Graham Phillips, portrait photos by Igor Starkov, illustration Julia Buravleva
It’s a different story in Russia, where i can say, without wishing in any way to self-aggrandise, that i’m one of, if not perhaps the most well-known, famous, even foreign journalist in the country. A situation i sometimes do find a bit surreal. I have no connection to Russia whatsoever by way of family. I’d been to the country twice for short times as a tourist before the Ukraine crisis – while i‘d actually lived in Ukraine for over 2 years.
Ukraine i’m now banned from, a 3-year-ban handed down last July. I’m considered such an ‘enemy of the state’ in Ukraine that their MFA spokesman Oleksei Makeiev singled me out for mention in a recent interview on foreign journalists –
Quite a turnaround really, as i remember being, it felt like the only, western correspondent to stick up for Ukraine when it felt the weight of the west’s media against it in the run-up to Euro 2012. Now, who knows, certainly not I, when i’ll be able to return.
As for the UK, last time there i was stopped and questioned at Heathrow for 4 hours, held under an act designed for terrorists, and it made clear to me the UK government did not appreciate my work, and would very much like me to stop. Meanwhile in Russia my work is shown at festivals, students on journalism courses write to me to tell me there was a class on my work…
I, of course, appreciate being appreciated. And I feel it’s sincere, from a Russia accustomed to, from the west, almost exclusively anti-Russian coverage. However, I remain objective about Russia in my own coverage, and would never fall victim to ‘playing to the home crowd’. Russians are an intelligent audience, any attempt to pander to them would quickly see me lose credibility here. My Russian audience never say to me ‘thank you for the pro-Russian news‘, simply ‘thank you for the truth‘.
While I certainly need to improve my Russian, and am always working on that, my level does now allow me to record pieces in the Russian language, give interviews in that. When Euromaidan began back in November of 2013, my level of Russian wasn’t nearly as it is now. I was living in Odessa, and watching on as Euromaidan arose, immediately sensing something very wrong with the movement – those supporting it, such as far-right, ultra-nationalist party Svoboda (right), i remembered from my 2 years living in Kiev, instilled a feeling of ominous foreboding about the portent of ‘Maidan’.
Further, my experience of Ukraine, having travelled extensively around all parts of the country in my time there, meant I was aware of he differences between the east and the west, and that Euromaidan was a revolution of the west, which the east would not support, as was the case.
All of this meant I couldn’t endorse the blanket support the western media was giving to Maidan, I started actively writing posts on my blog, with my position in stark contrast to a western media including former colleagues in Kiev, where i’d worked at a magazine and tv station, with whom I started to quarrel with at what i viewed as their distorted coverage of proceedings.
The disparity between my view and that of the western media meant i did believe my career as a journalist was over a that point. I couldn’t see where i’d work, who would offer me work. I made no approaches to Russian media, and was surprised when Russia Today, RT, contacted me, via a Facebook message, to invite me for interview – my first appearance here – from December 2013 –
So there it all began. Now, coming up for 2 years later, I sit writing this in a Moscow which appreciates my work – certain Russian opposition supporters aside, it must be said – and a western media which either tries to ignore me, or whom, in the case of the BBC, do approach me with proposals but I simply don’t trust them enough to engage with them.
My position as ‘big in Russia’ is, of course, gratifying, as I’m glad to have my work recognised. However, i’m British, very proud to be British. I love my country, I’d love for my own country to recognise my work. It’s a work the British govenrment has done a lot to oppose, stop, because it doesn’t reconcile with their view. But, as my work shows, they are manifestly wrong.
Not only the UK, I’d love to communicate with a wider western audience. I’ve been to the US, Australia, all over Europe, South America. I’d like the world to know the truth their media doesn’t want them to. A truth inconvenient for a western media allied to western government position in a way I simply hadn’t realised before this was the case. I grew up on the BBC, John Craven, Newsround. Starting as a journalist, my dream was of course to say ‘Graham Phillips of the BBC’. Those are now words which would fill me with so much shame i’d be unable to utter them.
I’m always looking for western media who will faithfully represent my work, the truth as it is. I’m very pleased with the piece in the Huffington Post, and hope to build on that.