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The Kyiv Post has become a go-to source for news about a nation in turmoil.

When Ukraine’s fleeing president Viktor Yanukovych had thousands of documents dumped into the freezing Kiev Reservoir in February, he might have thought they’d be lost forever. Not so.

Two journalists from the Kyiv Post, a Ukrainian English-language news site, were among a team of journalists who obtained the documents–many of which were found floating on the frigid water. The group sifted through them to obtain shocking details about the scale of corruption under Yanukovych.

That meant operating 17 document scanners for a week to process the trove. Among their findings were 280 folders filled with information about Yanukovych’s obsession with security, including his use of security forces to spy on his girlfriend even while people were dying in Kyiv’s central square. Other documents revealed that $8.6 million of “foreign investment” flowed into Yanukovych’s pocket between September 2006 and December 2008 and that his personal mansion had an estimated value of $1 billion.

That intrepid reporting was typical of the work done by the 19-year-old news site during its coverage of last year’s popular protests that ultimately ousted Yanukovych and led to the current civil war between Ukraine’s pro-Western government and Russian-backed separatists. In October, the Kyiv Post’s coverage of Ukraine’s Maidan revolution garnered it a Missouri Honor Medal, the highest journalism award given by the United States’ oldest journalism school.

Police in anti-riot gear in the eastern city of Donetsk, Ukraine on March 23, 2014. (Romain Carre/NurPhoto/AP Images)

Police in anti-riot gear in the eastern city of Donetsk, Ukraine on March 23, 2014. (Romain Carre/NurPhoto/AP Images)

Founded in 1995 by Minneapolis-based businessman Jed Sunden with Ukrainian investors, the Post brought a Western journalistic mindset with an emphasis on editorial independence to post-Soviet Ukraine. In 2008, amid the global economic crisis, it was sold to Mohammed Zahoor, a British-Pakistani businessman who moved to Ukraine in the 1970s. Today its website boasts 5.5 million monthly page views and its print edition has about 11,000 subscribers.

In accepting the award at the Missouri School of Journalism, Editor-in-Chief Brian Bonner and Deputy Chief Editor Katya Gorchinskaya said their reporters faced a steep learning curve in figuring out how to cover first a revolution and then a civil war.

“We’ve lived through two dictatorships, two revolutions, but never through a war,” said Gorchinskaya.

It meant learning lessons like why wearing camouflage in a conflict area is unsafe, how to choose the right flak jacket, and why bicycle helmets are ineffective protection from Molotov cocktails. It also meant figuring out that her reporters should never get close to soldiers during a battle, as they are easy targets that attract enemy fire.

“We had no choice but to learn fast,” said Gorchinskaya.

The Kyiv Post’s reporters learned to file important stories in a war zone while staying safe and sometimes caring for the wounded–even as they mastered the art of keeping an ear out for the whistle of an incoming Grad missile.

Gorchinskaya and the Post’s staff have managed to stay safe. Now they‘re teaching others what they’ve learned.

The Post’s journalists travel throughout Ukraine giving lectures to young reporters about what it means to be fair, balanced and objective, even if that means speaking to two sides of an enflamed conflict.

“The best services we provided during the revolution was to talk to the other side,” Gorchinskaya said.

Pro-Russian gunmen on a truck in Donetsk, Ukraine on May 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Pro-Russian gunmen ride on a truck in Donetsk, Ukraine on May 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Her article about a soldier freezing in the street during the conflict gave readers a rare glimpse into what life might be like for pro-government forces. Unless you ask, “you will have a skewed view of what happened,” she said.

The Post also encourages reporters to take on the deep, investigative digging required for writing about a complex situation like a revolution. The Post launched its own Pulitzer prize, the first journalism award in the country, to commend such efforts.

At times, digging up politically charged stories caused rifts between the Post’s management and its editors. Zahoor fired Bonner on two separate occasions after disagreeing with his editorial decisions, including his decision to run a story that revealed corruption that took place under the Ukrainian agricultural minister.

“I would no longer be able to sell ads on the basis that we are an independent newspaper,” Bonner said.

But editorial independence won out, Bonner said, and for that he still has his job.

Through political attacks, a revolution, ethical debates and economic struggles — the staff of the Kyiv Post demonstrate that journalism is not for the faint of heart.

“If you are going into be a journalist, you’d better have guts,” Gorchinskaya said.

Timeline by Alyssa Strickland

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