In 2014, two citizen journalists created a YouTube channel to report on protests in the east of Ukraine. The channel was so successful that they are now running a media company with a difference.
Videos to fight injustice and tackle corruption: The founders of Nakipelo, Roman Danilenkov and Natalia Kurdiukova
The winter of 2013/2014 was a tumultuous one for Ukraine. It saw the country's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych flee Ukraine after months of violent anti-government protests. This, in turn, triggered demonstrations by pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine, a primarily Russian-speaking region. One of the towns hit by the pro-Russian unrest was Kharkiv in Ukraine's northeast, some 30 km from the Russian border.
When protests erupted in Kharkiv in March 2014, documentary filmmaker Natalia Kurdiukova spontaneously grabbed a video camera and hit the streets of her hometown, accompanied by Roman Danilenkov, a business graduate. The two citizen journalists uploaded their footage to a YouTube channel they named "Nakipelo" ("fed up"). It quickly got more than 100,000 views. They soon divided the original YouTube channel into two: one for live streams and the other for edited videos.
With just a video camera and a computer at their disposal, Kurdiukova and Danilenkov reported untiringly about the unrest sweeping their country, covering topics that established media outlets wouldn't touch – reforms, the demobilization of soldiers, activists being beaten up and opinion pieces. Reporting wasn't without dangers. "Pro-Russian activists can become very aggressive so it wasn't exactly safe to film the protests," says Danilenkov.
A demand for independent reporting
Despite this, it was important for two Nakipelo founders to get information out. "Journalists weren't covering the protests accurately because they work for media companies owned by oligarchs," says Kurdiukova. Ukraine has a real need for independent media; a 2016 report on Ukraine by Reporters Without Borders, for example, found that the private TV channels were owned by a few oligarchs who used them to pursue their own political and business interests.
In mid-2014, the two founders created their own website, Nakipelo TV, and in early 2015, Nakipelo received donor funding for the first time and moved into an office. "We're financially secure and so we're able to report independently without others putting pressure on us," says Kurdiukova. To help organizations which otherwise attract little media coverage, Kurdiukova and Danilenkov developed the concept of a "flying press conference" by offering office space for press conferences to social initiatives, non-governmental organizations, urban projects and others. Nakipelo currently organizes three press conferences a day.
Nakipelo, the one-time small Internet project, is now a media company with 10 employees, among them journalists, camera operators, editors and social media specialists. "The team is pretty crazy," laughs Danilenkov referring to their never-ending work days. "This isn't a regular job, it's a lifestyle." For Kurdiukova, the workload is a choice. "We decided to do it like this. We're not army officers, we're media workers and this is how we can serve our country."
Media makers fighting for Ukraine
As well as videos, the organization also posts articles and photos sent in by citizen journalists to its website. The Nakipelo team met most of their contributors at various journalism workshops they've held with DW Akademie's support since 2015. As part of its support, DW Akademie is helping Nakipelo become a regional center of excellence for journalists. The media outlet is also receiving advice from the Ukrainian Catholic University (UKU), a DW Akademie partner based in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. At the end of November, Nakipelo will hold a citizen journalism conference that, as well as including workshops and discussions, will also help local reporters network and exchange ideas.
Nakipelo's most popular video to date is a result of its networking skills. In August 2016, Danilenkov received a call from an acquaintance saying he'd seen someone at the wheel of a Rolls Royce who was obviously drunk. Danilenkov raced out with his camera in time to film the driver insulting the police officer who had pulled him over.
Drunk Rolls Royce driver a small video hit
The video got more than a million views and some 300 comments. "[The video] has a pretty clear message," Danilenkov says. "The driver is symbolic of the oligarchy that basically does whatever it wants." Nakipelo videos don't just reveal injustice, they can also hinder corruption. Such as in court cases. "Many judges are corrupt," Kurdiukova explains, "but if we show up at trails and start filming, judges become wary of passing questionable verdicts."
It's just over two-and-a-half years ago that the first Nakipelo video appeared on YouTube. Since then, the two Internet channels have clocked up more than five million views and the website was given a makeover in March 2016. The co-founders are extremely happy with the development of their media organization and are busy planning online TV and radio channels. "We want our reporting to make a difference," says Danilenkov. Kurdiukova grins and adds, "And we want to become the region's biggest and most influential media company."