Reporting on a press tour in Ukraine: A Q&A with Chiamaka Okafor

The ramifications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been felt far away from the battlefields, in the supply of agricultural products to other countries, the arrival of refugees and the repatriation of immigrants who fled the war. Parallel to these developments, both Ukraine and Russia have embarked in diplomatic and soft power campaigns to court the support of potential allies.

Occasionally, reporters who cover these topics for their local audiences have been invited to Ukraine to meet with their leaders and get a first hand experience of the situation on the ground. These “press tours” represent a unique opportunity for reporters, but also the challenge of cutting through the official narrative and maintaining a critical perspective and awareness of the hosts’ intentions.

Last November, Report for the World corps member Chiamaka Okafor, who covers Nigerian diaspora and international affairs for Premium Times was invited to one of these “press tours” where she traveled to Kyiv to meet president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other top Ukrainian officials. We spoke with Chiamaka to learn more about her trip, how she prepared for it and how she balanced the coverage that came out of the experience. She also offered some tips for other reporters that embark on similar assignments.

Nigeria’s stance in regards to the war and the context of its relationship with both Ukraine and Russia is very different from the U.S., so we asked Chiamaka to give us some context about her countries’ relation to the war actors:

A reporting trip to a country at war requires extensive preparation. Chiamaka explained how she approached the coverage, knowing that her trip was sponsored by the Ukrainian  government and how she tried to anticipate several scenarios, both in regard to her physical safety and her reporting to be ready for anything.

Regardless of how well you prepare, you can’t anticipate everything. And Chiamaka was no exception. She described what happened when she arrived in Kyiv and how her expectations clashed with reality.

Chimaka also reflected on the lessons she learned from the experience and offered some advice for journalists on similar trips: