The Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award was established by the College in 1952 and is awarded to a journalist that exhibits fearlessness in their endeavors to hold up freedom of the press.
Elijah Parish Lovejoy was born in 1802 and attended Waterville College (now Colby College) from 1823 – 1826. He went on to start the religious newspaper, the St. Louis Observer, where he criticized the Catholic Church and slavery.
Over time, Lovejoy became increasingly outspoken about his abolitionist views, making him the target of pro-slavery movements. He was threatened with tarring and feathering if he continued to post about his views and yet would not back down, making him known as the first martyr of the free press. Lovejoy was shot five times and killed when a mob of pro-slavery partisans attempted to tear down the warehouse where he had hidden his printing press.
This year, the Elijah Parish Lovejoy award went to Ukrainian photojournalists Mstylav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka for their wartime coverage in Mariupol, a city that was nearly leveled by Russian shellings. The award ceremony was held in the Lorimer Chapel on Friday. President David Greene welcomed the audience and introduced the honorees with words reminding us all of the power of journalism.
“It’s important for us to think about… how relevant [Lovejoy’s work] is today and the threats that so many people continue to face for stating what they believe, for stating the truth, for stating things that make people uncomfortable,” Greene said.
The honorees were chosen by a panel of accomplished journalists who look at “people who are making a difference, people who are facing grave threats in their lives,” as President Greene explained.
“I think about people who do this in the face of extraordinary danger and you just have to ask yourself… it’s something that is so worthy of recognizing and seeing in people who believe in something so fiercely, whose moral fiber is so strong that they can take the stance even in the face of the greatest danger. So that… is what the Lovejoy award is about to me,” he said.
Chernov and Maloletka made an appearance over zoom to formally accept the award and participate in a question-and-answer session with Brian Carovillano `95 and Ron Nixon of The Associated Press. The first question was asked about their experience reporting in their own country.
“It was very important to us,” said Maloletka. “It’s really important to show the country and the world the suffering and fear and pain of the Ukrainians… I always would ask myself why, why, why?… A little boy was 18 months old. He was killed in the shelling. [Others] tried but couldn’t save his life.”
Maloletka, Chernov, and their co-workers arrived at Mariupol an hour before the war was declared. With the uncertainty of where to go and how to proceed, they decided to stay back.
“It was super stressful days… We decided to stay in Mariupol as long as possible because we think we must do it, because it’s not about us, it’s about the people, it’s about the whole situation of what’s happening…” Maloletka explained.
Chernov spoke about the differences between reporting in foreign countries versus in one’s homeland.
“It definitely feels more painful… sometimes it’s extremely hard to hold back your emotions. Just imagine you’re in a town where you’ve been before and it’s now occupied… There were just bodies lying everywhere, bodies of dead people killed by shellings.”
Chernov proceeded to speak about the trauma the citizens of Ukraine as a collective has felt.
“You don’t stay sane, but that’s ok, that’s fine. Because the whole country is traumatized, all journalists are traumatized,” he explained. “The worst thing for any human being is to know that the suffering of… relatives or loved ones doesn’t have any purpose, doesn’t have any meaning… It’s scary to die, and it’s scary to die meaningless. When you understand that [your] work does have meaning, it is already a lot better.”
As the Lovejoy award stipulates, Chernov and Maloletka risked their lives because they saw the importance of the story they could tell. Their photos exposed the wounds of the Ukrainian people and the land they once occupied, which is something you cannot fully understand by simply reading a news article. President Greene acknowledged what their work could do in foreign countries.
“Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka are two photojournalists who showed the world what was happening in Ukraine when we might not have otherwise really seen it or felt it… We live in a world where hyperviolence is on our TV all the time. It’s in movies, it’s in shows, it’s in games that people play. We can become numb to it,” he explained.
~ Mahika Gupta `23