent from the west," Jung says. "People are very nationalistic and patriotic, but that also gets dangerous because far right groups feed off of that."
Ukrainian journalist Maxim Eristavi took Jung on a tour of revolutionary Kiev, pointing out the areas where the most violent parts of the crackdown occured and guiding Jung through the barricades on Independence Square. If you want to understand exactly what went down in Kiev that led to such a huge loss of life and Yanukovych's ouster, watch this video. (And there's more--here's their footage of Maidan by night.)
Jung visited the makeshift hospital at Maidan, where volunteer doctors have been tending to the injured in what was once the offices of Ukraine's Ministry of Information. Since the hospital was set up on February 19, over 100 people have been treated in its quarters. Be sure to watch beyond the first few minutes of footage: "After 10 minutes, [the medics] were so traumatized that it just flowed out of them," Jung said. The interview, he said, captures "how traumatized the people are who didn't go to the Maidan, how traumatized they are about what Ukrainians can do to themselves."
Jung also asked Crimean Tatars protesting against Russian annexation how they feel about the prospect of annexation. "We are native Crimeans. My grandfather lived in Crimea. Most of the Russians came in the last 15 to 16 years," one young Tatar told him. Jung's progam is aimed at 20-somethings (the "disinterested" cohort of news consumers), so I asked him what he gleaned from talking to young people in Ukraine. "The young people are the most skeptical--they are glad that Yanukovych is gone, but on the other hand they see that it's the other oligarchs [in power] now."
All of Jung's dispatches from his roadtrip through Ukraine are online on the Jung & Naiv YouTube channel.