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The Ukrainian Officer Tweeting from the Frontlines of the War in Donbas

Sergei Misyura, an officer in the Ukrainian Army. (image courtesy of Sergei Misyura)

Sergei Misyura, an officer in the Ukrainian Army. (image courtesy of Sergei Misyura)

This article is part of an extensive RuNet Echo study of Russian-language blogosphere in Eastern UkraineExplore the complete interview series on the Eastern Ukraine Unfiltered page.

Like many of the citizen journalists profiled in this series, Sergei Misyura's interest in blogging and social media was initially driven by a completely apolitical topic: mobile phones. That changed in the last year as the conflict in Eastern Ukraine engulfed the Ukrainian blogosphere—and Sergei's life.

Начинал я вести свой твиттер еще в 2010 году, начинал вести блог о смартфонах Nokia в основном. Но и другие гаджеты стороной не обходил, при этом уже в то время я был офицером украинской армии.

I started keeping a Twitter account back in 2010, and [also] started keeping a blog mainly about Nokia smartphones. Other gadgets also featured. At the same time I was an officer in the Ukrainian army.

Misyura, whose Twitter account @SPaWN_ua, has over 15,000 followers, spent four months with the 72nd Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fighting in the ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’ (ATO) in Luhansk region, providing a direct insight for his followers into how the war was going.

The fight for Krasnodon has been going for two days. We can't go there as a battalion, we should do a combined operation, maybe with different brigades. It's going to be difficult.

Well, it's morning. Despite all predictions, last night turned out to be ordinary, constant fire with anti-tank missiles and two barrages of GRAD. There are casualties…

When asked if it was difficult to provide updates during a war, Misyura replies that logistical and other issues were definitely a factor, but that he considered it necessary to provide information to Ukrainians back home.

В первые два месяца вообще не тяжело, ведь войска использовались только для несения службы на блок-постах. А дальше, в Луганской области начались боевые действия, обстрелы… Было тяжело, но после выполнения задач, я считал своим долгом писать о происходящем вокруг. Да и многим украинцам интересно мнение офицера именно с полей, который своими глазами видит и чувствует своей шкурой, что же на самом деле происходит в АТО, а не как это показывают по ТВ или пишут на сайтах, в газетах.

The first two months weren't difficult at all, as our forces were used only for manning checkpoints. But later in Luhansk region the fighting started… firefights… it was difficult, but after completing my tasks, I considered it my duty to write about what was going on around me. And indeed, many Ukrainians were interested in the opinions of an officer from the field, who could see with his own eyes and feel with his own skin what was really going on in the ATO, and not what was being shown on TV or written about on websites and in newspapers.

At one point he even had to resort to dictating messages by phone to his wife back home.

Самый тяжелый период был после поломки моего смартфона, отсутствия интернета и постоянных обстрелов с територии РФ. В таком случае с моего аккаунта писала моя жена @vetochka0505 после телефонного разговора со мной.

The most difficult period was after my smartphone broke, there was no internet and constant fire from Russian territory. In that case my account was written by my wife, @vetochka0505 after phone conversations with me.

Much like @ExileUA, who tweets from Slovyansk, Misyura sees his role as shedding light on a conflict that (in his opinion) Russian journalists are unwilling, and Ukrainian journalists are unable to show the world.

Русские журналисты работают с террористами, и они вообще не придерживаются принципам журналистики. Постоянное искривление реальности и правды это их конек. В то же время украинские журналисты очень вяло и мало освещают действия на Востоке Украины. Тут может быть две причины: очень высокий риск получить ранение или того хуже, а вторая—им просто никто не дает доступ для проведения своей работы. По этому такие аккаунты и моя работа на передовой является ценной. Я могу рассказывать и освещать те действия, где украинские журналисты безсильны.

Russian journalists work with terrorists, and the don't support the principles of journalism at all. Constant warping of reality and truth is their favorite hobby. At the same time, Ukrainian journalists are very sluggish and don't cover events in the East of Ukraine very much. There could be two reasons here: the very high risk of getting injured or worse and secondly—they just aren't given the access needed for their work. Because of this accounts like mine and my work on the frontline are valuable. I can discuss and cover those events where Ukrainian journalists are powerless.

Misyura says that he never writes anything that “is secret, or could be used against me, my loved ones or my soldiers.” But he admits that the Ukrainian army (unlike, for example, the US military) has no guidelines as to what serving soldiers can write about online apart from “the law on state secrets.” The war in Donbas may be the first war in which social networks and blogging by fighters have played such an important role, with Russia's denials of involvement in the conflict often contradicted by the social network accounts of its own soldiers. The Vietnam War is often noted as the first ‘televised’ war. The war in Ukraine could very likely go down as the first live-tweeted one. 

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