Lugansk News Today: One Man’s SEO Battle with Russia Today

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The avatar of Lugansk News Today depicts a pro-Ukrainian activist.

This article is part of an extensive RuNet Echo study of Russian-language blogosphere in Eastern Ukraine. Explore the complete interview series on the Eastern Ukraine Unfiltered page.

An anonymous blogger has been covering events in Eastern Ukraine on the English-language Lugansk News Today website, offering an alternative to Russia’s anglophone media and raising the Internet’s awareness of the events in his hometown.

The language of blogging in East Ukraine and Crimea is overwhelmingly Russian. In some ways this mirrors local ‘offline’ preferences: both regions are heavily russophone. In other ways this mirrors a general Ukrainian trend: Russian is the preferred language of print media (60% of newspapers and 83% of magazines) and the Internet.

An article on a pro-Russian website, Ukraina.ru, noted that according to Google Analytics, Russian was the preferred language of choice for Google searches throughout Ukraine. Even in Lviv Region, considered to be the most Ukrainain-speaking region in Ukraine, less than 30% of Google queries were in Ukrainian. In Donetsk Region, only 1.6% were. The conclusion is quite clear: if you want people to find and read your blog, you should probably write in Russian, a language that is, for a number of historical reasons, far more widely understood throughout the world than Ukrainian.

The anonymous blogger behind Lugansk News Today bucks this trend by writing in an even more “international” language. His website is in English. The website’s Facebook page has over 1,000 likes. His Twitter, which posts in both Russian and English, has 13,000 followers. He began tweeting on May 3, 2014, shortly after one of his friends was kidnapped and tortured by rebel militia.

On April 6 pro-Russian terrorists captured the building of Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Lugansk. They captured the building full of weapons enough for a small army. Three weeks later they got out of there and took the building of Lugansk Regional Council. That was on April 29. After that, the control on Lugansk was lost and those “rebels” were out in the streets with weapons. Ukrainian reporters had to get out as they were the target… One of my friends Alexey Bida (the leader of Lugansk Maidan) was taken by them and spent a couple of days in the basement of SBU building just because they recognized him in the street, he has been tortured there, [I’m] not sure how he managed to get out, but a couple of days after he could walk, he evacuated from of Lugansk.

Lugansk News Today started an English language blog in late August, both to inform people in the West about events in his hometown, but also to knock RT (The Russian government’s English-language news service) off the front page of Google.

Surprisingly, the website has enjoyed a certain amount of success, which is a testament to what one can achieve with a mixture of determination and good SEO.

I don’t have any background in journalism. This project is run only by me. Everybody was complaining about Russian propaganda on TV and in the Internet. I saw what they do at “Russia Today” [RT.com]. Russian propaganda is part of the war and it is much more dangerous than people may think. I noticed that my Twitter account got very high [search results] for “Lugansk news”, but I wanted Russia Today to be out of the 1st page of results on Google. So at the end of August, after my Twitter already had few thousand followers I started to write articles at Lugansk News Today and Facebook. All three… get on the 1st page of results. It means I get 3 out of 10, that’s about 30%. If all that three are in top 5, it means I almost have monopoly on the information regarding news from Lugansk. This is my battle against Russian propaganda. Maybe it’s not much, but this is a good example how one person can beat big industry.

Despite this, the man behind Lugansk News Today is unsure how widely read his blog is in the English-speaking world, and has harsh words for English-language media and the West in general, which he claims only really began paying attention to the conflict in earnest following the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines MH17 in July. As an example, the blogger notes that few in the West realise that separatist forces fired (unsuccessfully) on a civilian aircraft in June, an event he tweeted about in Russian.

Most of the Western media are afraid to show things as they really are. This is not an internal Ukrainian conflict, this is a Russian-Ukrainian War. People with guns and tanks are not rebels, they are terrorists supported and directed by Russia. Ukraine right now is protecting Europe. Remember Georgia in 2008? Russia invaded another country, the world did nothing about that. In 2014 Russia invaded Ukraine, annexed part of Ukraine, Crimea. Russian troops are fighting in Donetsk and Lugansk. When Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, several countries signed the Budapest Memorandum. The USA, Great Britain and Russia were among those countries and they guaranteed to protect the borders of Ukraine.

The man behind Lugansk News Today no longer resides in Lugansk. Like other citizen journalists profiled in this series, he was forced to leave as he no longer felt safe. As he told RuNet Echo, he decided to flee following the killing of a friend.

On June 13 I decided to get out of Lugansk… Maidan activist Aleksandr Reshetnyak was kidnapped and tortured and died in the hospital, another guy who I knew very well, Aleksandr Mangush was also kidnapped. People with Kalashnikovs took him from his apartment at night. I got information about that in the morning and was on the train out of the city in two hours. We really had no time to pack, just one backpack and one travel bag.

For now, the blogger behind Lugansk News Today has set his sights on expansion, having recently launched a new site: Ukraine Right Now. He hopes it will cover events all over the country, not only in Lugansk, though he admits he’s unsure if he’ll have time to run such a project. “There should be some government program in Ukraine to publish more information in English about what is going on in the country,” he told us.

Written by Daniel Alan Kennedy

This article was originally published by Global Voices on November 19, 2014.

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