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What’s it like on the front line? Does the war-weary public still care?

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es Vienna, August 25, 2022  Combatting Western war-wearinness

Having decided to keep Internet access to the newspaper cost-free, the London Guardian has for months now tried to encourage voluntary subscriptions and contributions, no doubt with some success, but evidently not enough. The latest appeal is understandable, in view of discernible weariness in the West with the unending war of attrition in Ukraine, and fears of a cold winter or worse for themselves. These worries are something that Putin clearly counts on. Thus the relentless Russian bombing continues, along with any refusal to compromise, let alone withdraw from Ukraine.

Here, the Guardian’s “reader revenues” editor promises the paper will not reduce its (excellent) coverage, and explains what life on the front line is like for one of the paper’s most experienced war reporters, and that it costs.  

by Mark Rice-Oxley, Executive Editor, reader revenues, Guardian, London

Six months ago, Emma Graham-Harrison was awoken by an ominous sound.

Emma Graham Harrison – Reuters-trained, veteran of China and Afghanistan

Emma’s an experienced foreign correspondent – but the pre-dawn sound of Russian cruise missiles pulverising the outskirts of Kyiv was still one of the most frightening moments of her life.

“The early days of war were terrifying,” Emma says, recalling the aftermath of the Russian invasion on February 24. “The Russians were at the doorstep. There was this constant fear that you might suddenly accidentally run into Russian troops because news of their movements was hard to come by.

“There were regular explosions, and Russian troops got right into parts of the city in the north.”

Now, half a year later, covering the war for the Guardian is very different, Emma says. “Kyiv has gone back to something closer to normal life, though there’s still a curfew and constant reminders of the war – and a lot of residents still haven’t come back,” she says. Shops and boutiques have reopened; bars and cafes thrum. A new football season beckons. Citizens celebrated the annual ‘Apple Feast of the Saviour’ last weekend – a kind of harvest festival, with blessing of fruit and plenty of pies.

But of course, further east, there has been no let-up in the carnage. So our correspondents can sleep easier at night in Kyiv, but must take proper precautions when travelling to report from the frontlines.

Railway station bombing, eastern Ukraine on Independence Day yesterday. 25 found dead so far, scores wounded

“You can’t just wake up and decide ‘I think I’ll go to the Donbas today’,” Emma says. “The nature of shelling and warfare is such that you have to go through a rigorous security check.” A security consultant helps scope out the trip. Reporters call ahead to Ukrainian contacts to check out the situation on the ground. Everything is discussed with editors in London before anyone moves. At least 15 journalists and media workers have been killed in Ukraine since February.

Emma freely admits she gets scared. “It’s a good thing. The fear is there to protect you. It’s your barometer that you’re not being an idiot.”

“In Afghanistan I was almost more frightened of being kidnapped than killed,” Emma says. “Usually, the power of modern technology – missiles and air strikes – was being aimed at Taliban areas, and as it was so hard to report safely on the Taliban side, I was never on the receiving end of that incredible power.” Suicide bombings in Afghanistan, she notes, were certainly as brutal as Russian missile attacks in Ukraine – but occurred much less frequently.

The other thing that has changed dramatically since the early days of the war is the global interest. In those first few weeks, unprecedented numbers read our stories and liveblogs. Now, even though readers are still avidly turning to our stories, there is a mounting risk of attention fatigue.

“Ukrainians are aware of this,” Emma says. “There is the war against the Russians and then there is the war to keep western support alive. It’s gone from being ubiquitous to something that is dragging on.”

The Guardian is not losing interest – far from it. We’ve published some 4,000 articles, blogs, investigative pieces, comment articles, podcasts and videos since the war started – on average something every hour of every day. We’ve had 10 different correspondents on rotation through the period: Emma is currently on her fourth tour.

“The Guardian is doing what it can and a lot of people are still reading,” Emma says. “It’s expensive covering wars, and this war is particularly so, but the Guardian has put a lot of resources into it, and is committed to continue doing so.”

It is thanks to your generous support that we are able to cover this terrible conflict in such depth. We are hugely grateful to you for enabling this work. If you have a question about our coverage or about Emma’s experience, do email us. If you’d like to give a little extra to fund our coverage through the next six months, you can do so here – but please don’t feel under any obligation.

Mark Rice-Oxley, Executive editor, reader revenues, profile: https://www.theguardian.com/ profile/mark-rice-oxley

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