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Opinion: Russia's brutal war in Ukraine concerns us all

February 23, 2023

Millions in Ukraine have faced the horrors of war since Russia invaded one year ago. Journalists have a duty to show the reality of death, destruction and that hope doesn't die, says DW's Manuela Kasper-Claridge.

A drone image looking down on a dozen bombed-out, ruined houses and snow-covered ground in Bakhmut
Russian forces' bombardment of Bakhmut has reduced swathes of the city to rubbleImage: Libkos/AP/picture alliance

Blood-stained snow surrounds Bakhmut. For months, Russian troops have been attempting to take the small city in eastern Ukraine. They have attacked from multiple directions, supported by brutal Wagner mercenaries. Houses and streets have been mercilessly bombed, with no regard paid to civilian casualties.

Before Russia launched its war of aggression in Ukraine, around 70,000 people lived in Bakhmut. How many are still left, no one is quite sure. But those who remain are not giving up. Ukrainian troops continue to fight for their freedom. They do not want to give Bakhmut up to the enemy.

The small city is a symbol of Ukraine's resistance and courage born out despair.

Reality of life in Ukraine's cities

What is happening in Bakhmut concerns us all. We cannot just close our eyes to what is happening on European soil. There is murder, torture and rape. This war is not abstract. In war there is death and a civilian population that becomes the victim. In Bakhmut, Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol.

As journalists we have a duty to document these horrors. But we must also carefully choose what we show. We cannot shield audiences from the brutal reality. But we have to protect the dignity of the victims.

Of course, we also report on how the civilian population manages to cope being under constant fire in a war zone. How they deal with life in which nothing is the same as it was, yet still has moments of joy and strength.

An orthodox priest stands at the end of a row of coffins and bare wooden crosses in a cemetery
Unidentified civilian victims of Russian forces are buried in the city of BuchaImage: Sergei SUPINSKY/AFP

Russian propaganda must be countered

What is true and what is a lie? It is not always easy to tell. Especially not in a war. Our journalists working in Ukraine have one of the most difficult jobs. They must verify images and videos with colleagues, speak with eyewitnesses, check facts, provide context and expose false information. All this whilst being at risk of becoming a victim of the war themselves.

Their work cannot be valued highly enough. Dictators fear this kind of independent journalism.

That is why Vladimir Putin's propaganda machine is using use every tool it can to prevent the truth about Russia's war of aggression from being published. The world, nor his own citizens, should learn what is really going on in Ukraine. Likewise, how many civilian casualties have been caused as a result of the invasion, or how high military losses for Russia's army have been. Silence, cover-ups and lies hide whatever does not fit into their propaganda image.

War also a battle for truth

It is hard work standing up to Russian trolls and pulling people's attention back towards what is really going on. But it is worth the effort. The truth needs to come to light. DW journalists, as well as our colleagues from other media organizations, are risking a lot to ensure it does. 

And they have the support of the Ukrainian people. They want the world to know what sacrifices the Russian invasion is costing their country and what they are doing to fight back. That there is active resistance to Russian forces in parts of Ukraine under occupation and that there are gruesome war crimes being committed by the aggressors. 

Such reports do not find their way into state-controlled Russian media. This war is a struggle for the truth and narrative control. 

For many people, one year since Russia invaded Ukraine means a dramatic struggle for the defense and freedom of their country. A struggle that deserves the support of every European. 

For our part, we, as journalists, provide free and impartial information. That is our job. Importantly, we provide background information, context and are transparent on how we obtain our information, so that our audiences can form their own opinions. Over the situation in Bakhmut and the whole of Ukraine. 

Over what is truth and what is propaganda.

Bakhmut now 'meat grinder' epicenter of Ukraine war