From Stony Brook to Moldova

This summer, two Stony Brook journalism graduates went to Moldova to report from the eastern European nation that shares a border with Ukraine.

During the two-week trip, the students wrote and shot a video telling stories of Ukrainian refugees, the geopolitics of the region and the local wine-making industry. They also met Moldovan journalists to learn about efforts to combat Russia’s purposeful spread of disinformation.

“In a time where so much of reporting is digital and remote, physically going to relief centers and meeting with refugees elicits emotions that can’t be replicated,” said Justin Mitselmakher, a journalism graduate who also speaks Russian. “Being on foot in a completely new environment really allows you to immerse yourself. Which in turn allows your story to come to life.”

The trip to Moldova came through a partnership between the Marie Colvin Center and the IREX Community Solutions Program, an international fellowship program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government. Last year the Colvin Center hosted Moldovan communicator Ecaterina Miscisina, who works at the non-governmental organization WatchDog.MD, to study how misinformation perpetuates in Russia and the US. 

In return, Miscisina invited Sarah Baxter, director of the Colvin Center, to visit Moldova and give a series of lectures on US politics in Moldova. Baxter offered to bring a small group of journalism graduates.

Journalism graduate interviews an older woman on a green bench in Moldova
Photo by Jez Coulson, used with permission

“I leapt at the opportunity to visit a country bordering Ukraine and invited graduating students to gain in-depth, first-hand experience of foreign reporting there,” said Baxter. “Getting an immersive experience with foreign reporting has not only helped them gain valuable reporting skills but also allowed them to directly speak with people who are affected by the war.”

During the trip, the students traveled to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova; Gagauzia, a pro-Russian region; and Cricova, the underground wine-city.

“I’m so thankful to have been able to go on this trip because it’s not really an opportunity that I could have afforded to go on. The fact that the Marie Colvin Center does these trips for people like me is incredible!” said David Tapia, journalism and English graduate. “The SoCJ and the Marie Colvin Center have been so supportive of me and I feel like I’m going to repay them by being the absolute best reporter that I can be with everything that they’ve taught and given me.”

The Colvin Center will host two IREX community solutions fellows for four months this fall, Iryna Domnenko from Ukraine and Shraddha Verma from Nepal. Additionally, they will also be hosting an investigative journalist from Hong Kong who has been harassed by Chinese authorities, as a part of the Scholars At Risk program.

Jezcwatchdogmoldova106a0070 1536x1024
Photo Credit Jez Coulson / Insight

“For nearly two years, the world has been watching the war in Ukraine destroy lives and livelihoods. Thanks to the Colvin Center and Sarah’s leadership, two of our recent graduates were able to go and see the impact of this devastating war firsthand and to help tell the stories of the people whose lives have been changed forever,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “I deeply admire their commitment to telling these stories with respect and compassion, and to illuminating a side of the story that many of us here at Stony Brook, and even across the United States, have not had much exposure to. This is journalism at its best and most powerful.”

— Menka Suresh, science communication graduate student

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