Behind the Story: Ukraine’s ‘Mom News Network’

A well-organized group of over 100 Ukrainian mothers in warzones across the country are documenting and sharing graphic videos and photos, in the hopes of showing the world the full impact of Russia’s invasion.  

Dattalion offers a free online database of over 1,000 videos, cataloging daily violence and destruction caused by Russian troops in Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion. Many of the videos are heartbreaking, including scenes of children killed by Russian forces. 

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Contributors view themselves as a “battalion” of documenters, sharing information on areas where no journalists may be present, even though they put their lives at risk.  

“I’m not afraid,” Anna Popovchenko, a mother of two, told NBC senior national correspondent Kerry Sanders on “TODAY.” “I’m more afraid to lose my country, my people, my friends, my relatives.” 

Dattalion says its contributors are “Ukrainians, trying to survive Russia’s worst attacks” and who share “real photos and videos” to counter Russian misinformation.  

“We know and we believe that the information is our weapon in this fight,” another Ukrainian mother told Sanders, speaking on condition of anonymity. “You just can’t sleep after watching this video.” 

Dattalion shares its videos and data with Ukrainian government officials and aims to reach politicians and journalists worldwide.  

Ukraine is the latest conflict in the past decade to play out in real time updates on social media. Activists in the “Arab Spring” revolts of 2011 and Syrian civil war were among the first to harness social media to broadcast their causes and share developments with international audiences.   

Countries that rank low on the World Press Freedom Index, including Turkey, Mexico, Venezuela and the Philippines, often turn to social networks of citizen journalists for coverage of internal conflict and criticism of government actions. At the start of the Covid pandemic, Chinese authorities arrested at least 10 journalists and commentators who used social media to reveal how the coronavirus impacted Wuhan and other parts of China.  

In the U.S., social media sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, documenting killings by law enforcement like Michael Brown’s in Ferguson, Missouri. When Ferguson’s streets filled with demonstrators following Brown’s death in August 2014, national news outlets relied on eyewitness social media to augment their coverage.  

Darnella Frazier, who at age 17 recorded George Floyd’s murder on her cellphone in 2020, received a Special Citation Pulitzer Prize the following year for “highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.” Frazier’s prize remains the only Pulitzer awarded for citizen journalism.  

Traditional news outlets incorporating social media from citizen journalists also face “moral and ethical dilemmas,” as discussed by the Nieman Foundation. Civilians who are not professional journalists may put their lives at risk after their work is shared, and unvetted social media may contain misleading or completely inaccurate information.

In one notable 2019 example, ABC News’ World News Tonight and Good Morning America mistakenly aired a video taken at a Kentucky shooting range, claiming it showed violence on the Syrian border. The following day, ABC News took down the video and expressed regret for the error on Twitter.

NBC News’ Social Newsgathering team verifies the details of user-generated content before is it featured in news reports. Given the rise of misinformation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, social newsgathering reporters are closely studying details of Ukrainian videos to ensure they are accurately depicting the conflict.