Ukrainian journalist and novelist Yuriy Lukanov is on campus today and will speak to the Elon University community about his new novel “Reporter Volkovsky.” Vitaliy Strohush, a professor of economics at Elon, is friends with Lukanov and invited him to campus as the last stop on his book tour around the continental U.S. 

Lukanov was born in Kyiv and has been a journalist for four decades. He has reported on several incidents revolving around Russia, including the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 1986, Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, the 2009 protests of election results in Moldova, and the 2010 metro terrorist attacks in Moscow. Since 2014, he has been reporting on the annexation of Crimea and the Russian-Ukrainian war. 

His novel was published in January 2023 by the Defiance Press and Publishing. It tells the story of Ukranian journalists and their struggles of being both ethical journalists and citizens of a country under attack. 

Elon News Network sat down for an exclusive interview with Lukanov, who spoke about his experience in the Russia-Ukraine war, career covering various conflicts and personal struggles with ethics and safety while on the job.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Before you were writing fiction, you have been a journalist since the 1980s covering all sorts of things. I would love to know how your journalism about international accidents and conflict contribute to public conversation about these issues. 

“I would say that usually before the West, the democratic world, it watched post-Soviet territory by Russian eyes. Literature, journalism, theater, movie and so on, they created mythology about Russia. And now it's very important that the democratic world should listen to Soviet countries. They should listen to them. And for example, maybe I'm one of the voices, my book ‘Reporter Volkaskfy’ is one of books which should be read by the democratic society. You should understand that Russians always lie. So, and listen to us, not just Ukrainians, but mostly Ukrainians, because Russians are attacking us. So that is why I think this is very important — that the Defiance Press, the publishing house in the United States, published my book and the foundation, the United Help Ukraine supported financial in my trip over the United States.”

Your book is about different journalists who are reporting on the war now and it is based on your experience as a journalist. What does it mean to you to be talking with Elon students, faculty, and staff today, and what do you hope that they gain from your talk? 

“It's tragedy that so many people [have been] killed and displaced, of course. But it's a reality. You should understand — I know that there are ideas in the United States that we should stop this war, but you should understand that not just Putin, but the Russian nation, a majority of Russian nation, they believe that they need to renew the Soviet empire. You should understand that not just Putin, but a majority of the Russian nation, they believe that they need to renew the Soviet Empire. 

Then they can't imagine it without Ukraine, because Ukraine was a big part of the Soviet Union, not just Soviet, but the Soviet Communist empire and so on. But you should understand that if you don't push Russia away from the Ukrainian territory, if the democratic world does not win, Russia, they will begin it. Sooner or later, they will begin again. Putin and his nation has created the idea to make Ukrainians either to join the Russian, the future hypothetical Soviet-Russian empire, or to be destroyed. If the Ukrainians don't want to join Russia, they should be destroyed. They should be killed.”

As a Ukrainian covering the Russia Ukraine conflict, how does that affect your journalism, and how do you think that your reporting differs from others, given your nationality? 

“When there is a war, you know, there is a lot of different standards, no difference in the professional, like BBC standards and so on. But when you are at the war which is against your country, you — by the way, you used the word of conflict, not conflict. This is the war — you have different choices. You have different situations when you have to act to reach your goal, to cover information, but at the same time, you are in situations when it doesn't allow to act purely according to the standards. If you read [my book] you will understand that the war is absolutely terrible things, but unfortunately, we have to do it because it's a reality. We didn't start it, Russia begin it.” 

I have read part of your book, and I know that a big conflict that comes up in this story is how can a journalist remain impartial and objective, but also have a personal attachment to the conflict? So I'm wondering what is the answer to that question? How does a journalist maintain ethical standards by practicing objectivity and fairness and balance, while also having a personal connection to the war?

“I would say that if you are under attack, you of course without any doubts, you should say the truth. It's the truth. But what does it mean? For example, from the beginning of the war one newspaper published an article about how you could support the spirit of the nation to protect your country. It's very important. You are participant of it, but at the same time, you shouldn't lie. I believe that my duty is to describe [the war], of course. [The] Ukrainian army is also doing some not very good things, let's say. So we should describe it. But at the same time, I believe that we should balance it. You should balance it because if you don't not balance it, it will be harmful for the Ukrainian army and spirit of the nations.” 

You have been reporting on international conflict for 40 years. Does this Russia-Ukraine war that's happening right now feel different to you than other conflicts you've reported on in the past?

“This war is the key war after the Second World War, because this is not just war against Ukraine. The Russians began this war against democratic civilization. If you allow [Russia] to occupy Ukraine, for example, that's very good that the American nation and other democratic nations support Ukraine. But if they stop their support it would mean that dictatorships all over the world will be inspired to be more active. After Ukraine, there will be Taiwan, China will attack it. North Korea will be more active and so on. That is why we have to win altogether. Mostly Ukrainians, of course, but it isn't just Ukrainian world.” 

Many Americans are starting to not support the Ukrainian war, and now it's not just one party or the other. What would you tell Americans that they say, ‘We got too many problems. You all need to take care of what that's in your neighborhood. It's not our problem.’

“I know that usually in the United States are two ideas. One idea is to provide democracy all over the world. Another idea to create democracy, like a window of democracy in the United States, and rest of countries will join it, but windows doesn't work. If you don't interfere into the war, if you don't support Ukraine, sooner or later, you will have their life. Because you will see new conflict over the world, and they will influence the United States. United States couldn't be a too powerful country to be isolated.”