| by Irene Fernald

News Stories

Elena Kostyuchenko

Russian investigative journalist and special correspondent for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Elena Kostyuchenko, spoke in Russian to MIIS students about her experiences reporting in the Donbass region of Ukraine and in Norilsk, Russia. Kostyuchenko provided insights on war and environmental justice and responded to students’ questions.

Kostyuchenko’s experience in Donbass was unique because she reported both from the Ukrainian side of the armed conflict and the Russian side and observed first-hand the role of military and the impact of the war on civilians.

She observed Ukrainian military units straying from the official line of command in disregard of military superiors to conduct mini incursions into enemy territory at night.

She spoke about the media’s tendency to justify the war and portray it as a noble and necessary undertaking. To Kostyuchenko, the war appeared to be about civilian losses: killing family members, maiming elders who could not get to bomb shelters quickly enough, losing homes. The war struck her as a brutal, senseless enterprise.

In terms of continuing coverage in the Donbass region, Kostyuchenko described a stalemate, where it is unsafe to send young reporters to the region and more experienced reporters like herself have been blacklisted in both Ukrainian-controlled and Russian-controlled territories for their objective coverage of the conflict, without glorification of either side.

Kostyuchenko also reported on the spill in Norilsk, Northern Siberia as a result of the lack of technological services at Nornickel mining operations in Norilsk. The spill released 21 thousand tons of petroleum products and caused 149 billion rubles worth of environmental damage. It was the largest disaster of this type in Russia since 1994.

Norilsk’s isolation posed a challenge in itself, as it took two days for the news about the disaster to reach Moscow. Kostyuchenko discovered that Nornickel’s private security force was hiding the extent of environmental damage from the public. This story highlighted the weakness of the Russian judicial system to persecute environmental injustices. Kostyuchenko’s story also raised questions about the future of environmental justice in Russia, where public actions to defend the environment are perceived by the government as subversive activities. Despite this, Kostyuchenko mentioned Putin’s active interest in environmental issues as one of the few touchpoints between him and liberal media.