In June of 2014 Burn Magazine asked me to take over their Instagram handle, @burndiary, for a week to share images and stories from my month reporting in Ukraine. This was long before most photojournalists were using Instagram to tell stories (and long before Instagram Stories emerged.) The exercise was enlightening: how do you share an intense and complicated story in snippets (with character limits) over seven days? I approached the challenge by shaping the long-form story around vignettes that were brief enough to engage a casual viewer, but detailed enough to provide insight into what the mainstream media isn’t covering in the Ukrainian crisis.
The reaction from Burn Diary’s audience was tremendous, with close to 10,000 interactions with the story over the course of the week.
By June of 2014, the Ukrainian conflict had been brewing for months, and the story had mostly fallen out of the news in the US and Europe. I knew sharing stories from the frontline would feed into the problem of war fatigue — how many more ravaged buildings or bodies can we see before we stop seeing them, stop absorbing their impact? — so I decided to create a story more intimate and personal to share on instagram.
It happened in two parts: the first, in six vignettes from the aftermath of the revolution on Maidan Nezelezhnosti, to put my finger on the pulse of what was happening in the capitol; the second, the story of one tiny hamlet who was rapidly losing their men to the frontlines in a massive mobilization of troops by the Ukrainian government. Instead of seeing the frontlines, we were seeing the home front.
The photos were often tight portraits — intimate glimpses into the lives of the people left on the square, or abandoned in their hamlet, without help to harvest their fields. The text was more first-person as well: I wrote myself into each caption, to help the readers feel like they were coming along with me on a journey as I was uncovering each facet of the story.
I also did not shy away from hopping into the comments and starting a conversation. Whether it was just responding to kind words, or countering claims of Russophobia (in Russian, much to the poster's surprise), I didn't shy away from engaging with those who were engaging with my work.)
The reporting not only engaged readers on a day-to-day level, but long term, too: during the week, Burn Diary added over 2,000 followers.