Tatyana Goryachova | Pursuing Independent Journalism in Ukraine
by Erin Luhmann
January 22, 2013 — Tatyana Goryachova won the Courage in Journalism Award in 2003 for reporting on corruption and local elections in Ukraine despite countless threats against her safety for doing so. The prior year, an assailant had attempted to silence Goryachova by throwing hydrochloric acid on her face. Undeterred, she found inspiration from the acts of good will that transpired from this incident, to pursue a faith-based branch of social journalism.
“The last 10 years were very fruitful for me, in the progress of spiritually-moral and social journalism in Ukraine,” said Goryachova. “I have understood that the political direction in journalism is only a little bit of the main thing that the journalist can make for a society.”
This Courage in Journalism honor, coupled with the emergency medical treatment and printing press she received from American donors after the acid attack, influenced her transition from covering politics to covering stories about charity, faith and social values. At age 46, she is currently working at the forefront of Christian social journalism in Ukraine, an alternative to political propaganda masquerading as mass media.
“In Ukraine, it is extremely complex to work as a journalist independent of political clans. Frankly speaking, it’s practically impossible,” said Goryachova. “Not wishing to ‘serve,’ I have chosen a niche of social journalism in which progress I have accepted the most active participation during the last three years.”
In addition to reporting for the Berdyansk Delovoy, an independent business newspaper in the Zaporozhye region of Ukraine, Goryachova has taken on additional editorial roles with various Christian publications and received numerous awards in both endeavors. But she will never forget the generous donation that helped her regain momentum after the acid attack.
Back in 2004, Goryachova received a printing press for Berdyansk Delovoy from John Gottschalk, retired CEO and publisher of the Omaha World-Herald. This allowed her to publish independent of a media landscape that is largely entangled with the financial and political interests of the elite. Free to investigate sensitive topics such as local politics, the environment, human rights, and business malpractices, Berdyansk Delovoy brought in a slew of regional and national mass-media awards from 2005 to 2011. In 2006, Goryachova was personally awarded the Certificate of Honor from the National Union of Ukrainian Journalists for her powerful contribution to the progress of Ukrainian journalism.
Despite successes at Berdyansk Delovoy, Goryachova realized that ethically sound, independent media in Ukraine was becoming more of an ideal than a reality. She saw papers sensationalize crime to turn a profit and accept payment from politicians who asked for favorable coverage during election periods.
In 2009, in an act of resilience against local press censorship, Goryachova initiated Duhovnost, a one-page weekly Christian installment in the secular paper Berdyansk Delovoy that is dedicated to exploring spiritual and moral obligations for people of faith.
“I understood, at that time, that I wasn’t the only person suffering at the hands of some powerful person, but there were lots of people in Ukraine who had suffered, in different ways, at the hand of powerful business or political people,” said Goryachova. Drawing on her own faith and perseverance, she hoped to bring comfort to readers who had experienced such hardship and loss.
Taking her Christian social journalism ambitions a step further, she founded the Berdyansk Orthodox Publishing House in August 2011. Here, she publishes Loza, a 100-page Christian magazine for adults that covers topics like art, Orthodox lifestyles, orphans, and charitable causes. She also publishes a 28-page Christian magazine for children called Lesenka. Goryachova is the editor-in-chief of both. In May 2012, at the request of the Archbishop Luka of Zaporozhye and Melitopol, she became deputy editor-in-chief of Letopis Provoslaviya, a leading Christian newspaper established more than 20 years ago.
“In our country, over the last five years, the Christian social journalism of a spiritually-moral direction, under guidance of the church, began to actively develop,” explained Goryachova. Referencing publications like Loza, she said these journalists are “writing about universal values – about family, love, good deeds, children, art, and music.”
In many cases, her ventures in Christian social journalism have produced tangible results. In conjunction with Archbishop Luka, she helped coordinate a YouTube video project called “Love is Merciful.” By raising awareness of children suffering from blood cancer, this project brought in enough money for the hospital to purchase new treatment equipment. She also organizes acts of charity around the holidays and manages a project through the leading Christian newspaper, Letopic Provoslaviya, which helps match orphans with families.
Explaining her new journalistic philosophy, Goryachova said, “Material benefits never fed people’s souls. They are temporary. The soul is in search of something better. The journalist who understands and is able to write about good deeds and mercy, can consider that they’ve carried out their professional duty.”
She may find this journalistic path professionally rewarding, but it certainly is not lucrative. Many journalists in Ukraine have given in to the editorial whims of financial and industrial tycoons for financial security. But Goryachova has chosen to continue scraping by rather than compromise her journalistic values.
“I face constant problems searching for donors for editions of Loza and Lesenka, and constant pressure from heads of political clans,” said Goryachova. She can hardly pay rent on an apartment and pay school fees for her 13-year-old daughter.
Today, Goryachova is under the suspicious eye of a politician who was elected to a district office in the 2012 fall election cycle. She is feeling pressure from this politician to halt her investigative reporting. Even though other city officials commend her professionalism, she says her future as a reporter in the Berdyansk region remains uncertain.
This uncertainty, however, has not stopped her from setting new professional goals. She has already begun facilitating acts of charity through Christian social journalism. Now she hopes to expand this brand of socially conscious print journalism to incorporate a more concrete charitable youth initiative that functions beyond the grasp of corrupt local officials. Goryachova expressed that her greatest desire today is to find international donors “to support the establishment of this international fund to protect children throughout the region.”
Resources will be used to support social welfare programs for youth throughout Ukraine. Goryachova says that with more than 2,000 orphans in the Zaporozhye region alone, many of which have a disability, providing items like medicine, clothing, and food to these children is a priority.
“For the past five years, I’ve worked as a social journalist. I understand what needs to be written about children’s problems, but I also understand that writing about it is not enough,” said Goryachova. “For that reason, in addition to continuing my aspects of writing about these issues, I want to assist in creating this fund which will assist children who don’t have parents to care for them.”