When 20% of a community’s residents are IDPs, and the community is not prepared to promptly share essential information with newcomers, this is precisely the moment when local media should step in to provide valuable assistance. For us, the editorial staff of Znamianski Visti, this posed a significant challenge, prompting us to transform into a communication platform within the community. Although we never hoped for it.

In Znamianka, Kropyvnytskyi district, Kirovohrad region, the war has resulted in over 4,000 officially registered internally displaced persons among the less than 30 thousand inhabitants. For our calculations, we are adding another couple of thousand to this figure, accounting for those not in the registers – individuals who avoided mobilization, consciously chose not to register, were in transit, and so on. And it turns out that for such a large number of people, the town was closed off informationally.

After all, the people who left the scorched earth behind needed not only humanitarian assistance in the form of housing, food, or clothing but also the knowledge that is obvious to the locals. If large cities have location designations, street nameplates, ads, and publications that guide you on where to go and locate everything, then it becomes challenging for a non-local person in a small city to find answers to vital questions. Where to go for medical care? Where are Administrative Service Centers and what services they provide? How to find accommodation? How to find volunteers? Where to wash and repair a car? And so on.

It is the editorial staff of the local media that knows all these things. As soon as we realized that we could be very useful to newcomers, we immediately took action.

Excursions in the Znamianka Museum of Local Lore for displaced persons from Donetsk region

Our location also helped. The editorial office is situated above the Administrative Service Center, with Doctors Without Borders, volunteers, and representatives of international foundations hosted in the next room. Therefore, we navigated through all stages of the process with people, helped them understand, communicated through the authority-IDP chain, and became a bridge between internally displaced persons, the authorities, and service providers.

We started writing about IDPs, distributing newspapers in the Administrative Service Center, accepting ads, and ultimately released a booklet where we compiled the most comprehensive information on locations, phone numbers, and services that new residents of the community might need. The editorial staff visited places of compact residence on a weekly basis, communicated, and assisted with contacts. In other words, we have assumed the role of an information center that will both prompt and help.

What exactly did we do

The integration of IDPs into the community is multifaceted. But information is one of the most important components. Therefore, we have decided to facilitate such information integration. Of course, not by themselves, but together with the authorities, services, and relevant organizations.

As I said, there are no advertising publications, realtors, or anything like that in the community. Therefore, people turn to us, to the editorial office, on various issues. For instance, students face challenges in accessing free textbooks, displaced persons in concentrated living areas may not adhere to cohabitation norms, there is a lack of televisions, and they struggle to find the right doctor. We guided them on where to apply, and where to find the necessary information, called the school principal, and served as assistants.

We didn’t expect to become a communication platform in the community. We just wanted to guide people through the information space. But when they began implementing their plans, a genuine information point for IDPs was, in fact, established based on our editorial office

In addition, we wrote stories of IDPs, conducted media literacy training, became kind of friends for our new residents, and the editorial office is the go-to place for all questions. Now, we note that we did not intend to become such an information point. Yes, we did want to guide people through the information space, but we didn’t expect to become the information platform. But the set of obligations outlined in our project facilitated the creation of synergy between IDPs, the editorial staff, and the authorities. In fact, a genuine information center for IDPs was established based on the editorial office, although, of course, it did not have any official status and still does not.

Media Literacy for Adults training conducted by Nadiia Kolenchenko.
Our results

What exactly did we manage to do? What indicators do we use to measure our performance? I will return for a moment to the root causes of why we did what we did, why we needed the specific information support that we provided in the first place. Most of the displaced persons were and still are those seeking shelter, job, and opportunities for their children to study. Therefore, we consider our main success to be that almost everyone stayed in our community and didn’t go elsewhere to search for something better. People find employment, reside in dormitories, and say that the Znamianka Territorial Community is the best place for displaced persons among all possible options.

Everyone who lives in the community notes that the adaptation was faster than expected

Also, everyone who lives in the community notes that the adaptation was place faster than expected. And we also add quantitative indicators to these estimates.

For example, modifications were implemented in the medical care programs for IDPs. Currently, 826 individuals, including 438 children, among the IDP population have signed a declaration with family doctors at the Municipal Enterprise “Znamianka City Center for Primary Health Care.” Additionally, 183 internally displaced children are receiving education in general secondary education institutions within the community, and 78 preschool children are enrolled in pre-school education.

I can’t say they wouldn’t have been able to do it without us, but the integration process would have been longer, more traumatic, and less successful. A survey conducted by the authorities revealed that the majority of IDPs are generally satisfied with the services they receive in our community. And the only thing they lack is money.

I will share the survey results separately since they are also important to us. The authorities studied how IDPs learned about opportunities, oriented themselves, and sought assistance. More than 20% of respondents indicated that Znamianski Visti newspaper served as a significant source of information for them. The newspaper is distributed mainly by subscription, so we consider this a good result.

We are presenting the results of this survey as they were showcased at a round table organized by the authorities. Incidentally, this discussion shared the same name as our project, which we conducted with the support of the UMBA and the EU Delegation – “Integration of IDPs into Znamianka Community.” According to the presentation of the Town Council secretary, IDPs use the following sources to obtain information:

♦ Mobile apps – 39.5%

♦ Social media – 33.1%

♦ Telegram, Viber – 29.2%

♦ Printing press – 22.1%

♦ Internet resources – 20.9%

♦ Information stands in the council premises – 15.9%

Zelenska, the Speaker of the Town Council, expressed her appreciation for our efforts and emphasized the significance of our contribution. She noted that communication platforms have been established and emphasized the need to engage more IDPs in cultural, educational events, and social activities in the future.

How the project changed our editorial staff directly

I’ll start with numbers; they are crucial to demonstrate the connection between what we did for people and how people rated the value of our work for themselves. After all, indicators of audience dynamics are the most accurate confirmation of how much people need what we do.

During the project, we have prepared more than 30 unique publications. All of them were published both in the newspaper and in social media, and we distributed them in every possible way. With the publications created during the project, we reached at least 11 thousand readers. About 3,000 of them were covered through the newspaper, and the rest through digital platforms. At the same time, our subscription circulation increased by 72 copies, a noteworthy contrast to the significant decrease observed last year.

To enhance the impact on the effectiveness of working with subscribers and reduce dependence on the results of Ukrposhta’s reform, we have organized a subscription service in the editorial office. So now, in addition to postal deliveries, we have more than 300 subscriptions, with people coming to collect them directly from our editorial office. Another 200 copies are collected by the railway trade union every month.

We also started actively developing our social media. Before the project, we were not represented at all on Telegram and Instagram. And now we have about 1,000 new readers there. Of course, we don’t stop working with our Facebook group where we have more than 3,000 followers. The newspaper’s materials are often republished in our Facebook group by our mayor, thereby expanding our overall coverage.

Page layouting with a powerful computer, acquired thanks to the UMBA project.

The media literacy training sessions that we conducted as part of our project played a crucial role. We invited psychologists and organized meetings in places where IDPs live compactly. This work truly helped people and gave them more confidence in how to approach various information. At the beginning of these training sessions, the first participants were even hesitant to write their names on the registration sheets due to fear.

The biggest changes happened for us, though. We changed the concept of the newspaper. We are grateful to Oleksii Pohorieliov. We considered giving up the project right from the beginning, at the application stage. We realized that our editorial staff had reached the stage of “familiar paths” – the same characters, and the geography was limited to the town executive committee, the veterans’ organization, and the education department. It was evident that we needed to do something about it. The acceptance of self-calming words, like all newspapers having low subscriptions, should not be considered normal. Therefore, we began analyzing our audience. Identifying the topics we don’t cover but that people would love to read about. Could it be that we have an excess of unpaid, non-informative materials from sources such as firefighters, pensioners, the State Labor Service, and so on? They simply occupied our newspaper spaces to submit their reports, and as a result, we couldn’t provide our audience with what they needed the most.

We considered giving up the project right from the beginning, at the application stage. But the project pulled us out of our routine and motivated us to work differently, setting goals and achieving them

When we began answering questions like “why this?” or “why is this so?” or “what interests our audience most?” in some cases, there was nothing to say. So, we sat down and reviewed all our newspaper issues from the entire year. Then we wrote down what we would like to reread. So we changed the sections. We forbade writing about the same person more than twice a month (except for the mayor). We started section “Good news on Monday,” “Rumors. What really happened,” “Three questions to authorities,” “Working week of the mayor”, etc. And, most importantly, we removed our emotions from the list of our focus.

Subscriptions have increased this year. This marks a step forward, instilling confidence that the newspaper will thrive, and the team will spearhead new projects beneficial to Znamianka residents.

So I can affirm that the project pulled us out of our routine and motivated to work differently, setting goals and achieving them. We invite you to take a look at our experience.

Of course, we were mindful that internally displaced persons require attention, comprising nearly 20% of the population, and their presence impacts various societal processes. But, to be honest, we thought that these were problems and concerns of the authorities. We had our own troubles. However, when we documented the tasks that needed completion, it became evident that we were far from indifferent. That we can and should cooperate with the authorities to inform Znamianka residents, provide support, offer advice, and connect them with experts.

Of course, it wasn’t easy for us. It was difficult to change. Overcoming inertia and the inclination to continue working as before proved to be the most challenging aspects. We changed approaches, specific tasks, and had training. We haven’t done everything yet – the processes are still ongoing. But the results we have received make our progress and change irreversible.

Our recommendations to colleagues

In examining our experience, we recommend our colleagues to be versatile, agile, step out of their offices, and engage in continuous learning. Even if you are over 50, don’t hesitate to heed the explanations of a twenty-year-old specialist. Listen and learn, as they possess knowledge you may not. We have stepped over ambition and all the other things that prevent us from moving. We recommend it to everyone. Sometimes, you have to experience setbacks firsthand for things to truly click.

We hardly have any good-for-all recipes. But you need to learn a lot. The more skills and certificates you possess, the more opportunities you have to implement the project. IDPs are wary of strangers. Gaining trust is difficult because they hide their names, avoid putting signatures, and are suspicious that you want to obtain harmful information about them. However, if you dedicate an entire day to discussing information hygiene, offering advice on steering clear of pitfalls, and bring along coffee, tea, cookies, and cups adorned with a trident image, the coffee break becomes an opportunity for informal communication, breaking down any remaining barriers. But before that, there were a lot of exercises and certificates of a facilitator coach from the British Council, a certificate of a media literacy coach, and others. That helped us a lot. IDPs in Bobrinka still ask when we will come again. This year, we also have orders from volunteers, the executive committee, and veterans. All trainings are associated with the editorial office.

We recommend everyone to be versatile, and agile, step out of their offices, and engage in continuous learning. Even if you are over 50, don’t hesitate to listen to the explanations of a twenty-year-old specialist, as they possess knowledge you may not

We are progressing as well. We were very inspired by the new opportunities. We knew that we could not afford the website. And now we have it! We’ve formed friendships with IDPs and received appreciation for addressing their issues. We know almost all of them. They greet us on the street and often drop by to share updates about their new jobs. At times, it feels like a reciprocal integration has occurred, as if we’ve become part of their community.

Materials for the new website. District. Znamianka. The old computer was not able to support new apps.

But, of course, not everything was successful. There are also problems with website content. There is not much dynamic news, and it is not always possible to make news out of large materials. We are learning. If you’ve always been a newspaper-maker, then being someone else isn’t easy. But we can handle it!

Although our project is completed, we do not abandon the topic of IDPs. Recently, a round table was organized with the authorities, NGO representatives, and the Kropyvnytskyi police. Of course, we have published all the results of the discussion. But this is a project that cannot be completed. We will continue to cover the stories of displaced persons, who now make up almost 20% of the entire community’s population. To our hesitant colleagues, we recommend staying calm and carrying on. Fatigue and insomnia are nothing compared to the experience and skills gained. No one will take that from you. I envy the new participants. They have everything ahead of them.

AUTHOR: Victoriia Mirkevych, Editor-in-Chief of Znamianski Visti 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.