Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, CA)
Posted on July 28, 2006
By Zoe Blumenfeld
Over potato salad, ham, organic greens, strawberries, lemon cake and plenty of wine, Ukrainian reporter Volodymyr Lermontov revealed an "illness" to colleagues and his host family.
"I have the journalism illness," laughed Lermontov this week. "It is an illness that makes me have to know about everything in the world. I dreamed about journalism as a child. It is my passion, and I am lucky enough to get paid for it."
Representing top media outlets in the Ukraine, three journalists and a public relations professional, flew to Washington D.C. last week and then traveled all the way to Santa Cruz to learn about media practices and free speech in the U.S. They hope to learn about the country's the free press and put the lessons to work in the Ukraine, a former Soviet republic.
"I was recommended to visit this country because it is always associated with democratic principles," said Tetyana Tarelkina, who works in public relations. "I think the main thing that is wrong with the media in all countries is that some people manipulate information, and it destroys freedom of speech."
The Ukrainian visit was sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center, an organization that enables emerging leaders from Russia and other Eurasian countries to experience American democracy. Established in 1999, Open World is the first exchange program run through the U.S. legislative branch, according to translator, Olena Troyen.
Santa Cruz Sister Cities, an organization in partnership with Open World, set the Ukrainian delegates up with host families and organized their itinerary, according to host Nancy Eidam.
"People here know about the Ukraine, and don't think we are a Third World country, which is nice," said journalist Serhiy Bovkun. "I was surprised that information about our country was correctly transferred in the U.S., and now we bring the best Ukraine culture here."
The Ukraine won independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR. The mass 2004 protest, called the Orange Revolution, forced authorities to overturn a rigged presidential election and made way for a new, internationally monitored vote.
"Right now there is a very interesting situation in Ukraine," said journalist Serhiy Zarayskyy. "The biggest problem in Ukraine is that we are split by east and west, after the Orange Revolution. We are hoping for progress between east and west, with the help of the U.S."
The group is in Santa Cruz until Sunday, visiting area newspapers and sitting in on city council and local union meetings.
"I was very impressed by the mayor of Santa Cruz," said Lermontov. "I was touched in my heart when a war veteran at the council meeting cried when I spoke, but at the same time, I have seen, with my own eyes, an American Veteran homeless here, I can't imagine that."
Learning about different media outlets around the world was important for the Open World delegates because of Ukraine's newly achieved independence. Hoping to gain some knowledge about how newspapers and other media outlets are run, they spent their week visiting the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Good Times, Register-Pajaronian and the Monterey Herald. They spoke with editors and reporters, asking them about the content of their publications, and about newsroom practices.
The Ukrainian journalists, spending a week in Santa Cruz, were able to not only learn about the press, but were also able to understand the laid-back, Santa Cruz mind set.
"People are really free here," said Tarelkina. "We saw a man sitting by the police department, wearing shorts and dressed like a hippie. We had to take a picture because people would never believe that in Ukraine."
After the dinner plates were cleared and the wine bottles left empty, Santa Cruz community member and host for the Ukrainian delegates, Michael Brezel, made the last toast.
"You have all touched the hearts of Santa Cruz," cheered Brezel. "Tonight we toast to truce, democracy and freedom."
[Reprinted with Permission]