Service journalism in time of war

Service journalism in time of war is “one of the most interesting media projects to grow out of the Ukraine conflict.” Nieman Lab reports quoting Ben Smith, former media columnist in the New York Times and co-founder of new media company Semafor. is service journalism produced by Russian and Ukrainian journalists answering questions from people seeking help through the Helpdesk chat.

Over nine days recent days, the Russian language news startup received more than 20,000 queries, according to its founder. A team of about 50 people — who work remotely and from offices in Riga, Kyiv, and Tbilisi — answer them for an audience that is roughly 60% Russian, 40% Ukrainian, Sarah Scire, deputy editor of Nieman Lab, reports on

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“Founder Ilia Krasilshchik doesn’t know the average age or gender or location of the people seeking help through Helpdesk’s chat — he just knows many are terrified”, Scire reports.

“We are joint team of Russian and Ukrainian journalists — a unique situation in current circumstances,” founder, Ilia Krasilshchik, told her.

In addition to operating the hotline, Helpdesk publishes stories about the war in Ukraine on Telegram and Instagram. Krasilshchik said the the Helpdesk Instagram account is reaching 2.5 million users per month, while its Telegram reaches 3 million per day. 

Krasilshchik started what has become Helpdesk soon after the war in Ukraine broke out. (The English version of the outlet was previously called War.evidence.) 

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Krasilshchik is a former publisher of Meduza, an independent Riga-based news service launched by Russian journalists who left Russia because of media restriction.

“And this is an eternal conflict: you can’t combine journalism and activism,” he said. “Suddenly we came up with an idea: we can launch a 2-in-1 project. First part will be media on social platforms (and we have 15 years of experience in the best Russian media to do it well). And the second part will be the Helpdesk, launched by professional support specialists which I know from my Yandex years. The second part is pure activism. But in such a scheme these two parts help each other”, he told Nieman Lab.

The most frequently received questions are about avoiding conscription in the Russian army.  When Russian president Vladimir Putin announced the mobilization, Helpdesk published an online guide to avoiding the draft. 

The guide was blocked by Russian authorities but Helpdesk continues to answer questions individually and publishes regular updates on the feasibility of crossing into countries such as Finland, Norway, Georgia, Belarus, Mongolia, and others.

For answer-seekers in psychological distress, the Helpdesk operators follow a playbook to provide support. If the operator is worried the person may be suicidal, they can offer professional psychological support through a partnering organization.

In addition to the social accounts it’s currently operating, Krasilshchik plans to launch an app within the next month that will support Helpdesk chats.


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