Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Izium has been under constant shelling and missile attacks. The city was occupied from March 7 to September 10, 2022. During the occupation, Obriї 1919 was the only local media outlet able to provide the residents of Izium with up-to-date information and news. While the Russian media disseminated false narratives in the occupied territories, Kostiantyn Hryhorenko, the director of Obriї 1919, did not give up on the mission of fighting this propaganda. He ensured that the newspaper brought information and hope to those who were cut off from the free world.

What is the meaning of 1919 in your newspaper’s name?

The newspaper, in fact, is called Obriї Iziumshchyny (Izium Region Horizons). However, 1919 is when it was founded. Since then, the newspaper has changed its name 11 times but never changed its mission—to publish local news. The central fact, however, is the language of the newspaper. We have always been a Ukrainian-language newspaper, even during Soviet times. This is very important to emphasize.

Tell us about your readers. How do you see the audience of Obriї?

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we had 3,000 subscribers and sold around 1,000 newspapers directly each week. Today, unfortunately we cannot yet offer a subscription service. Post offices are destroyed and can’t deliver newspapers, logistics are broken. However, we went back to publishing the newspaper immediately after the liberation of the territories of Izium and the region. During the first two months, in September and October 2022, we distributed the newspaper free of charge. We aimed to reach Izium citizens as soon as possible to let them know that we were back, Ukraine was back, and the Ukrainian language was back. 

Obriї is the leading media outlet in the region. Publishing Obriї was our statement of freedom. Now, we publish around 2,000 hard copies of the newspaper. Still, we also use online resources—our website and social media platforms. We look forward to returning to the prewar numbers, as we understand that people trust and need us, and we miss our readers. 

What are the main topics you write about?

Our first and foremost priority is the Izium region, including the Izium city hromada (community) and eight other hromadas of the region. We provide information on the topics critically important to the locals: post, bank services, medical services, education, and cooperation with volunteers and international organizations that help the region.

We also write about our military, the women and men who protect us, who fight the Russian occupiers. Recently, we published a powerful and touching story about one of our fellow citizens who fought in Mariupol and was taken into Russian captivity. He came back alive! And he returned to the battlefield to continue protecting Ukraine! 

These are our stories. Now, we are working on an almanac that will tell the chronology of the Russian occupation of Izium. After the Armed Forces of Ukraine liberated the city, the world learned about the atrocities Russian troops had committed there. The torture and killing of hundreds of civilians, with many mass graves left behind, became known as the Izium Massacre. We asked our readers to share stories, photos, and materials that capture their experiences of surviving under the occupation. I am grateful and inspired by our readers, who immediately started reaching out and sharing their experiences with us. Being a local media outlet is our strength. We are neighbors, survivors. Nobody knows better and nobody can tell our stories better than we can. 

I am honored to announce another inspiring update: a future cooperation with the publishing house Folio. It is one of the biggest in Ukraine. They want to publish the stories of our people in a book titled Izium. The book will be published in Ukrainian and English to tell our fellow Ukrainians and the international audience the story of our survival, the losses we had to live through, and the fight we led. We carry these stories, and nobody knows better how to tell them.

What was life like for Obriї under the Russian occupation?

First, the Russians attempted to block our website. With the support of our colleagues and international media partners, we unblocked it. I still don’t know all the people who helped us get the website back, but I am immensely grateful. Our social media became the only bridge for information between the occupied and free territories. When the Russians occupied the city, they shut down two radio stations. They also blocked the official city website. We were the only media outlet able to share information with citizens.

My wife and I left the city on March 5, and our part of the city was occupied on March 6. Several people from our team had to stay in Izium. Our readers became our primary source of information about what was happening under the occupation. They would contact me via cell phone, social media, and email. Even our police were impressed by the amount of information I was receiving and was able to publish. Still, the credit here goes to our readers, our citizens who, despite life-threatening obstacles, had the courage to share updates on the region’s daily life and even on the whereabouts of the Russian military. In July 2022, when more people evacuated from the occupied territories, they would reach me from European countries or elsewhere in the world.

Man holding a camera

The most important thing for me is when people say: “We heard your voice and knew there was hope.” In my podcasts, I would say: “We didn’t forget you. We didn’t leave you. The Armed Forces of Ukraine will liberate Izium.” People with radio access would share this with their neighbors door-to-door.

Did the Russians have a media strategy?

Absolutely. As soon as the Russians would occupy any city or village, they would make sure to fill in the information vacuum with their propaganda. In April 2022, they started publishing a booklet, the Izium Telegraph. They also restarted local radio stations and used them to distribute propaganda. They distributed the newspaper Kharkov Z, published in Belgorod, Russia. 

The propaganda was forceful. Some people believed it. However, many more people could critically analyze what they heard. I refuted these manipulations and disinformation online as well. 

Even today, I feel that national agencies leave gaps in their work with media in the liberated areas of Ukraine. Local media desperately need more support. We are the only outlet working in the Izium region. There is no radio, no TV, and no other newspapers. We are it. Overall, of 27 newspapers in the Kharkiv region before the full-scale invasion, only 12 are back to life. 

What does local media have that makes it so popular and so necessary for local people?

First, trust. We live side by side with these people; we see each other daily. We can’t be silenced even if the local officials don’t like hearing what we have to say. This is the most critical role of the local media. We feel the pulse of the community, and we know the issues they worry about. We receive powerful feedback from our readers who read us via social media. They leave comments, and we take this feedback very seriously. 

We also do online streaming and live interviews with our local officials. We organize roundtables and discussions to ensure that our readers can easily communicate with their representatives in the government. We are a bridge between citizens and their representatives.