Being an (Ex) Prague Freedom Foundation Scholar

Four years ago I had the honor of participating in a Journalism Program that Prague Freedom Foundation sponsored. The program brought students from Kent State University and Anglo American University together to study journalism. After winning the Excellence Award for my piece on Abortion Laws in Ohio I went on to receive a grant from PFF to report on the war in Ukraine…

Four years ago I had the honor of participating in a Journalism Program that Prague Freedom Foundation sponsored. The program brought students from Kent State University and Anglo American University together to study journalism. After winning the Excellence Award for my piece on Abortion Laws in Ohio I went on to receive a grant from PFF to report on the war in Ukraine.

After returning from a week of interviewing protestors and veterans participating in Maidan – Ukraine’s revolution against corruption and Russias’s interference in local politics – members of PFF supported my photo exhibition to raise money for the Organization for Aid of Refugees.

My photos of from the heart of Maidan in Kiev, Ukraine helped raise a humble $650 to help Ukrainian refugees living in Prague. Several members from PFF attended, donated to and participated by giving a speech at the event.

Although my career path has shifted from investigative journalism and I am no longer active in any political causes, I am eternally grateful to the Prague Freedom Foundation for giving me the training and tools to make a difference in the world and in my home country.

Here’s a video about Prague Freedom Foundation’s Cause – spoiler alert, I make a brief appearance in between US Ambassadors and Radio Free Europe Journalists.

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Sole independent Turkish Cypriot newspaper attacked

Afrika, the only independent Turkish Cypriot newspaper, was attacked on the morning of January 22nd. At 9am a group of people holding Turkish flags met in front of the newspaper’s office building in Nicosia. Violence escalated as they began throwing stones, eggs and allegedly trying to storm the office.

Afrika, the only independent Turkish Cypriot newspaper, was attacked on the morning of January 22nd. At 9am a group of people holding Turkish flags met in front of the newspaper’s office building in Nicosia. Violence escalated as they began throwing stones, eggs and allegedly trying to storm the office. The attacks were still happening at noon during a phone interview with Sener Levent, owner of Afrika.

“There are only 17 people in the newspaper office and we are hiding in a windowless room,” Levent said. The sound of the ongoing attack could still be heard over the phone. “There are hundreds of Turkish settlers in front of the newspaper chanting.”

Read the full article here: http://tuckmagazine.com/2018/01/23/independent-turkish-cypriot-newspaper-attacked/

Afghan War Veterans – War in Ukraine

I spoke to Oleh Michnev, the head of the Afghan war veterans. He was very busy and was holding an important meeting, but Eduard who I wrote about in a previous article got me a few minutes with him.

When I asked him what role the Afghan war veterans played at Maidan he said, “Roles are for actors in theaters, we are Ukrainians and our most important function is to protect Ukraine.” He said that an unjust was done to Ukraine and the veterans want “European standards, not Yanukovych’s standards.” He went on to explain that under Yanukovych there were six different living standards depending on who you were, and those who have the least would get the least governmental support, and this is not the European way.

He told me that protests started with students who were living below normal standards. When they were beaten for protesting, their parents and grandparents were angered and joined the protests. “We don’t support any political party,” Michnev said, “we stand between protestors and aggressors to avoid the spilling of blood, and we of all people understand the value of blood.”

I asked him when they will leave Maidan. “We will leave last,” he said, “we are used to fighting for life.” He explained that Ukrainians can’t trust anyone; some of the politicians could be “wolves hiding in sheep skin.” They won’t leave “until the promises of new politicians are fulfilled.” They believe that it’s necessary not only to change the

government, but the entire system. They want a “birth of a new system,” he says, adding, “we will stand until then.”

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/afghan-war-veterans/

‘This Place’ Exhibition in Prague in DOX

“I can’t call it Israel,” says photographer Gilles Peress while referring to flying to the location, “I call it Israelstein. It’s a combination of the two.” Peress’s photos are very clear; they show the different perspectives of one community. He remarked that in Israel and Palestine everything happens meter by meter, room to room. “You see stores disappearing one by one, I return to the same place again and again,” Peress explains his process of watching the changes. His pieces in this exhibition try to explore the reason why people don’t see the similarities between each other – “Desperate lives,” he sighs, “looking for differences.”

This Place is the name of an International exhibition currently shown in the DOX gallery in Prague. The DOX Center for Contemporary Art, Architecture and Design has been organizing and hosting exhibitions for six years now. It has presented over 120 exhibition projects and is ranked among the most progressive artistic institutions in the Czech Republic.

The exhibition shows the photographs of twelve artists, each with a unique angle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The exhibition of over 500 photos opened on October 24th and will be on display until March 2nd, 2015. After Prague, the exhibition will move to Tel Aviv for six months. After that, it will be exhibited in the Norton Museum of Art followed by the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The exhibition will officially end on June 5th, 2016. There are also thirteen original books produced for the exhibition – one with photos of each individual photographer and one comprehensive catalog. On Saturday, October 25th, I saw four of the artists talk about their experience of creating This Place.

“I can’t call it Israel,” says photographer Gilles Peress while referring to flying to the location, “I call it Israelstein. It’s a combination of the two.” Peress’s photos are very clear; they show the different perspectives of one community. He remarked that in Israel and Palestine everything happens meter by meter, room to room. “You see stores disappearing one by one, I return to the same place again and again,” Peress explains his process of watching the changes. His pieces in this exhibition try to explore the reason why people don’t see the similarities between each other – “Desperate lives,” he sighs, “looking for differences.”

The content of Wendy Ewald’s project differed greatly from those of her colleagues. She explored what different communities in the area considered most important. Ewald had a total of fourteen different mini-projects exploring the lives of groups that ranged from women attending an orthodox military school to elderly villagers. She taught them seminars on photography and observed: “how education forms the country.” Ewald taught these groups of people to take photos of what impacted their lives and taught them to use metaphors. Then she compared what different groups concentrated on in their photography.

Fazal Sheikh, like all the other photographers, had issues with photographing in the region. “I prefer an open perspective,” said Sheikh, “Israel is extremely constricting.” His project was about the transformation of the land. He visited a village that is now unrecognizable. It was transformed into a forest and the people who once lived there became displaced around the country. He decided to fly over the desert after spending time in a protest tent overlooking the dry barren land that would become a dense forest. He coupled taking photographs from a helicopter with listening to stories from combatants on both sides.

Joseph Koudelka, a Czech photographer, talked about originally denying Frederic Brenner‘s invitation to cooperate with this project. “I bought my own ticket,” said Koudelka, “to avoid having any obligation.” He was born in 1938 and experienced the German occupation of his village. Later he witnessed the Russians first liberating the Czechs and then occupying them. “I grew up behind the Iron Curtain and always wanted to see the other side,” Koudelka expressed his sympathy for the people in the area. His book doesn’t always show the people, but you can see the impact of mankind in every photograph.

The subject of the title came up in the discussion. All the books and the project itself avoid naming the area that has had so many in its past. Art can be a tool of propaganda and the Israel-Palestine topic is a sensitive one with extremists on both sides. A name that didn’t lean to either side of the conflict seemed the most appropriate and most objective to allow the viewers to interpret the meaning.

More information can be found on their website: http://www.dox.cz/cs/vystavy/this-place

Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/this-place-exhibition-in-_b_6095398.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

100th Anniversary of WWI – DOX Front Line Exhibition

Today many nations are suffering and thousands of people are being killed. The major current conflicts with headlines all over the media include Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. While some conflicts remain mostly regional, others like Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia are becoming a threat to global peace. Obsessing over protecting the economy and continuing harmful trade cycles keeps preventing the success of peace talks and finding concrete solutions. Now more than ever we can see that history repeats itself. This is why we need to refer to the past when building a better future. That is the reason that DOX organized this exhibition…

“In 1914 the Great War began… and has lasted ever since.”

This quote can be found at the DOX Center for Contemporary Art in Prague the capital of the ‘heart of Europe.’ August 4th, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The Front Line exhibition tells the stories of several Czech men from all over the country who had to leave their home and went to fight at various war fronts. Many powerful quotes written by Czech soldiers cover the walls of the exhibition:

“The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings…” – Aldous Huxley from the Austrian front.

“… we could write anything, just not the truth.” “What is fear. Fear is man. Man fears only man.” – Frantisek Seda also from the Austrian Front.

“If the soldiers were hungry, the town’s civilian population was hungrier still.” – Jan Vit from the Russian Front.

The quotes written by Czech soldiers reflect the hardships that war inflicts on the soldiers, their families and on the human psyche. But there are also quotes from famous global figures who touch on the cause and nature of wars:

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” – Voltaire

“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein.

The total number of civilian and military deaths during WWI is estimated to be around 40 million. The war devastated Europe and tensions lingered long after the war. The drive of each country to rebuild their economies and recreate normalcy in a post-war society led to mistrust and political unrest – the second world war began only 21 years after the first ended.

The exhibition includes bits and pieces of the belongings of the Czech soldiers. The letters they wrote, the medals they won and the photographs they took; all reveal the horror of war. But the stories that the soldiers and their families pass on are more than memories of the past – they are a warning message to our generation and those that will follow.

Today many nations are suffering and thousands of people are being killed. The major current conflicts with headlines all over the media include Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. While some conflicts remain mostly regional, others like Israel-Palestine and Ukraine-Russia are becoming a threat to global peace. Obsessing over protecting the economy and continuing harmful trade cycles keeps preventing the success of peace talks and finding concrete solutions. Now more than ever we can see that history repeats itself. This is why we need to refer to the past when building a better future. That is the reason that DOX organized this exhibition:

“(So) that some recollections of these ugly and horrible days be preserved for future generations, so they guard well against the ambitions of ‘dangerous lunatics’…” – Josef Lacina

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Officially published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/100th-anniversary-of-wwi-_b_5698759.html

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

Kora Smirinova a Russian Ukrainian

Kora Smirinova posted a photo of herself on Facebook on March 12th, and it wasn’t just an ordinary photo. Many girls take selfies and post duck-face pictures showing off their cleavage, but Smirnova did something a little different. She’s a modern woman and definitely no damsel in distress…

Kora Smirinova was made possible thanks to the grant I received from the Prague Freedom Foundation to report on the Ukrainian Euromaidan Revolution in March 2014.

Kora Smirinova posted a photo of herself on Facebook on March 12th, and it wasn’t just an ordinary photo. Many girls take selfies and post duck-face pictures showing off their cleavage, but Smirnova did something a little different. She’s a modern woman and definitely no damsel in distress.

Before you read her message, note that she uses harsh language and that her anger isn’t directed at the Russian nation as a whole, it is directed at those Russians who are fighting to make Crimea part of Russia, which is she against.

This is what she wrote in her photo’s caption:

I am Smirinova, and I remember very well that my grandfather and his family came from Russia to Ukraine after the war. I am thankful that Ukraine adopted us, strangers, gave us a home, a job, protection and never offended us. In my entire life not once was I reproached for speaking my native language or singing my native songs, I was never called ‘Moskalka’ (this is a derogatory term for Russians). I was born in Poltava, Ukraine raised me as her own, and when I moved to Kiev, not once did I hear the word ‘limit’. I am 100% Ukrainian! Even though I don’t have a single drop of Ukrainian blood inside me. It doesn’t cross my mind to yell, “I am Russian, there are many Russians here so that means this land belongs to Russia!?” The other Russians in Ukraine whose memory is completely false – how is this your land? Ungrateful monsters! You are all guests here, who were given shelter and welcomed as kin. What sort of beast does one need to be to now decide to chase away and kill their host while yelling that this is their home?! Crimea is Russian? B******s with a short memory. You forgot what your fathers did to the Tatars? You forgot how much blood of the Tatar men you spilled and how many tears of grief of the indigenous population you caused? How you boarded Tatar families into trains and transported them to Siberia? You all need to spend the remaining Millennium begging on your knees for forgiveness. I am a Russian Ukrainian! I will chase bad Russians out of my native Ukraine together with my fellow Ukrainians.

P.S. Stepan Bandera is a hero of Ukraine, who spent his whole life fighting, by all means, necessary for the freedom of Ukraine. So yes, I am a ‘Banderovka’ (a term used for people who share and support Bandera’s ideals).

I had to re-read her post several times to soak it all in. Smirinova had clearly snapped with all that has been going on and this is what came out. There are many Russians who are outraged at what is going on in Crimea. There were thousands of Russian protesters in Moscow this weekend, Ukrainians had never imagined seeing so many Ukrainian flags in Moscow.

Here’s a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19liUISoAls

Originally posted here: https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/kora-smirinova-a-russian-ukrianian/

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.

February 18th Photos – War in Ukraine

These pictures are from February 18th, when a large number of people lost their lives. Tetiana Kagui was one of the many people who gathered to go up to Verkhovna Rada, Ukrainian parliament, to demand them to return to the 2004 Constitution. She was the one who took all these pictures.

Going there everyone anticipated that something bad would happen, they all understood the danger. The pictures are in chronological order. They start out peacefully but the violence begins and escalates, until the women are asked to leave the dangerous zone by the self-organized Maidan protectors. As you look at these pictures imagine shots being fired, gas weapons being used, homemade weapons with exploding nails and fireworks are being used. But if you look at the peoples’ faces, you won’t see fear. Because they know that what they are doing is necessary for the future of Ukraine.

https://olenakaguiukraine2014.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/february-18th-photos/