At the invitation of the Estonian Centre for International Development (ESTDEV), twenty-one Ukrainian journalists paid a visit to Estonia in an effort to hone their professional skills and fight disinformation. Visitors learned about Estonia’s aid to Ukrainian war refugees and the impact of Russian aggression in Ukraine on Estonian defense policy. Such study visits are an essential component of the ESTDEV/US Embassy in Kyiv’s joint project, “Enhancing Societal Resilience through Strengthening Local Media and Developing Media Literacy in Western Ukraine”. Through these visits, journalists gain professional experience and develop the critical thinking techniques necessary to recognise disinformation.
“It is crucial to treat these study visits with a sense of urgency, rather than waiting until the end of the war. Ukrainian journalists need our support now,” explains Anna Alen, ESTDEV project manager. “It is crucial that they develop their professional skills, as they day in and day out continue their vital work despite the war.”
In 2021, Ukraine was ranked 97th in the world according to the Press Freedom Index. A year later, Ukraine’s rank fell to 106th place. Ukraine’s media landscape, while diverse, remains largely in the hands of oligarchs. These oligarchs control every state television channel except for the state broadcaster, Suspilne.
Disinformation has quickly become a serious problem, as the widespread use of social media has allowed misleading and false information to spread quickly. The Russian attacks of propaganda and disinformation that target Ukrainian media may have escalated during the war, but they have been a long-present threat to democracy and freedom across the globe. In many cases, the intention that underlies fake news is to influence public opinion and undermine the stability of national institutions.
In Ukraine, the lack of information among the Ukrainian people regarding types of disinformation and its spread, as well as ongoing reforms related to European integration, has made both local media and residents more susceptible to information manipulation.
The project, “Enhancing Societal Resilience through Strengthening Local Media and Developing Media Literacy in Western Ukraine”, is a cooperative effort between the Ukraine Crisis Media Center (UCMC) and ESTDEV, focused on developing the professional skills of journalists and strengthening young people’s critical thinking and media literacy. ESTDEV’s predecessor, the Estonian Centre for Eastern Partnership, has been training Ukrainian journalists since 2017. Through our work, we hope to increase local governments’ ability to communicate with their communities in crisis situations.
This study visit included excursions to…
- The refugee center in Tallinn and the ferry “Isabelle”, rented by the Social Insurance Board to satisfy temporary housing needs, upon which 1,600 Ukrainian refugees are currently staying;
- The Freedom School, which uses language immersion to educate students across subject areas in both the Estonian and Ukrainian languages
- The city of Narva, where we were introduced to the stratagems of the local Defense League and the concept of wide-area protection. Visitors also met with the Ukrainian community in Narva, who offered to help Ukrainian war refugees arriving through Russia;
- Border control in Eastern Estonia, where we were given an overview of the procedures for registering refugees and granting them temporary asylum.
The visiting journalists shared that they are thankful to have had a window into the lives of Ukrainian refugeeswho fled the war lead in Estonia, and to cover it in their media. In addition to valuable excursions, this visit provided an opportunity for visitors to get to know Estonian life in various fields, and broaden professional horizons.
Throughout the visit, the group was impressed by Estonia’s internationally recognized digital systems and the opportunity to witness them firsthand: “Online services and media are vital in Ukraine today. They help the country function in the face of Russia’s military aggression,” explains Eva-Maria Liimets, ESTDEV’s strategy advisor for Eastern Partnership countries. “Even though this group of visiting journalists live with bombings that continuously barrage civilian infrastructure, they had energy to be excited about the experiences offered during this study visit, and took away from it the practical knowledge and momentum to defeat fake news.”
Supporting independent media and fighting disinformation is an integral part of Estonia’s efforts to strengthen a resilient society and protect democracy in Ukraine.
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The Estonian Center for International Development is a state foundation that organizes and coordinates Estonia’s participation in international development cooperation and humanitarian aid projects, with the aim of increasing Estonia’s contribution to global security and sustainable development.