I wrote about the war in Ukraine for The New York Times. How could I do it?

As part of the Elizabeth Neuffer fellowship, I joined a summer internship program at The New York Times. I was assigned to the Live Desk, where my primary duty was to report on Ukraine. The moment I knew that, I panicked: would I be able to do that?  It was the most critical and consequential international story, and I had no experience writing about it. 

With a committed team of editors and reporters, I could. Part of the reason The New York Times is one of the world’s most prestigious organizations is the incredible amount of talent it cultivates. I felt things were all set up so I could do my best work. Experienced editors held my hand while placing the bar high. And my reporting colleagues, how could I not be impressed and inspired by their dedication and deep knowledge about the war? Some of them were generous enough to take a moment to call me and explain things like the map of the Zaporzhizhia power plant. 

A happy surprise was discovering how open and receptive the editors are to our ideas and help us work on them. 

In late June, a lethal Russian missile attack killed civilians dining in a crowded restaurant in Kramastorsk in the Donbas region. I was stunned to discover that some victims were Colombians, Latin American fellows who, as I know, come from an area where what is happening in Ukraine draws little interest. What were they doing there? 

Sergio Jaramillo, who negotiated Colombia’s peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group, and Héctor Abad Faciolince, one of the most influential contemporary South American writers, went to Ukraine hoping to raise solidarity with Ukrainians among Latin Americans. The experienced correspondent Catalina Gómez Ángel, who isn’t part of their campaign, accompanied the trip as a journalist. 

The trio sustained minor injuries, but their Ukrainian friend who was traveling with them, the writer and journalist Victoria Amelina, died in hospital days after the attack. 

It was a story that readers deserved to know more about. I took the idea to Randy Pennell, my mentor and one of my editors at the New York Times. In this story, he saw a potential also to address the controversial neutral stance that Latin America, my corner of the world, had about the war. 

The story was published on the last day of my internship, a perfect way to wrap up my experience at the Times and the whole fellowship. I hope I have contributed to the Times, Boston Globe, and MIT with my perspective as a Latin American woman and journalist. On my side, I can’t even make sense of how much I’ve grown as a journalist. 

Women and nonbinary journalists out there: apply for the fellowship. I wish you the same opportunity to learn in revolutionary ways with it. Thank you to the IWMF, Elizabeth Neuffer’s legacy, and everyone who has supported my stay here. I will return to Brazil inspired, hopeful, and eager to keep doing the best journalism I can.

This is me, Gabriela Sá Pessoa, after a work day at The Times. I have admired it every single day