Journalists Evgeniy Maloletka and Mstyslav Chernov spent three weeks in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol when it was under attack by Russian forces, risking their lives to capture images of death and destruction and transmitting those images out of the besieged city so the rest of the world could see what was happening.
Maloletka’s photograph of a pregnant woman, who later died, being carried out of a bombed-out maternity ward appeared in newspapers around the world, as did Chernov’s photos of dazed residents struggling to process the carnage, which appeared as part of a first-person account of his experience.
Without them bearing witness, others might not have understood what was happening on the ground in Mariupol. On Oct. 14 in Lorimer Chapel on the Mayflower Hill campus, Colby honored the photojournalists with the 70th Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism.
The two photojournalists participated in the award ceremony via video link. They said they set aside their own grief and personal feelings as their country was being bombed and their fellow citizens were dying, because of their larger duty to the truth.
“It was important to show the country and the world the suffering and pain of Ukrainians,” Maloletka said. Chernov and Maloletka covered the Russian invasion of Ukraine for the Associated Press. Chernov is a photographer, filmmaker, and war correspondent, Maloletka is a freelance photojournalist.
In a world at risk of becoming numb to violence, Chernov and Maloletka exhibited the courage necessary to document the violence in Mariupol and demonstrate what was actually happening, Colby President David A. Greene said as he conferred the awards to the journalists. In doing so, they embodied the spirit of Lovejoy, a Colby graduate who was killed by a mob in 1837 for editorializing against slavery.
The Lovejoy Award honors journalists who continue Lovejoy’s commitment to freedom and fearlessness. It’s the first time the award has been given to photojournalists.
Chernov and Maloletka rose to challenge the moment, which Greene described as “the ultimate show-me moment, don’t just tell-me moment. … Without the people who had the courage to be there on the ground when that danger was at its greatest, we might have never known. This was a time when propaganda was flying about this war, when it seemed easy to imagine ‘maybe this won’t be so bad,’ until these images started to come home and into our lives in ways that were searing and so powerful. It’s impossible not to look at the work of these journalists—impossible—and not be moved, and hopefully moved into action.”
Chernov and Maloletka were interviewed by Brian Carovillano ’95, former vice president, news, at the AP, who oversaw Chernov and Maloletka’s work there, and Ron Nixon, current vice president, news, and head of investigations, enterprise, partnerships, and grants at the Associated Press. Carovillano is currently senior vice president and head of standards for the NBC Universal News Group.
Prior to the Russian invasion, both journalists had extensive experience covering wars and working in war zones. In their conversation at Colby, they said they arrived in Mariupol during the early-morning hours before the bombing began and decided to stay because of their commitment to the truth and to their country. “This is not about us. It’s about the people,” Maloletka said.
Chernov, who had covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said covering the war in his home country has been difficult and challenging for emotional reasons. It’s hard to see bodies in the streets of your hometown, he said. “However hard it is to cover a conflict in your own country, it is exhilarating, it propels you into doing the work as good as possible. It gives you energy. It is your home. There is no way out,” he said.
Never before had they witnessed such death and carnage. “All these years we have seen so (much) human suffering, but I have never seen so many children killed in one place in such a short period of time,” Maloletka said, adding that he hoped their work helped show the world the truth of what was happening on the ground to “bring justice to the thousands killed in this bloody war.”
When asked how they managed to keep their sanity during their ordeal, Maloletka answered, “You don’t. You don’t stay sane. That’s the truth, but that’s OK. That’s fine, because the whole country is traumatized. The whole culture is traumatized.”
Most important, he said, is knowing that their work has impact and meaning.
“The worst thing for any human being is to know that his or her suffering or the suffering of relatives or loved ones doesn’t have any purpose, doesn’t have any meaning. It is not scary to die. It is scary to die meaningless, if that makes sense.”
Despite the physical distance of the Lovejoy Award recipients, the talk was full of emotion. The journalists answered several questions from the audience and received a warm standing ovation.
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