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May 12, 2022, 11:27 a.m.

Another language, another alphabet: Polish media adds Ukrainian sections amid war

Poland, which has taken in more Ukrainian refugees than any other country, is launching news products for them.

In the heart of Warsaw, a team of five journalists and editors at the Polish Press Agency (Polska Agencja Prasowa) is hard at work, but they aren’t working in Polish. They are translating and reporting in Ukrainian.

It’s one of several media efforts in Poland that sprang into action following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The war has triggered the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II and Poland, which had over 1 million Ukrainians working in the country prior to the war, has now taken in over 3 million Ukrainian refugees, more than any other country.

The journalism efforts in Poland across different mediums — online news, radio, a culture magazine —  have meant building out new sections, hiring new staff, and working in another language, reading and writing in the Cyrillic alphabet.

PAP’s Ukrainian-language service, run out of its Warsaw office, was formed in a week and publishes content every day on topics like the war in Ukraine and Poland’s response. Recent headlines included a look at Poland’s demand of more EU sanctions against Russia and a story on locations in Trostyanets where Ukrainian civilians were tortured.

“This war has truly changed everything,” said Jarosław Junko, the coordinator of PAP’s Ukrainian and Russian language services. Junko is fluent in Ukrainian and spent 15 years as PAP’s foreign correspondent in Ukraine before returning to Poland in 2020. “Every internet resource that respects itself has a Ukrainian-language site. This is absolutely a big change and it’s a fine one because it shows Poland is taking its neighbor, and the people who arrived in our country, seriously.”

Ukrainian Iryna Hirnyk, who completed her master’s in journalism in Poland, joined the team on March 8 and is working as an editor translating and reporting news. “The work is very intense because there is so much information during the day that comes through,” she said.

Hirnyk, like other members of the team, has family and friends back in Ukraine. And while it’s not pleasant to constantly edit and translate war news, she said the work gives her purpose.

The news wire decided to provide full bylines on its Ukrainian service to help the young journalists grow their resumes. PAP is looking to grow its Ukrainian-language section into a serious resource on Poland for Ukrainians, including information on legal and economic help and how to live in Poland, Junko added. He’s  currently housing nine Ukrainian refugees.

At the top of news site Onet’s homepage, on the far right , is a highlighted section in yellow with Cyrillic font that reads: “For Ukrainians.” Onet launched its Ukrainian-language section at the end of February, driven by the thought of what its staffers would want to know if they were in the place of the Ukrainians fleeing, said Kamil Turecki, coordinator of the Ukrainian service and an international affairs journalist at Onet.

Onet publishes between three and 10 stories to a day, and while that includes daily updates on the war, a month and a half in, the site has also added more lifestyle coverage. “We try to do our best to make our [stories] be kind of a guide to Polish reality,” Turecki said.

Onet is working with three Ukraine-connected outlets and every team in the broader newsroom can contribute by sending coverage to Ukrainian translators, Turecki said. To cover the cost, Onet tapped into part of its newsroom budget that was reserved for unexpected situations. Three Ukrainian journalists, including two who fled the war, are working on the service that also translates Ukrainian coverage into Polish for the main site. They’re looking to recruit more journalists. Turecki is already thinking ahead in years, saying with over 4 million Ukrainians in Poland they are now the country’s largest minority group. “We are definitely not closing it,” he said.

At the Ukrainian House in the eastern Polish city of Przemysl, close to the Ukrainian border, signs about refugee assistance line the walls. Outside a beautiful theater room that’s been converted into a 50-bed temporary housing space, there’s a sign directing people to Radio RMF Ukrainia — 98.6 FM. Poland’s RMF Group launched the service on March 2, after just a little over a day of discussion. The station has frequencies in Przemysl and one in Hrubieszow, said Jaroslaw Pioterczak, the program director of RMF MAXXX.

“The idea from the beginning is the same — just helpful information,” Pioterczak said, speaking the from group’s trendy office in Krakow.

The commercial-free station broadcasts information for refugees, including border crossing times, information about how to get the necessary documents to work in Poland, and explanations of cultural differences. (For example, in Poland, the ground floor of a building is considered floor 0. Ukrainians who don’t know that might get confused).

In the early days, the service included some English-language coverage to help non-Ukrainian speakers who were also fleeing. The station is being broadcast around the clock, in partnership with Radio Smak in Ukraine. Ten Ukrainians are now working on the project.

RMF hopes to turn off its radio station when the war ends. “I would like to do it as short as it’s possible,” Pioterczak said, because that would mean the war has ended. “But we will do it as long as we will have to and as long as it will be helpful.”

And Ukrainian language additions aren’t just happening in straight news. Zofia Król, editor-in-chief of cultural magazine Dwutygodnik, decided to launch a Ukrainian section after Russia’s invasion. With financial backing from European and Polish institutions, they are ordering articles directly from Ukrainian authors that will run in Ukrainian and be translated into Polish.

“In this situation, for us, it’s really important to help and to help develop new places to write about Ukrainian culture,” she said, adding that “All of us, we think now, we feel a bit guilty about the past. We feel a bit, maybe, we should [have paid] attention to Ukrainian culture before the war.”

Dwutygodnik recently hired a Ukrainian editor, Vira Baldyniuk of Ukrainian site Korydor, to run the new department. Some articles will run on Korydor as well.

Onet’s Turecki says the different efforts show Polish media are passing “the exam of humanity.”

“I think it’s our duty of the media in general,” he said. “And it’s the duty of humans to help them start their life up here, no matter if they want to stay in Poland for [awhile] longer or not.”

Lydia Tomkiw is a journalist based in New York City covering financial and international affairs news.

Signs at Ukrainian House in Przemysl. Photo by Emily Johnson.

POSTED     May 12, 2022, 11:27 a.m.
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