A hyperlocal news site in New York offers a window into the war in Ukraine : Rough Translation A hyperlocal news site in Red Hook, N.Y. posts a job opening. A journalist in Ukraine applies. And what readers think of as "local news" is going to change dramatically.

"As Russians approach his town, 'the cat must still be fed.'"

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WARNER: Before we start the show - and it is a good show, so stick around - if you are a ROUGH TRANSLATION listener, then you probably like stumbling on new ideas and new perspectives from around the world. Well, we would like to make that a little easier for you. We are trying out a newsletter which recommends books and movies and music and travel ideas and stories that reveal the next big turns in global culture. It's also a great way to stay in touch with our show. If you want to get the very first ROUGH TRANSLATION newsletter in your inbox, you can sign up at npr.org/rtnewsletter. Again, that's npr.org/rtnewsletter. Now, here's the show.


WARNER: You're listening to ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR.

The Red Hook Daily Catch is not just a local news site.


WARNER: It's a hyperlocal one. It serves exactly three zip codes in the town of Red Hook in the New York Hudson Valley. And that limited scope gives it freedom to go deep - on the town board, the school board, profiles of local farmers, a restaurant opening its doors. So if you scroll through the website, you might find this headline.

EMILY SACHAR: "Turf Field For Rhinebeck Park Inches Closer To Spring Construction."

WARNER: But then, this one?

SACHAR: "As Russians Inch Closer, Daily Catch Correspondent Declares," quote, "'I Need To Find A Weapon.'"

WARNER: And it's like, wait a minute.

SACHAR: "New High School Performing Arts Center Springs To Life With First Full Production."

"Through The Darkness Of War, Our Ukrainian Correspondent Exalts In Holiday Flowers For Women."


WARNER: How did the Red Hook Daily Catch have a Ukraine correspondent?

SACHAR: "Death From War Has Now Arrived At His Doorstep, Our Ukrainian Correspondent Reports."


SACHAR: "Rhinecliff Station Platform To Be Raised To Train Level."

WARNER: Why did the Red Hook Daily Catch need a Ukraine correspondent, and how did readers feel about these war dispatches tucked in among the playgrounds and train platforms? Turned out, these were not even the most interesting questions to ask. But it is where our story begins.


WARNER: So you posted a - I mean, so just, yeah, tell me the story.

SACHAR: So in December of 2021, feeling overwhelmed with the demands I was placing on myself in building this newspaper, I decided that I wanted an editor.

WARNER: Emily Sachar launched the Daily Catch in June of 2021. And by that December, she says she had more than 1,000 subscribers, and she needed help.

SACHAR: And I put an ad on journalismjobs.com, and in comes to my email an application from a man in Russia - or I thought it was Russia.

WARNER: Did you get a bunch of international applications?

SACHAR: No. We got no international applications. In fact, I specifically asked for people who knew the Hudson Valley.


WARNER: She opens this application from a certain Pavel Kuljuk, a 44-year-old journalist living not in Russia, as she first thought, but outside the city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine. His qualifications were doubtful for the editor role. He'd never been to the Hudson Valley, nor to the U.S. He did not write or speak English very well. And he'd never been an editor. But...

SACHAR: He said he'd love to be the editor that I was looking for - not to edit the stories of American journalists, but because he could generate interesting stories for us. And his example of what he could offer was that he had gone through the Red Hook town board database. I don't even know where he found this. And he proposed a story with data on how revenue from dog permit licenses was down. And he thought that would be a perfect story for the Daily Catch.

WARNER: (Laughter).

SACHAR: So - right?


WARNER: This guy in Ukraine seemed to care more about the micro trends of Red Hook than a lot of Red Hook locals seemed to.

SACHAR: I sent him a note, and I said, thank you for the idea. I don't think dog permits are of great interest to me right now. But tell me more about your database skills.

WARNER: Emily had bigger plans for Pavel than a story about dog permits. Long before she'd moved to Red Hook and launched the Daily Catch, she spent 14 years as a reporter at Newsday. She won an award for analyzing patterns in a year of New York City subway delays. In college, she studied calculus and advanced differential equations just for fun. So she wanted the Daily Catch to do more work with data. And at the time, she was working on an investigative feature about the 20 largest landlords in Red Hook.

SACHAR: I sent him a link to the Excel spreadsheet that I had, and I asked him if he could explain three things to me that I could not make sense of.

WARNER: The spreadsheet she sent him had more than 50,000 data fields.

SACHAR: In less than three hours, he had the entire thing figured out. He was filling in these really important holes in the data.

WARNER: She paid him for his work and looked for other data stories he could help decode. But Pavel himself was still a puzzle.

SACHAR: I was trying to untangle who he was.


WARNER: This is ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner.


WARNER: Emily wondered why this Ukrainian guy had taken such an interest in this little town in the New York Hudson Valley. But a couple months later, when Russia invaded Ukraine, it was Emily's turn to get curious about Pavel's hometown.

SACHAR: And I sent a note to Pavel, and I just said, tell me more about where you live in Ukraine.

WARNER: So began a partnership that would change both Emily and Pavel and this community news site, as Emily would learn what Pavel was really looking for when he reached out to Red Hook.


WARNER: Just a heads-up that while this is a surprisingly peaceful story about war, there is one act of domestic violence that is briefly described.


WARNER: ROUGH TRANSLATION - back after this break.


WARNER: We are back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner. If you've ever spent time in the comment section of a news article, you might recognize this comment. Why should I care? Or just sometimes, who cares? And in newsrooms, reporters often have to answer that question implicitly, justifying this story or that story choice. The thing about local journalism is you care because it's there, and you're there. The geography is the justification.

SACHAR: My rule is not just that it is in these ZIP codes; it's that it affects these ZIP codes.

WARNER: Hyperlocal stories for a hyperlocal audience - that was Emily's formula. But Pavel's curiosity? That'd challenge that.

SACHAR: He went to the trouble of looking up this little town of 9,906 people 4,500 miles away from his hometown. It was so endearing. I just - I wanted to know him. I wanted to have tea with him.

WARNER: At least she wanted to interview him about his neck of the woods. But now it was Pavel's turn to be suspicious.

SACHAR: I asked him, can I call you? Can I WhatsApp you? No, he says, we cannot. Why? Because he doesn't feel he speaks English well enough, to which I say, no problem. I'll get translators to sit with us. No, no, no. He doesn't want to do that. Then it becomes clear he's nervous.

WARNER: Eventually, they worked out a system. Emily would email questions.

SACHAR: Where exactly are you?

WARNER: Pavel would answer in Russian, his mother tongue.

PAVEL KULJUK: (Speaking Russian).

WARNER: Then he would run it through Google Translate and email it back. We hired a voice actor to represent Pavel in English.

SACHAR: Who are you with?

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) I live with my wife. She's a very patient and hardworking woman. She bakes bread at home. We have a small flock of domesticated quails, four cats and a yard dog.

SACHAR: What is going on?

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) For two days, I was looking for food and managed to buy almost 50 kilos.

WARNER: There is a curious specificity to Pavel's answers. He lists every item that's short in supply.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) In Kramatorsk, there's a shortage of bread, toilet paper, potatoes, clean drinking water, meat, eggs, milk.

WARNER: It's a tale told in numbers and data points.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) In two days, I walked almost 40 miles.

SACHAR: Are you trying to get out?

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) No, we will not evacuate. Our home is here.

SACHAR: What sounds do you hear?

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Now the city is quiet. But silence is the most terrible sound in war.


SACHAR: But silence is the most terrible sound in war. I just read it to myself. I read it out loud to my husband. I called a few people, and I said, am I imagining things, or is this really gripping? You know? And everyone loved what they heard.

WARNER: Not everyone. Emily published part of the interview you just heard on February 26, the third day of the war.

SACHAR: Right away, I had readers writing into us - editor's letters. Why is The Daily Catch covering this story in Ukraine? Leave it to The New York Times. Leave it to NPR. You don't need to be in Ukraine. You need to be down at the planning board meeting to find out why the local doughnut shop is having so much trouble getting their permit.

WARNER: Emily knew if she continued to interview Pavel for her paper, she might threaten the very hyperlocal mission that she was trying to achieve.

SACHAR: A couple of people said, I'm not going to subscribe anymore. And one person wanted a refund to her recurring monthly $5 donation.

WARNER: But on the other hand, she couldn't help be moved that this Ukrainian guy had shown such an interest in Red Hook life. What Emily did not know was that getting under the skin of a place was something that Pavel had done not once, not twice but many, many times before.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) I'm someone who loves solitude, and I like being home most of the time. And my job as a journalist allows me to find myself in other places.

WARNER: Long before he met Emily, Pavel's skill with data analysis had landed him jobs with media outlets in Ukraine and Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. He would analyze data about real estate and housing trends, the prevalence of hackers and UFO sightings, how happy people seem to be in one place versus another. And he does it through these deep dives into places.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) For me, the preferred way to travel is virtual. So when I, in this virtual way, traveled to a new city, I opened their website, and I just look at how people live there.

WARNER: Whether it's a virtual trip to Stockholm, Sweden...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken)

WARNER: ...Or a town in California.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Calistoga, such a beautiful little boutique town.

WARNER: He can read enough English to pour through town minutes and committee reports and trail maps.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) I look at their photos, find information about their daily life.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Let's start with their farmers market.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Study their municipal records.

WARNER: Each data point helps him paint a picture that he can inhabit while at the same time staying invisible.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Our first item is 3.1, recognition of retirements.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) And imagine myself being one of the residents there.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: It gets a little windy in Dublin. So what happens when it's windy? The kites come out. And is it magical? Absolutely.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) The internet makes it possible to travel around the world. And you can notice things that even the locals sometimes don't see. I like catching things the locals miss.


WARNER: I've never spoken directly with Pavel. We've been interviewing him over the last few months, sending him questions by email, which he answers with these voice memos that he makes in his cellphone.

KULJUK: (Speaking Russian).

WARNER: When his recordings are interrupted by sirens ringing in the background, he'll relocate, find a quiet place to continue. Other times he goes out just to record the church bells in his town.


WARNER: And then back at home making tea with his wife or running a cold shower while his village loses hot water. Pavel also captures these small moments of daily life in his answers to Emily's questions. And so a day after she published that first interview with Pavel, Emily decided to publish a second and then a third.

SACHAR: I just couldn't imagine a newspaper, even a hyperlocal one focused on three ZIP codes, that has nothing to say about the Ukraine crisis.

WARNER: She figured she'd get a few more sights and sounds of the opening days of the war, but her conversations with Pavel were about to take a deeper turn.

SACHAR: Right away, he mentioned that he and his wife would like to have children and that they have been trying to have a baby.

WARNER: He shared a lot of personal things with Emily, including some pretty traumatic stuff that he went through. He tells her that when he was a kid, his father attacked his mother with a knife, stabbed her multiple times. And Pavel witnessed the whole thing. His mother lived, but his dad went to prison, and Pavel grew up without him.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) It was shortly after I turned 10. What happened put up a wall, separated me from others. I stopped trusting anyone, and this distrust created loneliness.

WARNER: After his family fell apart, so did his country. The Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, when Pavel was a teenager. He supported himself by buying cigarettes in bulk and reselling them. He could not afford to finish college.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Also, I want to be my best because as a child, no one told me what a good and smart boy you are. So now I try to prove that I am, only I do it myself.

WARNER: And all these experiences shaped Pavel in ways that he is still processing. He describes himself as a person with a limited range of emotions. He doesn't like crowds or big cities.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) For the last 15 years, I have practically never left Kramatorsk. I live in my house and take care of my gardens and orchards.


WARNER: While Emily was learning more and more about Pavel's life, she was also dealing with some disgruntled readers.

SACHAR: Who don't care about what's going on in Ukraine, but they care a lot about what's happening at the Amtrak station. And I responded, we will do both. We are not going to ignore anything locally. I'm never going to turn my back on the three ZIP codes.

WARNER: Emily wondered, how could she get her readers to care about faraway Pavel?

SACHAR: I thought, we're going to tell the story about the cat. And if people don't want to read it, they'll skip it, and they'll go back to the story about the local town board meeting. That's what I thought.


SACHAR: I learned immediately that he was walking, every third day, six miles each direction to the dacha to feed his cat.


WARNER: We asked Pavel to record this journey for us to his dacha, his country home in the village of Malotaranivka, which Emily, following Pavel, says with the Russian pronunciation, Malatornorovka. Anyway, his cat, Dora, lives there alone because he says Dora does not get along with the other three cats that live in their house.

KULJUK: (Speaking Russian).


SACHAR: I was upset. Like, I don't even like cats, but I was upset that there's this cat living in Malatornorovka who he apparently cares about but who is living with no human being and doesn't see a human for three days at a time.


WARNER: Pavel's dispatch about feeding his cat was published on March 3, a week into the war. The headline was, "As Russians Approach His Town, The Cat Must Still Be Fed."


SACHAR: And it was a leap of faith on my part that it would either feel relevant right away or it would become relevant. And it became relevant very quickly because we got feedback from readers who were really interested in what was going to happen to the cat.


WARNER: They'd write him messages.

JOHN: That he remains concerned about the welfare of his cat speaks of his humanity.

SUSAN: Is there any way to get flea and tick preventative to Pavel?

JOHN: I'm left speechless by this man's vivid, heartfelt accounts.

WARNER: Over the next few weeks, readers were treated to more dispatches from Pavel's daily routine - his morning exercise out in the garden with his dog and his other cats.

SACHAR: I was learning that he spins the nunchucks.


WARNER: His search for a weapon to protect himself from bandits - he ends up with a toy gun and a screwdriver. His concerns about explosions, missile strikes, power outages.

JOSHUA: Good luck, Pavel.

JEAN: And may your heart stay warm despite your cold showers.

WARNER: An argument with Sveta, his wife. An admission of frayed nerves.

JEAN: Your resilience is amazing, Pavel, as is Sveta's.

CLAIRE: I wonder about your wife and your country often.

SACHAR: He talks to the readers. He answers their questions.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Most of all, I like answering their questions about my garden.


SACHAR: Pavel's garden is really important to him. He does some form of subsistence farming, which is also a topic of great interest here in Red Hook, so that's another connective - piece of connective tissue.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) One offered to buy me a hose and ship it to Ukraine.

ALEXANDRIA: Wish I could send you a hose. We have several in our yard.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) I declined, and I still use a watering can. But it was very touching.


WARNER: The first story I read of Pavel's was the one about him walking six miles to the dacha to feed his cat. My friend Julia, who lives in Red Hook, told me about this. And this was the first week of the war. Everybody I knew was talking about Ukraine, writing about Ukraine, wondering what the implications of this conflict could be. And that headline - "As Russians Approach His Town, The Cat Must Still Be Fed" - it felt so bravely small, also so universal at the same time. Like, you could sub any international crisis into the front of that phrase and it would still work. As COVID deaths surpass 1 million, the cat must still be fed. As the planet reels from climate change, the cat must still be fed.

Pavel's early dispatches from the war are all in this vein - writing about the war by writing about the everyday, the routine - like this dispatch from March 14.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Today, I went to the city center again, and I saw the paving slabs have been laid next to the new car wash.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) In the old town of Kramatorsk, a clothing store has opened next to the train station. One of the owners of the house next to us is painting his fence in red. And our neighbors are preparing grapes for spring. For all of us, it is time for garden.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) We don't want war at all.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Sveta and I also dream of peace. And we want a baby so very much. I wish happiness to you and your children. Pavel.

WARNER: Pavel often ends with these signoffs.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Hoping that you will never have to endure the miseries of war - with respect and sincerity, Pavel.

As long as the garden and you are with me, I'm not afraid. I love you, Americans. Yours, Pavel Kuljuk.

With gratitude to the readers of the Red Hook Daily Catch, Pavel.

My advice - watch the war on TV, not from the window of house like me. Sincerely, Pavel Kuljuk.


WARNER: When a Ukrainian says they dream of peace, that can be a euphemism for saying they support ceding land to Russia. And Pavel is pretty open in his dispatches that he blames both Ukraine and Russia for the current war. Pavel's views on this are fairly common where he lives in eastern Ukraine, bordering Russia. And it's worth remembering that the war between Ukraine and Russia began there in 2014, and it's never let up. Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers died in that war long before the Russian invasion of 2022.

Pavel is not volunteering for the Ukrainian army. He says he has a medical exemption because of the trauma he experienced as a kid. He also says he doesn't want to fight.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) The war is going on anyway. I'm probably just trying to ignore it, to show my contempt for it.

SACHAR: I think he'd like every day to be, he gets up, he walks to feed Dora. He comes back or he works in the garden while he's out there. He sees how his peas are doing. He comes home, and Svetlana's made dinner for him. I mean, I think that's the life he wants to live during this war.

WARNER: In late March, as Russia shifted its war strategy, concentrated forces in the east and started capturing territory moving closer to Pavel's home outside Kramatorsk, Pavel's daily routine - it didn't change.

SACHAR: How many stories can we do about the height of Pavel's beans? Like, they've broken the soil. Great. Now they're six inches tall. Do we do another story? Now that he's harvesting the beans, do we do - oh, now these have some kind of fungus. Do we report that? We have to make some determination that at some point it's enough. Enough is enough on the beans.

WARNER: Of all the problems that Emily expected to have when she gave Pavel a regular column in her news site, the last thing she expected was that the portrait of life in a war zone would be too dull for the Daily Catch.

SACHAR: One of our board of advisers members often says to me TMI on the stories - too much information.

WARNER: Yeah, and it feels like in these moments there's a gap between how you see the job and how he sees the job.

SACHAR: He sees the job as telling the story what his day-to-day life is like through war, reporting from the ground in a journal what his life is like.

WARNER: That vision that he has of his role was your vision, too. That was his original role, to report on the daily life, the cat, everything else.

SACHAR: He did such a good job at what he was doing that now I want more. I want more of him. An example is I'll say, why don't you take a walk down the road and just talk to people about how they're feeling? And he says - he'll say, everybody's fine. Everybody feels fine, where just the day before there was a Russian air strike five minutes from his house.

WARNER: Doing journalism has become more fraught in Ukraine since the war. Pavel told us he was rehearsing what he might tell Russian forces if they capture the town and questioned his journalistic work. Emily was trying to figure out, though, how much of Pavel's caution in talking to his neighbors was well advised and how much was him falling back on old habits of putting a wall between himself and other people?


SACHAR: I didn't want to be greedy for his time, for his intellectual capital, for his fear. I wanted to respect it. But as a journalist, I felt I had to push. I had to really make sure I was comfortable with the limitations that he placed on his own storytelling.

WARNER: Without putting Pavel in danger, she wanted him to do more than his daily routine.

SACHAR: If he's going to work for me and work for us and work for the Daily Catch and work for our readers and we're paying him, I'm going to force him out of that comfort zone.

WARNER: But what if the key to getting him out of his comfort zone might be to make some readers uncomfortable? ROUGH TRANSLATION - back after this break.


WARNER: We're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner. April and May were busy months for the Red Hook Daily Catch. There was a close race for two seats on the school board. Congressional district lines were redrawn. Eleven trees were planted for Earth Day. A new barber shop landed its permit. But Emily continued to do what she promised readers. She published regular dispatches from Pavel in Ukraine. And Pavel, on his side, sought ways to write about his neighbors without having to talk to them.

SACHAR: One day he said, I have an idea. Tomorrow I'm going to go out and look at all the different kinds of ways that people are boarding their windows.

WARNER: The format of this story also played to Pavel's strengths - walking many miles, cataloguing and observing the world, each choice of window protection seeming to reveal something about the budget and the beliefs of the people inside.


SACHAR: We did a photo gallery called "The Windows Of War."

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) The most versatile and convenient way to protect a window from a blast wave is with an ordinary piece of carpet.

SACHAR: This is a window that's safest...

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) This also works to black out the light.

SACHAR: ...Most cost effective.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) A more economical way to protect windows is with solid wooden boards.

SACHAR: This is a window that's religious.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) The most amazing way to protect windows is with icons and photographs of ancestors. This person thinks that if the image of God is facing the street, then the blast wave will not destroy the window. But the best thing is not to have to protect your windows, not to have war. With respect and sincerity, Pavel.


WARNER: As April turned to May and as more places in eastern Ukraine fell to Russian forces, Pavel felt himself start to falter. He needed this job with the Daily Catch. He'd always dreamed of having a journalism job in the U.S. But writing about bomb blasts and refugees, even at this remove, felt overwhelming.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) I try as hard as I can to distance myself from the war and to secure for myself some kind of a peaceful future outside Ukraine. I may be in Ukraine physically, but spiritually and intellectually, I want to be outside because Ukraine is not a place now where normal people can live.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Even in my reaction to current events, I've become sluggish. Takes me much effort to force myself to continue working as a journalist. It's become very hard. Yes, it brings good money, but I would prefer not to make any money and not to write about war.

WARNER: As Pavel was questioning his future in journalism, some of Emily's readers were telling her to call it quits on Pavel's column.

SACHAR: Some people still say to me, this is not journalism, what you're doing. This is like you're indulging some weird thing that you've got going on.

WARNER: And so I guess I'm wondering as much as part of you thinks, OK, I may have to shut this down, you know, because the story's run its course, would you feel guilty? Or would you feel like you had broken a contract that you had with him - not a written contract, but a personal one to keep listening?

SACHAR: I want to keep him relevant. I'm getting very choked up talking about this. I want to keep him relevant for the readers of The Daily Catch for as long as our paper is here.

WARNER: But Pavel was reaching out to Emily less often. She'd write him...

SACHAR: Pavel, are you OK? What are you writing? What are you thinking about? What's your next story?

WARNER: One time she didn't hear from him for over a week.

SACHAR: I think the longest we've ever gone.

WARNER: But then she remembers - early June, an email comes from Pavel. It's brimming with enthusiasm.

SACHAR: And he said, I've got a really interesting one for you.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) But now I managed to gain the mental strength to move forward again. I want to find an occupation not related to the war. That is the point - it cannot be related to the war.

WARNER: So Emily clicks on this link. It's an Instagram feed.


WARNER: Stock images like clickbait-y stuff.

SACHAR: Some of them quite alluring, you know, quite sexual.

WARNER: A woman in a low-cut, black gown smoking from a cigarette holder, a woman dancing in her silk underwear. The title of the feed was uncladnewyork.

SACHAR: Am I really going to be publishing this?

WARNER: And each photo or video was paired with a statistic or data point...

SACHAR: This one about - there were over 7,400 public swimming pools and 1,300 public bathing beaches operating in New York State.

WARNER: ...Or another post.

SACHAR: Changes in commuting habits are part of the new pandemic reality.

WARNER: Smoking is down to less than 12% of New Yorkers.

SACHAR: Subway ridership stuck at 60% of the old normal.

WARNER: Pavel told her he wanted to publish this feed to get a job in the United States.

SACHAR: Alternate side parking rules going back into effect on July the 5th. Like, I wonder, does he even know what that is?

WARNER: Pavel had sought an escape from the war in the way he knew best - a virtual trip. The problem was, if readers had put a TMI on too much of Pavel's beans, this one really might be TMI.

SACHAR: The concern was more about some of the imagery that I thought it would cause readers to judge him harshly against a world they don't understand.

WARNER: If readers had warmed to Pavel because he was giving them a window into war, this Instagram feed with its stock images and its stats that had nothing to do with Ukraine, it might break the spell. And yet, Emily also felt like after all those months of encouraging Pavel to write about a war that he did not want to observe, she kind of owed it to him to let him have his escape.

SACHAR: This is as close as I've gotten, in many ways, to how Pavel processes his loneliness - this blog, this Instagram blog. It's a distraction of the highest order.

WARNER: And so Emily published this dispatch linking to the Instagram feed, figuring readers would probably not get it.

SACHAR: But instead...


SACHAR: It was exactly the opposite of what I expected. People saw it for exactly what he created, which was a coping mechanism.

MARGIE KATZ: It is heartwarming that you, the Daily Catch, have created such a wonderful way to communicate with someone living through this terrible war.

SACHAR: People loved how innovative he was. They loved it as a tool for escape.

KATZ: I am sure this communication is a blessing for him during this time.

J FERGUSON: Let us sincerely hope that Pavel, Svetlana and Dora make it to New York someday.

WARNER: In the past, when Pavel would take his virtual trips, lurking in the online municipal records of some small town to imagine himself a resident there, and see the details even the locals missed, those locals never knew he was there. He was invisible, basically. But this trip, it was taken with Red Hook readers following along.

SACHAR: Some people thought he found new information that they don't think about on a daily basis. They found it interesting that he finds it interesting because isn't that what we're really trying to learn is, what does Pavel find compelling as he's navigating war?


WARNER: I've been following Pavel's dispatches in The Daily Catch for a few months now. But it was this dispatch about the Instagram feed in New York that made me realize that something really different was going on here. It was almost like this international story about the Ukraine war was playing by local journalism rules. You care because it's there. Because Pavel's there.

SACHAR: What is local anymore? Is local what's happening at the local school? Is local what's happening at my street corner? Or is local what I may care about, what I may come to care about in my life?

WARNER: In Pavel's voicemails to us that he sent just after the Instagram feed was published, Pavel sounds like a totally different person than he'd sounded just a couple weeks earlier. He's full of confidence.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) I didn't expect that I would grow working for the Daily Catch. Didn't think I would. But it has been a challenge for me and a challenge that's made me grow.

WARNER: The Russian army was now 50 miles from his home. Many Ukrainians had fled Kramatorsk. But Pavel had another community, in Red Hook - people following his words, offering to send him hoses for his garden. It's almost a kind of long-distance neighbor. And that active welcome seemed to have allowed Pavel to get closer to his own neighbors.

Shortly after the publication of this Instagram feed, Pavel took a big step for him. He did a full-fledged interview with a neighbor, his friend Elena. It was the first interview of his journalism career and, he says, one of the most challenging and fulfilling experiences of his life. He says working for the Daily Catch taught him that empathy for people is the journalist's most important skill - something he says he learned belatedly after all these years in journalism and after feeling so much empathy directed at him.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) I would never have thought that my everyday life could be of interest to anyone. I'm not some kind of pop star, politician or a big businessman. But it turned out that even a simple person like me can be interesting. I mean, for me, working with the Daily Catch has boosted my self-esteem. I began to like and respect myself more. I suddenly realized that my ordinary life has some value.


WARNER: And Pavel says he's no longer afraid to write about the suffering of war. And that has helped him notice other acts of suffering closer to home. Recently, he went to the dacha to feed Dora, and he noticed she was weak and listless.

KULJUK: (Through interpreter) I examined her, and I found hundreds of fleas. Fleas were climbing in Dora's eyes, on her mouth and even inside her nose.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Fleas literally are sucking all the blood out of her.

WARNER: He'd been spending so much of his attention on blocking out the war, he'd somehow ignored the cat that he thought he was caring for. Dora was dying from neglect.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Four days in a row, I searched for fleas on Dora, and I managed to kill 120 of the little suckers.

WARNER: Of course he counted each flea.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) Anyhow, all this attention to her fleas must have boosted my cat's self-esteem. Imagine what a cat thinks when a person catches their fleas for hours on end. For all my inattention to Dora during this senseless war, I have expiated my guilt.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) The front is approaching Kramatorsk. The harder they shoot, the more I will pay attention to Svetlana, Dora and my garden. I think this is the correct tactic when there is a war that you do not need.


KULJUK: (Through interpreter) I wish you never to be deceived by politicians. And I wish you never to have fleas on your cat. With respect and sincerity, Pavel.


WARNER: This episode was produced by Tessa Paoli with help from Pablo Arguelles and Nic M. Neves and our senior producer Adelina Lancianese. Our editor on this story was supervising senior producer Bruce Auster. Our translator and voice actor was Eugene Alper.

So many people listened to this piece and made it better. Thank you to Julia Barton, Brenna Farrell, Wojciech Oleksiak, Miranda Kennedy, Lauren Gonzalez, Robert Krulwich and, as always, my wife Sana Krasikov, who is ROUGH TRANSLATION's co-creator. By the way, if you enjoyed this story about Ukraine, check out Sana's fiction story upcoming in the New Yorker. It's another surprising tale about everyday life in war.

The ROUGH TRANSLATION team includes Luis Trelles, Justine Yan and Bhaskar Choudary. Emily Bogle is our visuals editor. Our supervising producer is Liana Simstrom. Thanks to Red Hook Daily Catch readers Margie, John F., John R., Susan, Joshua, Jean, Claire and Alexandria for sharing your comments with us. Thanks, of course, to Emily and Pavel for sharing their story. By the way, Dora the cat has made a full recovery. Pavel says she's walking a lot and eating well.

Thanks to Greg Myre, Julian Hayda and Andrew Sussman for helping us understand the situation in Ukraine. Thanks to Tony Cavin. John Ellis composed our theme music. Additional music from Blue Dot Sessions, FirstCom Music and Audio Network. Mastering by Josh Newell. Rigorous fact-checking by Susie Cummings. Legal guidance from Micah Ratner and Eduardo Miceli. NPR's senior vice president for programming is Anya Grundmann.


WARNER: I'm Gregory Warner. We'll take a little break in August, but we're back in fall with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.

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