Ukraine Through the Lens of Emma Farnè

As the war in Ukraine continues, we spoke to RAI journalist and war correspondent, Emma Farnè, who remains in the country under assault.

The war in Ukraine continues, with the whole world watching and wondering where we’re heading. But the world has a window on the war only thanks to the journalists who remain on the ground.

We have the journalists — Ukrainian and international — to thank for shining a light on what continues to unfold in the country, and for sharing the the stories, news, and emotion of those living under attack. And they are risking their lives to do it. American journalist, Brent Renaud, was only the first international journalist to be killed by Russian forces, in the town of Irpin where he was traveling to film refugees.

We spoke with Emma Farnè, an Italian journalist from RAI News 24 who took the time for us directly from Ukraine. Starting out as a traveling correspondent with a focus on Germany, she now works across different countries, such as Sri Lanka, Greece, and the UK. Currently, she is the only woman journalist for RAI in Ukraine.

Collecting and transmitting

“I am not the central story here,” Emma Farnè insists. “The Ukrainians are the most important news. We journalists are merely collecting their story and transmitting it. We must be strong for the people we encounter every day, the people without food or water. Or people who have lost contact with the outside world and others who have lost their families.”

Journalists are not the main protagonists of the news. In fact, they are outside of it altogether. Yet they are those who risk their lives to share narratives that would otherwise be lost. Today, we have this chance to be in closer contact with a country now losing resemblance to what it used to be. And Emma’s images are part of the way that we can understand that transformation.

Emma has seen that transformation first hand. A story that she shares with me is about communities losing their city in a matter of seconds. These are cities that had already looked different to how they did years ago, due to Russia’s constant pressure on the country.

“We escaped a city, while it was being bombarded, and it was surreal. People are becoming detached. I once saw people exiting the metro, where they were hiding, walking by now destroyed buildings as if that is how their lives had always been.”

Unconditional love and a journalist’s compassion

Emma spends the few minutes she has for me to tell me what she has seen and experienced. In particular, Emma shares how she has noticed one small, but powerful detail, whenever she sees mothers with their children arriving from bombarded cities to the shelters.

“One extremely loving touch you see in mothers is how well dressed their children are as they escape from their homes. Warm coats, gloves, and proper shoes. The mothers prepared them for the moment of escape so they could survive in this cold weather. Yet they don’t always prepare themselves. Some mothers come with barely any proper clothing — broken shoes, for example, some even flip flops — yet their children entirely the opposite.”

Another story Emma tells us is about the emotion of Ukrainians who come to the realization that the war is happening and how surreal it feels. The journalist narrates how when she met the mother of three children escaping from a bombarded city, this young woman only in that moment realized that she survived.

“As I approached her and asked her to share with me her experience, this young mother smiled. She could barely believe she was still alive.”

Generally, explains Emma, women tend to have two reactions to their escape: they either cry or stand still emotionless. This makes being a witness a difficult experience.

“You must be strong to be able to tell the story. You are there to support them, to share their lives with the rest of the world, and your emotions must come second. As my boss tells me, as you dose the water you have left when you travel, so we must dose our compassion.”

A much-needed lens

As the war in Ukraine moves towards its 30th day, the Kremlin continues to bombard shelters, schools, and hospitals. While prime ministers, politicians, and even entrepreneurs speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — who has given a sensational example of leadership — and sanctions have been applied, nothing seems to have deterred Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s propaganda seems to have convinced some Russian citizens that the war in Ukraine is for their wellbeing, as he pursues his threats to those western countries, like Italy, that are applying sanctions. From one perspective, this shows the susceptibility of the media to power. Yet it is stories such as Emma’s which prove the value of journalists in allowing us to see, share in, and connect with stories so far away. Our looking at moments that were unimaginable in the past allows us to open our minds, learn, and support the communities under threat.

As our brief call comes to an end, Emma shares how she frequently wonders what she would do if it happened to her, if she found herself homeless, without food or water, fighting the cold as her country was under attack.

“There is little time to think too much. What we can do is move beyond our sense of guilt and realize that we are privileged. Our one single task here is to show the rest of the world what is going on.”

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