Editor’s Note: Daryna Shevchenko is the CEO of Kyiv Independent, Ukraine’s biggest English-language voice during Russia’s aggression of Ukraine. She’s also a co-founder of The Fix. 

A few days ago Pulitzer Prize Board awarded all Ukrainian journalists with a special citation ”for their courage, endurance, and commitment to truthful reporting during Vladimir Putin’s ruthless invasion of their country and his propaganda war in Russia”. 

I have mixed feelings about our (very deserved) Pulitzer Prize mention. I am deeply disturbed by its annotation.

This actually suggests we didn’t do our job as well as could be expected. It is right back where we started. It is “Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine”. Again.

But let’s be the fighters that we are and use this as an opportunity to clarify this for our colleagues abroad. Again.

It’s not Vladimir Putin’s war/invasion/attack/atrocities. It’s Russia’s. It’s not even breaking news anymore that dozens of millions of Russians wholeheartedly support the war waged by their own (elected by them) Vladimir “the ultimate evil” Putin. They paint their newly discovered nazi Zs everywhere, they ride proudly with Russian flags through the streets of Berlin, they send their sons to go kill, torture and rape Ukrainians, they honor our killers as heroes. Not Vladimir Putin. All of that is on Russians.

Brainwashed by the propaganda? We have to finally make an effort and move away from this stupid notion that suggests human beings have no free will whatsoever. They all had access to the internet, Google, Facebook… But they chose to stay in their bubble. It is and was a choice. And our blood is on their hands, not just Putin’s.

As for the “good Russians”, the ones who don’t share the imperial aspirations of their motherland. Let’s say they are out there, fighting their silent fight. But is that even nearly enough?

Just look to Belarus as a comparison. Propaganda and attacks on the media were just as bad under Lukashenko – in fact until recently they were worse. They didn’t win their battle, but they didn’t give up the fight. Support for the war is a fraction of what it is in Russia. The military resisted pressure to get involved directly, ordinary Belarusians took risky steps to sabotage the war. The country’s independent media played a role in capturing and sharing evidence of Russian troop movements and looting – sharing this information with Ukraine and the world.

Contrast that with Russia. Most media – even the ones celebrated by the West – at first decided to make some empty gestures, lay low and wait things out (turns out this was the last straw, there is nothing more to wait for) and then turned to endless whining. 

Galina Timchenko, the publisher of celebrated Meduza, Russia’s liberal online publication in exile, even called sanctions against Russia “a discrimination” speaking at an international media event in Oslo, Norway. She said visa and swift bans destroyed her crowdfunding campaign. 

That’s too bad.

But let me remind you, those sanctions are the only thing helping weaken the state that murders people of Ukraine every day. I wouldn’t call this standing up for Ukraine. I wouldn’t call this standing up at all. That’s just a good old fight for your own good. 

You can argue that “now is too dangerous”. Let’s say it is and why to risk your life if it’s not going to change anything anyway. Then what the hell have they been doing for the last 30 years?

Russia didn’t become this monster state in a year or even five. It took time – time they had to fight it off. Instead, they complied. They adjusted to one authoritarian law after another, they swallowed the losses of their own, they left their beloved Russia to fight battles from cozy Europe. And now guess what? It’s too late. Now we are paying for their compliance. So, it’s on them as well. 

There is too few of them? That’s on them too. When I started working in the media some 11 years ago, there were maybe 5 or 6 independent media at a national level in Ukraine. Two of them were Radio Liberty and BBC Ukrainian. Now the independent media of Ukraine is a fire force. And that didn’t just happen. It wasn’t granted to us. It’s not a coincidence. We made it happen. We fought for it. We lost ours and fought to get them justice. We didn’t win all the battles, but we did win many. And it took us decades. That’s why we got this award in the first place.

So let’s not fool ourselves, colleagues. It’s not Vladimir Putin’s war. It’s Russia’s and that whole country is responsible for it.

And thank you for recognising our efforts. It does mean a lot.

Photo from the official Twitter account of the Pulitzer Prizes