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February, 2013, inside a disarmed nuclear
silo, Pobuzke, Ukraine:
likely group of American and
Ukrainian journalists brought
together to forge a new friendship and
understanding of common core journal-
“Turn those switches clockwise.
Press that button.
Hang on for a few
rattles. The Satan mis-
sile is launched. Over
the North Pole, now
over USA, releasing 10
is destroyed. Then we
So said a 20-year-
old interpreter in per-
fect English, sending
chills down our spines,
as he conveyed the
lections of a former
silo base commander,
who, of course, spoke
only and understood
only Ukrainian. We
were struck in those
surreal moments by
this eager kid, who
the words and emotions of a Cold War
relic to us, a hungry American audience.
The young interpreter's name was
Yaroslav, dutifully working with our
Schurz Communications team as part
of a diplomacy program pairing local
journalists with Ukrainian counterparts.
With our local media peers, we visited
interesting places, but mostly huddled
in office and other nondescript spaces,
discussing lofty concepts like global free
speech, holding those in power account-
able, and, how to do it more effectively in
a digital world. Without an interpreter,
these conversations would have been
A February later, 2014, our peers and
now friends in Ukraine would be Tweet-
ing and posting unbelievable images of
violent revolution as it swept through and
beyond Ukraine's capi-
tal, Kiev. The Ukrainian
government was quickly
deemed "reformed." Soon,
Russia used all ensu-
ing confusion to make
its move. Putin annexed
Crimea. Anderson Cooper
flew in and flew out.
Yaroslav somehow stayed
in school, earning both an
degree in Business Man-
agement and Specialists'
degree in Administration.
As is usual, America
quickly lost interest, turn-
ing its attention to the
“good versus evil” war
narratives with beheadings
and easier-to-identify en-
emies. The messy conflict
in Ukraine was becoming,
to most, tedious. But for
the eager interpreter, Yaroslav, life was
becoming more and more desperate. In
the months following Putin's aggression
in the east, three of Yaroslav's school-
mates had been killed in the conflict.
Others, unable to defend themselves
against Russian arms, had switched sides
rather than risk the consequences.
Then one day, a school day, Yaroslav
received his draft notice. He, too, was
going to war.
Cut to late 2015, just a few months
ago. A phone rings in the USA. It was
the young interpreter. He had used what
little money he had to buy a plane ticket
to the US. He was in Chicago, having
been detained by US Immigration at
O'Hare and seeking political asylum.
Local Media Association friends, this is
where journalism gets messy.
The ringing phone was my wife's.
Mary Ann had met Yaroslav when the
same group of Ukrainian journalists who
had hosted us in Ukraine, visited the US
as part of the journalist exchange. Yaro-
slav had kept in touch with Mary Ann,
asking for advice on life matters, includ-
ing guidance on advancing his education.
This time, he was asking for a different
kind of help. He needed an American
lawyer - fast. Back to Yaroslav’s story in a
Interpreters are especially critical to
our local and global journalism missions.
They help us effectively communicate
beyond the limits of our own knowledge
and experience. It could be language.
It could be data science. It could be the
medicine. Interpreters for journalists
come in many forms and we rely on them
everyday to provide context, history and
color in the margins of translation. They
help us meet deadline and we often trust
them to save us from our own ignorance.
Interpreters are the allies of journalism.
Yaroslav helped me tremendously
during our global journalist exchange.
Now it was our turn to help him.
After over two months in detainment
(Yaroslav still calls it “the joint"), and
good legal help, an immigration court
judge affirmed there is enough evidence
of credible fear to grant Yaroslav a formal
hearing for political asylum status and
permanent residency status in the United
States. Until then, Yaroslav is living in our
home, volunteering at a nearby church
and raising money for his legal assistance
If you’ve ever traveled on assignment
and relied on the help of an interpreter,
please consider helping Yaroslav.
Kerry G. Oslund
Director, Local Media Association Board
Senior Vice President of Publishing and Emerging Media,
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Kerry Oslund, middle, with interpreter Yaroslav Brychka , left, and Svitlan Zholo-
baylo (IREX Program Director for Democracy, Governance and Media), walking
alongside missile relics during the 2013 visit.
From 2013, Yaroslav (circled) interpreting for Kerry Oslund and his group with the staff at "New Day" in
Kirovograd, Ukraine-population 250,000 (the paper was established by three families, in 1992, after the
country gained independence from the former Soviet Union. In 1996, the newspaper's building destroyed
in an overnight bomb blast. No one was hurt and no one has ever been prosecuted).
A picture of Yaroslav today, in Granger,
Indiana, proudly showing off his vol-
unteer badge to Kerry Oslund’s wife
Mary Ann who Yaroslav's father calls
"his guardian angel sent by God." This is
Yaroslav's only ID, as the US government
holds his passport.
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