Our fellow residents from Kreminna have been scattered around the world by the war, and often, as IDPs, they feel alienated and needless. Increasing the audience of Kreminshchyna and sharing the stories of those who, until recently, lived nearby can help people come together. Information that assists with employment or provides similar support also serves as motivation not to give up. Therefore, we are evolving our media, creating new platforms, and actively engaging with the community, despite the challenges we face. In this article we share our experience

Since April 18, 2022, Kreminna in the Luhansk region has been under temporary occupation. Those who have left are searching for information, photos, and videos – everything they can find to understand what is happening in their hometown. Our readers who have become IDPs also need humanitarian and financial support, and they are also interested in the stories of their fellow countrymen.

Previously, they found the information they needed within the pages of Kreminshchyna, but the newspaper ceased publication abruptly after February 24. The printing house for our newspaper was located in Kharkiv which was under shelling from the very beginning, and the transportation links between cities were disrupted, with a bridge being blown up. Not to mention the occupation. In other words, we only had the website and a Facebook page. Our people were scattered around the world. Therefore, to provide them with a space for unity, communication, and answers to their questions, we have decided to concentrate our efforts on the development and operation of these two platforms. Our primary mission is to inform the Kreminna community.

Our work is essential for society: fostering unity, learning about our fellow countrymen, and providing answers to important questions

Building of Kreminschyna editorial office before the war, 2021

We have concentrated on boosting the morale of former Kreminna residents who became IDPs and developing digital resources by actively engaging readers in discussions on pertinent topics. We considered it equally important to help our fellow countrymen find answers to their questions.

To facilitate this, we’ve introduced two new website sections: “Ask an Expert” and “Adviser for IDPs”. In addition to Kreminshchyna Facebook page, we also added a new one on Instagram.

We also set ourselves the task of enhancing our financial independence.

Results for the community

Our first step was to add new sections and a feedback form to the website. We also created an Instagram page. This helped attract our audience’s attention, as the website became more useful.

Both our sections, “Ask an Expert” and “Adviser for IDPs,” are purely practical. To populate them, we collaborated with various specialists who assisted our displaced people in solving their problems. For instance, the Employment Center supplied information on current job vacancies, and we published and regularly updated them. By the way, that topic turned out to be very popular, as many people still face difficulties with employment. Several people managed to find a job thanks to our publications.

New section “Adviser for IDPs”

Furthermore, the lawyer assisted us in addressing residents’ legal inquiries, such as the process of recovering lost documents or applying for compensation for damaged property. The staff of the Kreminna Business Association has compiled a selection of grants that are relevant for internally displaced persons.

People started writing us questions only when they saw that experts were involved in their solution

Despite our expectations, the “Ask an Expert” button turned out to be of little demand at first. Therefore, we needed to demonstrate its usefulness. To do this, we compiled a list of the most relevant questions by analyzing the chats frequently visited by our IDPs and reviewing comments and reviews under official posts. Then we answered those questions on our website. Gradually, people began reaching out to us about their problems directly, noticing the involvement of experts in their resolution.

We also endeavored to be engaged in critical state-level issues, such as the cancellation of payments to IDPs. Therefore, we contacted the Ministry of Regional Integration and conducted a population survey. We created and shared numerous success stories of IDPs because our readers requested information on where they live and how those who used to live nearby have settled down. We also described what has changed in the lives of these people, how they manage to adapt to a new life and not burn out, and so on.

A survey conducted at the end of the project revealed that our publications help people “stay connected with their small homeland.” Success stories were viewed by approximately 600 people. As for the sections, 70% of respondents said that both sections were useful for them. The questions we received were relevant for most IDPs, so about 500 people read the detailed answers.

Success stories are the most popular

I believe that the functionality of the website, its liveliness, and the information it provides about Kreminna residents greatly supported our regular readers. While away from home, people hope and believe they will return to Kreminna and resume their lives as before. No one wants to say goodbye to a past life. Therefore, if the website of their favorite newspaper did not function, people would perceive it as another broken connection with Kreminna, another trauma.

Results for the editorial office

This project has given us an audience, new readers, and new opportunities. As I said, we created an Instagram page where our readers were also present but we didn’t offer them anything before. So we have almost 600 new active followers on that platform, and this figure is gradually increasing. Our Facebook page traffic increased by 78.7%. The average audience of the Kreminshchyna website is 1,112 visitors per month.

We are grateful to the mentors and the project as a whole for teaching us how to utilize our website and social media. We are still learning to meet their requirements. I see that we need more employees, and two journalists will not be able to cope with the challenges of the time.

I would like to emphasize that our work on the website, along with the attention from readers during the project, attracted an advertiser. We signed an agreement to cover our activities back in 2023. The funding is modest, but the agreement has been extended for 2024, enabling us to cover current editorial office expenses, including domain payments and membership fees. We also hope that this funding will be sufficient to address a small tax debt, which we identified independently, thanks in part to the project. We hired an accountant under a civil law contract, and she informed us that we had an unpaid tax.

It was the content of the website ad the attention paid to it by readers that attracted the advertiser with whom we signed an agreement to cover our activities

We consider comments and likes to be the most important and indicative assessments of the value of our work. A single post could collect from 10 to 150 such manifestations of emotions. People wrote under our success stories: “Look, that’s my neighbor out there. I know her. How’s Kreminna? How are the Kreminna people?” Or this: “Thank you, we have existed, we exist, and we will exist!” or “Thank you. We are looking forward to coming back home!” Many comments are quite emotional, such as “Feels like I saw my own family! Super.” They also wrote to us like this: “What talented children we have! Now Kreminna is going through difficult times and occupation, but I believe that we will return to the Ukrainian city, where peaceful life will reign again! Thank you.”

Number of views of the newly established section “Ask an Expert”

We take pride in providing useful tips and sharing stories about our fellow countrymen with the residents of Kreminna through the creation of unique and wonderful materials. And, of course, we have expanded the circle of subscribers, connecting more citizens and helping them stick together.

In general, on a global scale, I am very proud that we have not stopped our activities despite all the difficulties. We’re working, not always as much or as well as we’d like, but we haven’t abandoned the website.

Experience and conclusions we would like to share with colleagues

First and foremost, in these challenging conditions, finding a solution to the financial situation was crucial for us. The newspaper lost all sources of income due to the war, and there was no way to pay salaries. In fact, the website operated (and still operates) on project funds or the enthusiasm of employees. Without funds, there is no structured planning in our work, as consistency is challenging on a volunteer basis. Moreover, all employees of the editorial office are IDPs and displaced pensioners. The project enabled us to hire professionals, plan our work, and achieve significant results. As mentioned before, this allowed us to secure our first small but crucial source of income and, more importantly, the confidence that we would persevere.

Secondly, professional support from mentors. In four months, we realized where we were going wrong, the importance of working for results, and that the opportunity to earn money independently exists – that’s what our mentors aimed at.

Our Instagram

Thirdly, thanks to the project, Kreminna residents (and we ourselves!) learned about our fellow countrymen who are engaged in volunteering and supporting the army, but somehow do not advertise it, quietly doing their job. We’ve discovered many amazing people from Kreminna with their favorite businesses who would like to share their stories with the public. Such materials served as a kind of advertising for them. Those posts gained 500-700 views.

And we just helped people get a job! For example, one woman decided to study as a seamstress after learning about current opportunities from our publications and the employment center. And one man expressed interest in a grant to open a coffee shop but did not leave his contacts, so we couldn’t find out how his business progressed.

But it was difficult to engage people in our activities. We consider it a weakness that we were not able to engage a sufficient number of readers to the surveys; not many gave their suggestions or participated in questionnaires.

We, unfortunately, were unable to achieve financial stability so that after the project is completed, we can continue to work effectively. But we started that journey.

People thank us for our work and for writing about the residents of Kreminna. This is particularly meaningful as those with IDP status often feel like strangers and believe they are not valued by anyone

It is also crucial that people have thanked us for our efforts in writing about the residents of Kreminna. We are acknowledged for paying attention to them, especially when those IDPs often feel alienated and believe they are of no use to anyone.

Of course, now we are planning more efficiently and continue our work little by little. We received two questions via the feedback form after the project was completed, so we are hopeful that we will be able to develop this further. It’s just that the website is now filling up slowly, so the engagement has dropped. We will also write about the lives of our fellow countrymen, especially if there is useful information for IDPs – we publish and share it with our readers. Everyone is compelled to earn extra money and work elsewhere now, it’s our today’s life.

AUTHOR: Yana Velychko, Editor-in-Chief of Kreminshchyna newspaper

This publication was created with the support of the European Union. The content is the sole responsibility of the Ukrainian Media Business Association and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union, whose financial support made the project possible.