Sylvain Tronchet, journalist of Radio France in Moscow, managed to accompany the Russian army in Donbass. The highlight of this report is the supervised visit to the Zaporijjia nuclear power plant.
In a war, even if the aggressor and the attacked are clearly identified, the reporter must cover two opposing lines on one front. However, since the beginning of the conflict, journalists have struggled to work with Russians in southern Ukraine and especially in the Donbass. Two options presented themselves to them: get permission from the pro-Russian separatists, extraordinary derogations, or wait for a press trip organized by the Kremlin, which is as extraordinary.
And yet, it is the second option that presents itself. Behind the alibi of transparency apparently hides the idea of showing the damage caused by the Ukrainian army and all the efforts made by the Russians, their kindness to the population and the areas of reconstruction aimed at of Russification in abandoned areas.
Sylvain Tronchet, the journalist of Radio France in Moscow, was touched by these new buildings that came out of the land of Mariupol in two months, a thousand apartments. The technique is proven. Already in 2014, when it annexed Crimea, Russia released huge funds for infrastructure repairs and injected money to revive the economy.
But Donbass is not Crimea. First because in Crimea, the annexation happened without bombing and without cannon fire and because the surface of the territory is not the same. Rebuilding over vast destroyed areas will take a long time, and above all it will be a money pit. Meanwhile, rare pictures of these new buildings, show apartments still deserted, next to destroyed houses, potholes, and burned cars.
For us, French journalists, he is often associated with reporting with the American army, in recent years, in Afghanistan or Iraq. Also developed with the Kurds in Syria, and with some Ukrainian fighters at the front. From this point of view, the “Embedded” principle is the same if it is led by the American army or the Russian army: the reporter can only see what is shown to him and he cannot see others. It is part of the story, perhaps even arranged for propaganda, but it is not the story, the truth, in its entirety and complexity.
So the reporter has to take a step back and reflect on what he was told, what hit him. For example, the fact that the interlocutors of the journalists who left Donbass were chosen by the heavily armed Russian soldiers who were in charge of them did not promote freedom of speech. Journalists communicated their frustrations to the Russian General Staff, which therefore allowed a little open circulation in a territory occupied by the Russians. Those who challenge this work, those who remain do not rush to the microphone to speak. They do, but with moderation, in the length of the sentences and the content of the comments.
It is in the look and the language of the body, even in the silences, that the unspeakable can be understood. But it is not for the reporter to interpret a silence or something that is not said. After a few days in the Donbass with the Russians, what marked Sylvain Tronchet were the abandoned towns. The cities that were destroyed, the reconstruction, the Russification that goes through the passports and the license plates of the cars. Those who remained obeyed, but the big question is whether the population that left will return and accept the new rules, if these rules will continue and will not be challenged by another act of war.
Another highlight is the obvious visit to the nuclear power plant of Zaporozhye. A shadow factory, so the security level requires a lot of staff. Except for a few cars in the parking lot, the Russian soldiers standing guard, it was almost empty.
The Russians showed the journalists the damage caused by a bombing in Ukraine, they said, the damage that, according to the experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was small, so it is possible that the Russians were dramatizing, but if what is not clear does not prevent the agency from claiming, in its report given this week, a safety zone around the plant. Because, as pointed out by Sylvain Tronchet, the terrible fact remains that one of the largest nuclear power stations in Europe is located in a theater of war.