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Environmental Journalist Angelina Davydova

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SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: I'm Suzannah Evans Comfort and welcome to Profiles on WFIU. On Profiles, we talk to notable artists, scholars, and public figures to get to know the stories behind their work.


Our guest today is Angelina Davydova, an environmental journalist who reports for Reuters, Science Magazine, and other international media organizations. But that's just one of her jobs. In addition, she has served as the director of the German-Russian Office of Environmental Information in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the last decade, and she teaches journalism at the college level. One of her professional areas of interest is climate change and addressing it from an international cooperation perspective. Angelina, thank you for joining us on Profiles.

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Thank you for having me here.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Well, so, you know, the title of the show is Profiles. So the purpose is to get to know you and to learn a little bit about your life in your professional realm but also just about you. So I'm wondering if we could just start with learning about who you are and where you came from. Can you take the American listener and take them to your childhood and show us where you, Angelina, came from?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Right. So I often make this joke that I was born in the city and I was born in a country which do not exist anymore. So I was born in Leningrad Soviet Union in 1978, and I was born still in the Communist times. And then as I was growing older and as I was about 7 years old, the situation in the country began changing completely. What we started having was the perestroika - is this is when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, and I was living through those years with great interest. That was also the year in 1985 when I went to the primary school. And with every new year, life in the country was completely different. So 20 years ago, it was one country. Ten years ago it was a different country. Now it's probably a third country. I've truly been living throughout my childhood through the very intense process of political transformation, societal transformation, and I believe that has shaped me greatly.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Can you tell us a little bit about your family itself, your parents, any siblings?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: I don't have any siblings. I actually grew up in a very small family. I grew up with my mom and my grandmother and my grandfather. My mom used to be a music teacher in a kindergarten. My father was an engineer. But unfortunately, he died when I was still a child. I was growing up in a tiny apartment in the southeastern corner of Leningrad. My mother, being a music teacher, brought me very early to the music lessons. So I was doing a lot of music. We also had a dacha, which is like a summer cottage around 50 miles away from St. Petersburg in the countryside. This is where I would spend every summer with my grandparents, growing some vegetables, playing around with other kids, running around with the dogs, growing flowers. I believe my childhood before the school was pretty normal for a Soviet child. I didn't go to the kindergarten even though my mom was working there. I had some friends. And then when I went to the school, my life changed completely. I became actually very interested in the studies. I was always interested in the way the world is outside my usual life. I remember now at dacha we had a lot of maps of the world, of various countries and continents, and also the Soviet Union, but also the world, which was always so much more interesting and exciting for me. And I somehow wished that I would travel to so many countries and so many regions across the world. Sometimes when I remember about it now, because we don't have the dacha and we don't have those maps anymore, I would imagine how many countries I would, like, put a dot in, like, where I was. And I feel very happy about it.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: You had some wanderlust, even at a very young age.

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: I totally agree to that. Yes, I had a wanderlust, and I had a great desire to travel around to learn new things about the world, meet people from everywhere, and just be excited about the way they are. I actually remember the first time in my – it was already secondary school. I was 11 years old. It was through my fourth grade. We had the first group of schoolchildren from the U.S. coming to our school, and that was exactly those very exciting times when the countries were opening towards each other. And there were first exchange programs and I remember them coming to visit us. And oh, my God, I felt so excited. I remember even taking them out for a walk around the school. I could hardly speak English at those times, but we somehow communicated. And I felt like it's such a great gift that at those times we could already speak to people from other countries and try to see the world with different eyes.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: And what was your impression of those American school children? Were they the first Americans you had met?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Personally, yes, those were the first Americans I've met. And that must have been around '89, '90, maybe around those years. I remember they were dressed up in a very bright manner. Like, they had red and bright blue, white T-shirts. Many of them were wearing jeans. They were wearing white sneakers. They were chewing chewing gum (laughter) which was also new for me. And if I remember it correctly, in those years we still had our school uniform, so we still had to wear a school uniform. It got canceled a couple of years later. By my around sixth grade, we didn't have to wear it. So everyone switched to jeans as well. But at those times that was pretty exciting. So I guess like for a child of 10 years old, when you see other people, the first thing you pay attention to is what they're wearing, how they're speaking to you. And my English was in no way proficient enough so that I could understand what they were saying. But I felt like those were on one hand different people. But on the other hand, they were not that different to me. They were also people. I mean, if you both spoke the language of each other, we could probably speak about everyday life. I did later in life but not then. I remember I even took one of them - I don't remember who that was, a boy or a girl. I took them by the hand when we were crossing the road because I wanted them to be safe, because I realized that crossing the road was never safe in those times. Like, the cars just wouldn't stop for you, and you had to wait for them. And I was not aware if they knew about that fact. So I took them by the hand, and we crossed together and then we left. This is what I remember.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: That's a very sweet image. So how did that young girl become a journalist?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: (Laughter) That was a long way. I finished my high school when I was 18, and that was around the time when I had to make a decision which university I enter and which university I apply for. And those times being very economically different and very economically difficult, somehow entering and trying to pursue a degree in economics or legal studies was the most popular thing. I somehow didn't want to do any legal studies, so I thought maybe I'd try economics. And I remember that I was reading - I was actually reading some very serious newspapers from around when I was 12 because I was interested in politics. I was interested in economics. And I remember I was reading like all these facts about the new economics, like things about stock exchange, shares, stocks, trading, and that sounded so exciting to me. I was like, oh, my God, maybe I can learn about that. So I applied for a degree in economics, and I entered the university. And I studied economics for five years, like mostly microeconomics. And then when, like, during my studies, likewise in every other university, we also had to do like practical internships. And I went for my first practical internship in my fourth year of study in the university to a bank. And oh, my God, I hated it. I just hated it. It was so boring. It was nothing to do with all these economic theories. Because in economic theory, you speak about people, you speak about people making decisions. You speak about psychology. You speak about gross domestic product. It doesn't sound too exciting, but it can be an excited point. And in the bank, I had to do some very boring stuff with figures. (Laughter) And I, like, almost literally ran away from there. And I realized, OK, I'm not going to work in a bank. So I was thinking, what else am I interested in in life? I have to admit, I always loved stories. And I've always loved the writing. And because I knew nothing about journalism, I somehow figured out journalism is probably about writing. And I like writing, and I had quite a lot of friends of mine in those times who are all poets and authors. And I thought, OK, I'll try with journalism. I actually went to a few newspapers in town. (Laughter) And I was like I was very always very straightforward and asked if they would be interested in hiring me as a student. And one of them actually said, well, go ahead and write for us. And I'm like, OK. Where do I get the information from? (Laughter) Like, I had no idea. And then the editor of the economic section, he took me out for a coffee. And he explained in 40 minutes the very basics about how you write a story. Like, what is news? What is not news? Who do you quote? Who do you ask for opinion from? How do you balance the story? And I have to admit, I mean, in the years after that I did many journalism trainings, many with also many international media outlets. But that was a very good initial training, which was like, I don't know, maybe an hour training. So I started writing for them. I started writing for, like, stories about economics. And this is how I entered journalism. And then for many years I've been writing about economics. And it was only in 2008, 2009 that I switched to environmental journalism.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: So what was the story or the moment that made you feel like you had finally truly become a journalist? So what was the first big story or impactful moment that you had?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: That's a good question. I'm actually not sure I remember that. It was somehow a very gradual entry into the profession. In many of the first stories I was a choral author. Like I was - I had a byline. So I was writing it with someone else or maybe I was getting original bits and pieces of information. And then it was worked on by some other journalists, and then it was published. So I had byline stories for quite a few months. Maybe it was something which appeared on the first page of the newspaper. I remember there was one story connected with an Interpol investigation because I spoke English by that time and I could easily call anyone elsewhere. And then I remember that I had to call Interpol. It was something about stolen cars and insurance. I don't remember the story in particular. But I had to call Interpol in Vienna. But that felt like a very important mission, and it was already a first few months after I started working. And I called Interpol and then we co-wrote the story, and the story appeared on page number one. And that for me was like, wow, I did something important. Like it felt very important back then.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: And so were you in St. Petersburg at this time or where were you?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Yeah, I was in St. Petersburg and the newspaper was called Kommersant. It's still around, and it's one of the leading media outlets both print and online in Russia.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: And so when did you make the jump from working for Russian news organizations to Reuters?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: So I was working for Kommersant for about three years, I believe. And then they had some economic issues, economic troubles. And I was one of those people who got laid off. I suddenly realized I need to find another job. I remember that I was never actually looking for a job. It was a new feeling for me. There was like a cultural event in St. Petersburg. And in one of them I met an editor of the local English language newspaper, which used to exist in those times. And the paper was called The St. Petersburg Times. It doesn't exist anymore, unfortunately. It was part of the media holding called Independent Media, which published the Moscow Times in Moscow, the St. Petersburg Times in St. Petersburg, and also a number of other publications. And they told me they were looking for the business reporter. I said, well, maybe I could come over for an interview. And they said, yeah, sure. Come tomorrow. They introduced me to an editor in chief. He was a Canadian guy living in St. Petersburg for like 10 years. And one day before our interview, I got a cold and I lost my voice. (Laughter) You know, it happens sometimes. Like, I lost it completely. And I came, like, whispering to him. He was like, wow, I see you've been smoking or drinking a lot last night. You know, I was like, no, no, completely not. And he was like, we need such people. I got the job. So I began writing in English. And that was also a great experience. As I started doing this, I also applied for a number of journalistic training programs at the Thomson Reuters Foundation. So they run a foundation in London. They also have a longer program in Oxford, the one I did later. But at those times I went to a number of their trainings on like writing business news or writing economic news. And this is where I learned how to write in English. It was like one thing is speaking. Another thing is writing in a foreign language. And that was an amazing training because I remember it lasted, like, for two weeks. And every day we had to submit a text. Say we used to have a press conference, which was like an imaginary press conference, and then after that press conference within like an hour and two, we had to write a text. And I remember that in the group, when I did it on the first day, my text was like the worst. And it had red marks all over it. And by the end of the trainings I actually got - I learned very quickly. And by the end of the trainings, I was actually one of the best. I got it. I got the logic, the structure, how you use quotations in English because it's different in various languages, especially the languages are so different as English and Russian. And then as I was working at the St. Petersburg Times, there were many requests for articles coming from regional media in English-speaking countries - like, not the major media outlets but more regional newspapers, which there were many in those times. Not anymore - Australia, the U.S., the U.K., all this. They would call in sometimes asking for a story to be written for them. So this is when I started writing also for other media. Many years after that - well, I stayed in touch with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. And I also did another program which they ran in Oxford in 2006. So I went there for three months, and I wrote a research paper there. And then after a few years, they asked me if I would be interested in writing for the - they have this humanitarian arm which is called Thomson Reuters Foundation, and they run their own website - whether I would be interested in writing for them about environmental and climate stories from Russia. And I said yes. I started doing it. I have not stuff there - there never used to be stuff there, but I am a regular contributing author. And when there was something important in Russia happens with regard to environmental and climate use, I usually write it for them. Some of the stories get picked up by the large Reuters, and they get republished. And this is when they also get published all over the world.


SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: You're listening to Profiles on WFIU. I'm Suzannah Evans Comfort. Our guest today is Angelina Davydova, an environmental journalist in Russia.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: So Angelina, we were just talking about your transition to working for Reuters and other international news organizations. Is there any difference in the way you do your job writing for those types of organizations versus a Russian newspaper?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Yes. There are certainly differences in the way you write for international media and for Russian media. I wouldn't say there are differences in the way you do your work. I mean, in the end of the day, you still - well, you used to go around a lot and talk to people. Now you maybe call people more or write them in social media, and you speak to them. And you speak to many people, and you read a lot. And you also analyze a lot of what you have been told. But the way you write is certainly different. First of all, when you write for a domestic audience, you don't need to explain many things which are maybe unknown to the international audience. There are also a number of minor differences - say the way you use quotes. It's different just in Russian and in English. Very often for the international audience, you have to write maybe not so much in detail. You always have to give a bigger picture, and you also sometimes need to connect it to something that your audience would already know. In, say, my audience back in Russia, it knows much more about many aspects of life and also the history of many things that I'm writing. But then the international audience, it would not know that. So you have to make other bridges to what they might know or they might have heard of. And by this, structure the story completely different.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: So what are the biggest stories in Russia right now in terms of what the international audience sees about Russia? And do you think that Americans or other non-Russian audiences are not getting the full story? Like, what do we need to know about Russia that we don't know from just news coverage?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Do you mean general news stories or environmental news stories?


ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: As far as I can understand and as far as I follow the international coverage, I guess the larger stories are Russia's involvement in the U.S. elections. So that's still a very big story for the U.S. It's less so in Russia, but in the U.S. that seems to be a very big story. Then probably stories connected with Navalny and Navalny case, him being allegedly poisoned and him being in the hospital now in Germany. This is also the story which many of my German colleagues cover. So I also sometimes get questions about this. And the third story would probably be - I don't know - I would say the Russian vaccine, the COVID vaccine. That's also got quite a lot of coverage. And I also got quite a lot of requests for help from journalists from elsewhere when they were trying to understand the very details. So I would say those are the three stories which probably get the international coverage. Would you agree?

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Yeah. I've seen a lot of those stories. So what don't we Americans know that Russians do know from their daily news consumption? What's going on there that isn't making the international news?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Well, that's actually a very good question. I've been trying to speak and to write about it for years now. Sadly, with many international outposts of foreign media, the amount of them diminishing - and there are like less and less, on one hand, foreign correspondents working elsewhere and also, on the other hand, not so many Russian journalists contributing regularly to international media - very often, international coverage regardless of which country it is it just really - it's diminished to hard-breaking news. Very often everything you hear and you read about Russia is pretty much about Kremlin and Putin and politics and very little about everyday life of people. Like, how do people live? How do cities look? What's changing? What do people think? How is everyday life built? Let me bring you another example of why I - like, I've been to the U.S. numerous times. And one of the times that I've been there was in 2016. That was a trip organized by the Department of State. It was a trip for journalists from all over the world. I was the participant from Russia. And we were traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast and meeting many journalists, also public radio stations, also like regional media outlets. And that was very exciting. The fact which really surprised me was that, say, on both coasts, like in large cities when it was learned that I was from Russia, they were willing to talk about politics and Putin and U.S. Russian relations. And, you know, by the end of the day, you get tired of talking about it (laughter), like as if I was a part of it, as if I was also responsible for what has been happening. So it was like I had to tell the same story over and over again. But strangely, in the middle, like in many other U.S. states, they knew very little about it or they didn't care about it. So people were absolutely like deep in their hearts, they were interested in the everyday aspects of our lives. Like when do people get married? Do people still get married? What about children? Do you have kindergartens? What do all the people do? Do they go to old people's home or do they stay at home? How much do you earn? How much does an apartment cost? So like all of these questions and then it's very often that through these conversations, we would become in - really not to the differences which we have but to the very similar aspects of life. Like, how do you deal with issues like relationships, parents getting older, having kids, not having kids? Like, all these questions and that was for me somehow very like heart opening, something like a very warm experience when you realize that if you take away many aspects of political life and something which the big media outlets are writing about, then deep in the heart, people are truly and honestly interested in this subject. And this is when, well, I believe people from all over the world can speak about to each other.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: So what did you learn from that trip in terms of how American and Russian culture is similar? Were there any specific examples of things where you really connected with Americans?

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Well, there were many (laughter). But then I'm always someone who is looking for similarities and less so for differences. Well, first of all, those are two very large countries with huge regional differences within the country. So in my way, say people of my profession in New York City wouldn't be that different from someone in Moscow, like from their lifestyle and from many aspects of their lives. The difference, say, between large cities and smaller places in America was as large as it is in Russia. First of all, the size or regional differences, regional disparities, I believe there's something which probably comes from - it's also probably connected with the size and space around people, like the urge to travel also in the country. There are both so many Americans and so many Russians who have never traveled outside of their country. Americans are obviously much more mobile in their own country. They travel all the time. They change their places where they live, and it's perfectly normal to stay for a couple of years in one place even if you have a family and kids and then gather and move out somewhere else, like to another state. It's less common in Russia because there's like in a way in Russia you have migration of one kind or we have two kinds. First of all, everyone go into larger cities, like cities which have maybe a million people or something. And then migration number two, everyone going to Moscow. So in a way, it's like Moscow is this hyper-sized New York, which plays the role of both New York, Chicago and San Francisco together or something. That mobility was totally different. Speaking of the differences, because I should also probably mention this, like the more I've been to the U.S., the more I realize that in a way, the whole system, especially the 70 years of the Soviet system in Russia, my people in Russia rely so much more on the state and expect so much more in the state. Like people in many ways are reluctant to and not willing to solve their own problems and take their own life in their hands. And they expect that the help will come from elsewhere. I believe in the U.S. like the feeling I had that you have less of that. And you kind of seem to be relying more on yourself and your own, like not that the state will come and save you from everything. In Russia, I would say this more of this. I've seen and I've met amazing people across the U.S. in many states. I'm still in touch with many of them, talk regularly. Also during the coronavirus pandemic, we had Zoom drinks and Zoom meetings with a number of them. Like it also depends who the people are, where they're working. Like a very good friend of mine, like I have a lot of friends in Indiana. And I've been a number of times in Bloomington, Indiana, speaking at the university, speaking to the students, giving public talks. And I have a lot of friends there. And one of them is Andrea Stanislav. She's an artist. And she lives between Indiana and New York. And she also had before the virus, she literally used to live between the U.S. and Russia. She would come here every two months or something. Now, unfortunately, she cannot. I almost feel like why don't we speak to her? Like we don't have any cultural differences. We speak about art and work and cities and the way cities change. And in a way, after a few months, it's all the differences, they become completely irrelevant.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: No, your perspective is really interesting. I think there's not many people and I think journalists often get this special perspective where they get an in-depth look at not just their own culture and country but others as well. So you're in a nice position to understand sort of the connections that we all have that might not be obvious to someone who doesn't have that either travel opportunity or just meeting people and getting to know more voices, more perspectives and seeing the commonalities that we all have.

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Well, I just came up with another example. Can I bring it here?


ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: In 2018, 2019, I spent 10 months in California being a fellow - Humphrey Fellow at UC Davis, which is in Northern California not so far from Sacramento, the capital. When I was going there, everyone's like, oh, my God, you're so lucky. You're going to California. The ocean, cocktails, fancy cars, the beach (laughter), you know, and all this. And I came to live in the valley, which was like in the middle of the agricultural district. And I had very little understanding of agriculture because I come from the part of Russia, which is (laughter) - well, it's not super cold. It's not the coldest place in Russia, but it's notorious for its bad climate and raining all the time. Whenever I was speaking to my friends back in Russia or even since I came back, everyone's asking me, oh, my God. Tell me, what's California like? Is it like we saw in TV series? Used to - like, we've seen the news? And I was always, let me take some time. First of all, let me draw you a map of California. (Laughter) And I begin with that. I first begin to showing them how large California is. Also, when we put it, say, on the map of Russia, just to give them this perspective, because it's so far away in the map it doesn't look clear that it's actually a very large state. And then I was saying, look. There's northern California, the super northern California, Northern California, Southern California, the Valley. They're all very different. (Laughter) And then I would go into the history, how European settlers came there, what was happening, why there are forest fires, what kind of industry is in every part of the state. And I couldn't just give a short answer. I really needed to give this answer and take historic perspective, economic perspective, social perspective, what people do, how much real estate costs, what kind of - I don't know - racial mixture are there in various parts of the state? Why is it relevant? And so I really had to make a whole lecture about it. And then people were like, wow (laughter).

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Well, I think even in American culture, California looms so large and a lot of Americans don't ever travel there. We still see the same thing, which is the Hollywood version of the state. And I have a friend who just moved to Northern California, and I joked about him being at the beach. But where he lives, the beach is about 45 degrees. It's too cold to go to the beach in the fall or winter. He's not sitting out there with the cocktail and a little umbrella. There's similarly a dream about California that isn't necessarily the reality.


SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: You're listening to Profiles on WFIU. I'm Suzannah Evans Comfort. Our guest today is Angelina Davydova, a Russian journalist.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: So these days, you're specializing more in environmental journalism. Can you tell us a little bit about what are the major environmental issues facing Russians today and how do Russians think about the environment? Are they concerned about it?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Well, I started writing about environmental topics around 10 years ago. Those were the times when environmental problems, I mean, they were still there but somehow people had less interest for them. And people were less environmentally conscious because the idea was that, OK, there are all this green movements, then Greenpeace and everyone, but probably it still concerns us. But there are so many other more urgent things like how to get a job? What about economic prospects? What about educational prospects for my kids? And whenever I was trying to speak about these topics, I got a very mixed reaction. On one hand, people will say, yeah, it's an important topic but then they were not particularly interested about it. It seemed like a marginal topic, like not something very highly and important in those times. But I was still persistent, and I got interested in the topic. I felt like it's a globally important topic and it's also a local important topic. And I just began writing about it. I remember how my editor, because I started writing about it for a number of Russian media outlets at first and then also later, as I mentioned, for the international media outlets. And I remember how my editor in Kommersant, again, when I was submitting a story this time as a contributing author, he would make these jokes like Angelina and her environmental policy stories would probably have six readers. But I was like, yeah, but those are six dedicated readers. The amount of the readers was growing, and the importance of the topic was increasing. And I would say that in the last three to four years, oh, my God, the green topics are all over the place. They are trendy. They are hip. Now, whenever I come to anywhere, like, I can't go to a hairdresser and they ask you sometimes, what is it that you do for a living? And I'm like, I'm an environmental journalist and I already know what expects me. They will start telling me about an environmental problem which they are worried about. That can be a local park being destroyed, air quality. What is it that we breathe? What is it that we drink? They ask me for information. They ask me what is it that I can do to help them? (Laughter) I know all of this already. So I saw that amazing change within the society literally happening over the last few years. I'm very happy that I'm part of this change. I'm very happy that I'm reporting about it. Now, there are so many subtopics in the environmental journalism that I cannot even cover all of them. So in the way I decided to concentrate more either on climate related issues or sometimes I also write about like general green economy, maybe air quality, but say the waste reform here is a huge topic. So the importance of topic is growing. People - also the general public is more and more worried about green topics. And when I say environmental issues, so if you stop anyone in the streets of St. Petersburg and ask them what is the environmental problems you are worried about, people would probably say waste. Secondly, air pollution. And thirdly, probably green zones in the cities. Russia's a very urban place. Around 70 percent of Russia lives in cities and many of them in the large cities. Cities are growing. Overall, the population of Russia is decreasing, but the population of the cities is increasing. So there is more and more construction, more and more awareness, and also need for information about how do we build the cities so that they don't become just this concrete blocks of twenty-something storied buildings and no trees? So I believe this is the topic number three. Climate change used to be very little relevant. Now it's becoming more of a topic. Also as we get more wildfires in summer, more negative weather affects - mountain permafrost, houses collapsing, infrastructure collapsing because of melting permafrost - so all of these topics are very high up in their agenda. If we speak about particular topics in particular news, which have been very important over the last few months, I'll probably mention them. One of the environmental stories which got a lot of attention recently is the leakage of oil products in the Russian Arctic, which used to be - and which is already named as one of the largest environmental catastrophes which took place in the Russian Arctic. And that was the storage for oil products by a metal company called Norilsk. One of the reasons for that accident - I mean, not the only reason, but one of them- was the melting permafrost. In a way, this is a kind of story which brings together many aspects. And that is the work of industrial and polluting companies, climate change, melting permafrost, reaction of companies, access to environmental information. So all these subtopics are in it. So that would be probably one of the most important news stories in Russia. The second one I would name, as you probably know, a number of countries while restoring the economy after the coronavirus and - well, the coronavirus is still here, but like after the restrictive measures that they had on the economy, so a number of countries are trying to introduce green measures into the economic recovery. And there's also an ongoing discussion in Russia, a lot of demand from experts and also environmentalists for Russia to include these measures into economic recovery packages. And the third topic, which is connected to it, would be the plans of the European Union to introduce. Well, it sounds very technical, but it sounds like a carbon border adjustment mechanism, which is similar to a carbon tax which non-European producers would have to pay if they export to the European Union. And Russia is a big exporter to the European Union, a lot of metals and fossil fuel products and chemical products. And then now there's a big discussion about, wow, the European Union is going to proceed with that. What's going to happen with the Russian economy, which is also highly dependent on fossil fuels, other raw materials? What about our climate policy? What about our climate regulation? What is it that we can do?

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Yeah, those are great examples, thank you. So you just mentioned Russia's role in the fossil fuel economy, so Russia is, I believe, the world's third largest producer of oil.

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: If I remember correctly, it's something like one thing is oil reserve and another thing is oil production. So oil production varies because it's also dependent on the global price. So Russia is something between number three and number eight and the first two would be countries like Saudi Arabia, U.S. is also pretty high now but also other Gulf countries.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: So Russia is one of the top producers of oil in the world. How has that influenced its approach to climate change? I know you're interested in international conversations around this problem. And we've talked and talked about international treaties to address climate change. Where is Russia in all of this?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Climate change for a long time has been a very marginal topic for Russia. It was not treated seriously. Even a few years ago, jokes about how climate change is beneficial for Russia because it's global warming and that means it will get warmer in the cold Russia and we won't need our fur coats, and we will be able to grow bananas in Taiga. So there are all these jokes. There was also quite a lot of climate skepticism and sometimes even climate denialism from the side of politicians, sometimes also scientists. And overall environmentalists felt it very difficult to promote this topic, and it was also not very relevant for the general public. However, I would say in the last few years this is also something which started changing. First of all, there's less jokes and less like un-serious approach to it. Now the topic is seen as a major topic, both politically like in terms of international agenda and international cooperation but also domestically with the amount of climate catastrophes all over the country and disasters and negative impacts of climate change becoming more clear also for Russia. On the other hand, the global environmental agenda, it also influenced what's happening in Russia. Say there is Russian movement of Fridays for Future. And I know these people. And they've obviously been influenced greatly - what the international youth has been doing. Many companies, especially the ones who export their products elsewhere, are also becoming increasingly worried about it. There are more and more forms of global climate regulation and requirements, starting from reporting about your greenhouse emissions up to reporting about what is it that you are doing to decrease your emissions, whether you are offsetting them, like all of these questions. So it's also a topic which is becoming for the - important for Russian business and Russian companies. So in a way, many actors across the country are understanding that it is a very important topic, and we should also be doing something about it. So nowadays, when I speak that I cover climate topics, many young people like who are 20-something, they go like, wow, it's such an important topic. And I look at them and I realize (laughter) oh, my God, I'm so happy to hear this because these people are worried about this. They're seriously worried about it. They're seriously worried about what the future is going to be like. I mean, there's still some degree of climate skepticism. But then in general, the topic has become much more important for politicians, for companies and also for the general public.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: You spoke earlier about how environmental issues in general have become more salient to everyday people in Russia, and it sounds like the same trend has happened for climate change. So what do you think drove that trend? Why did people change from being less interested 10 years ago to thinking it's really important now?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: I would say there were a number of factors which influenced this change in attitudes towards climate change. One of them was obviously international agenda. People from politicians to young people in Russia, they look at what's happening elsewhere. They look at what international media are reporting. They'll look at what people write in their social media, their friends elsewhere write in social media. They look about what other companies are doing. It feels like it's a very important topic for international agenda on political but also on a personal level. So I would say reason number one, international agenda, and reason number two, very visible effects of climate change which people can observe already from forest fires in Siberia last year and also this summer, floods like now in the Russian far east that are very severe floods. Thousands of people are being evacuated. So that would be, I would say, reason number two. Reason number three is the global business agenda. I would also highlight the role of business and the role of companies here because, say, even when we speak about the U.S. where the federal policy on climate in the last few years has not been very ambitious on the level of, as they say, subnational players - sorry for the U.N. language here - beats U.S. states in case of U.S. or some other regions of other countries. All the companies, we see some very important decisions being made and we see the climate is becoming one of the leading factors in the way people think that they make business and they will make business in the future. And this is why whoever is thinking about the future, they just have to take this point into consideration. Also, if you run a company be it a large company or be it a smaller company, but you have to think about these things. Like you have to take it into consideration.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Where does journalism fit into all that? So one of the things that Americans have an impression of Russia is that journalists don't experience as many press freedoms as they do in the United States. And you can speak to the actual lived reality of that. But I do know that Reporters Without Borders, for example, ranks Russia fairly low on press freedoms although the United States has been dropping lately, too. So (laughter) we're all sinking like a stone to the bottom, I suppose. In that context, does that influence your day-to-day working life when you're thinking about stories? Or do you think bigger picture about the role of journalism and writing about climate change and showcasing these problems? Where does journalism fit in in Russian culture to push forward these issues?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Well, I'm trying to think how I can formulate it, sure, because I have so much to say on the topic. Well, I'll probably start with answering this question by giving a few remarks about the media freedoms and the position of journalism within Russian society in general, not only with regard to climate change reporting. This is very often the picture that, like, there's no independent journalism in Russia. And journalism cannot absolutely work independently and freely in the country. I myself is not a great supporter of this point of view because it just shows Russian media landscape as a complete desert. I don't believe it's an accurate picture. There are still many journalists all the way across the country, in large cities and in smaller cities which are trying to do to work decently and which are trying to do independent research and investigation and rights for their media or broadcast or speak about it. It's been also true that over the last few years there have been a lot of pressure growing on the media outlets but also on particular journalists. It's not like a totalitarian pressure. There are still areas in which you can report freely. There are still areas in which you can do investigation. So I would say very often it's particular topics which are considered to be dangerous for journalists. They can also be like physically dangerous, especially if you live outside of Moscow and live in a smaller place which may be have less access to media freedoms and less independent media outlets and just in general less support from your colleagues. I mean, there've been all these recent cases when a few journalists have been arrested also on false grounds. Now one of my former colleagues in Kommersant has been detained a few months ago. And he's been charged with state treason. The details are not yet clear. And there's a large campaign like a support campaign to him. His name is Ivan Safronov. In a way, yes, there are cases when journalists are being persecuted, sometimes even beaten up. There've been a few cases when journalists have also been murdered. However, it still does not cancel the fact that there are media which do a lot of decent work and which are trying to work even in these difficult conditions. And I feel extremely important to honor these people and to mention these people. Speaking about environmental journalism and climate journalism, as I also mentioned over the last few years there's been a surge in environmental journalism. In many cases we see through - more stories appearing in general media and business media, more environmental and climate stories. We also see an appearance of a lot of specialized media, like small media outlets very often on digital only which report about climate, environmental problems and solutions. And we also see a lot of new formats appearing because nowadays journalism, the whole notion of journalism has been extended. Now, in many ways, it can also include bloggers. It can also include people who run podcasts. It can also include - I mean, there are - like who can speak a lot about it. What is journalism? What is not journalism? What about standards? What about proof of information and checks and everything? But in a way, the whole sector has become much more diverse. But also like nowadays, even if say there are local environmental activists who are fighting for a particular cause and then they find that say local media are not reported about it because local media are under direct control from the local political administration, which in turn is connected with the evil polluting companies, say. So what they can do - well, first of all, they can reach out to federal media which can be more open to their cause. But then if you are working for a federal media, you can have intense stories like this every day reaching out to you. And it's impossible to write everything. What they can do. They start their own campaign in social media. They learn how to write themselves, and they publish their story in social media. In Facebook - in Russian Facebook, which is conducted in telegram in other channels and they are promoting their own stories and videos, words and everything. And then it goes around and it still has an impact. As we see from recent years, the environmental campaigns which become really successful and which are winning something in the end, they are usually the campaigns which have quite a lot of dedicated people who spend their time and energy participating in it, also people who write and report and create social media content promoting the cause. But it's also the cause which attracts many people just literally physically a lot of people. And only then a campaign like this becomes successful. So in a way, I would say, yes. There's more and more reporting in traditional media. There's also a lot of new media formats - notable is journalism but then it also it contributes to the information world around us.


SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: You're listening to Profiles on WFIU. I'm Suzannah Evans Comfort. Our guest today is Angela Davydova, a Russian journalist.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Angelina, we've been talking about a lot of very serious topics - heavy stuff, climate change, oil spills, Russian press freedoms, et cetera. So I want to wrap up with things that are maybe a little bit less serious. So when you're not out there doing the important journalism that's going to make a difference, what do you do for fun or to unwind?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Well, if I were speaking with you before February 2012, I would probably give you a different answer. Now many of the things which I used to do are not accessible. So I - on one hand, I had to change my life quite a lot. On the other hand, I also learned to do new things. So say before February 2012, first of all, I used to travel a lot. Over the last few years I'm used to sharing my life between Russia, Germany and the U.S. Like last year I came maybe five times to the U.S. I'd better not think about all these greenhouse gas emissions from flying. So I used to travel a lot. I used to. I don't do it now like since February. No. But then I had time for something else. I enjoy reading. And I enjoy reading paper books in the evenings and in the mornings. I enjoy being outside, walking in the parks, in the forests, being by the water. I grew up in a city which is on the seaside. Even though it's a cold sea, you can still enjoy it. You can still be by water and look into it. So I enjoy being out in nature. I also enjoy art. I'm very much interested in contemporary art and I usually regularly go to contemporary art exhibitions. I mean, not anymore, but yeah, we'll see. We'll hope it will come back. You know what I've realized? The thing which I missed probably one of the most in the city was when museums were closed. When I go from my home to my office, I sometimes would just go for an hour into the Hermitage just to go through a number of rooms and take a look at the art, maybe like a small contemporary art gallery. However, with the new things which I developed and which I started doing since coronavirus came into our lives, first of all, I was trying to do what is it that I enjoyed as a child. And one of the things is that somehow, even more than playing with the dolls, I loved building houses and I loved building buildings. So I bought myself an eco-friendly wooden construction set of various forms. And I started building cities. And I started building cities and houses. I somehow got more interested in architecture and building. I started spending more time - I mean, also now that some kind of social interaction is also possible with friends who are architects. And I started then asking all these basic questions like tell me why is it a skyscraper is not falling? I don't understand it. And I got extremely interested in construction technology. That was one thing. And another thing is that when the stores were closed, I'm not someone who likes buying clothes online. I somehow always need to try them. So what I realized that I had a lot of T-shirts at home which I got from events. Like you know you go to a conference and you get that conference T-shirt that more of them are almost exactly the same. You know, black one, white one - a lot of logos here, like a collar which is very close around your neck. I was not wearing them. And I thought, OK, maybe I could try and experiment with them. And maybe I could try and design something else out of them myself. So I cut various parts of them. I changed the color. And I also used to - I would cut a pattern like a large square out of a different fabric and I would sew it to the T-shirt so that I would cover so to say all the logos in the middle. And I produced a number of such T-shirts and I'm wearing them now. Unfortunately, I'm not wearing the one today. I wish I could show you. It was great fun. And it's also like when I appear and friends see it and I tell this story, it feels like, wow, it's in a way it's a re-use principle, right? I just realized I could do it myself, and that was very much fun.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: That sounds very rewarding. I have a lot of conference T-shirts, too (laughter). Maybe I'll ask you for your pattern or something. I'm an American who's never been to Russia. Is there some Russian cuisine or dish that I absolutely need to figure out a way to try even if I never make it to Russia?

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Well, I'll bring a few examples. One of the example being a Russian, I'm a huge fan of dairy products. And we have a huge variety of dairy products, the ones which sometimes don't exist in other parts of the world. One of these products is it's called tvorog in Russian, which is a bit like curd in English. In English they say sometimes like cottage cheese to it, but it comes in various forms. For Easter, we make this very special dish out of this: tvorog. But it has to be done in a very special way. So I remember when I was in the U.S. and I was selling my American friends about it, a family of very close American friends of mine invited me over for Easter. And I decided to make my own tvorog. So the way I did it, I bought a lot of milk, like a gallon of milk. And then you start very slowly cooking it adding some white wine vinegar. You can also add some lemon juice. But I tried the vinegar and it worked. And you add maybe overall I feel like it was like four tablespoons maybe. But you add it very gradually and you keep stirring. And after a while, milk gets divided into the - so to say the thin part and the thick part. I mean, they probably all called something in English, but I just don't know the name. And the idea is then you take the thick part and you squeeze out all the remaining liquids. And you might use a cloth. And after a while you get this tvorog and you can eat it like this or you can add some dried fruits or you can add jam or you can cook also various other things. Say you can make very special pancakes when you add this tvorog into the dough already. That I find is an amazing thing you can also use for cooking. Another thing which I really love is our various dishes made with beetroot because beetroot is a very important vegetable for Russian cuisine. And very often in America you can just or like other countries, you can find just marinated beetroot which is already cooked. But if you do find maybe local organic market, some fresh, freshly grown raw beetroot, you can make a salad, which I particularly adore. And I cooked it a lot for my friends in America. The salad is interestingly called vinaigrette but it actually doesn't have any vinegar dressing in it. So it's a bit like, I don't know, a mystery why is it called vinaigrette? So the way you make it, you cook beetroot. You cook carrots. You cook potatoes. Then you add some sauerkraut. Then you add some cooked peas like the green ones. And you add some ideally, it has not to be gherkins, but it has to be salted cucumbers, not marinated cucumbers. Sometimes in America you get it and they're like Kosher dills or something but something better with just salt and herbs and no vinegar. And you mix it all and then you add some oil. It can be sunflower oil or olive oil or whatever. And this is a kind of salad which I somehow adore. My mother always used to cook it for, like, family celebrations. And it's also a type of the winter salad which you would have in winter when there are so many vegetables. But these root vegetables, they last for long. So that would be - so I love this salad.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Well, thank you. Those are both great options and they both sound doable. I feel like they seem like something I could do while I'm quarantine cooking at home. (laughter)

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: Well, if you try and if you succeed, I'd be interested to see the results at least on a photo.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: OK. I'll see what I can do. I know we have beets that are at the farmer's market here in Bloomington, so we can get them.


SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: Angelina, thank you so much for giving us your time and for telling us not only about yourself but about what's going on in Russia today for Americans who aren't necessarily getting an inside scoop like you can provide. So we really appreciate your time.

ANGELINA DAVYDOVA: And thank you so much for having me here. I just wanted to mention again that I've been a number of times to Bloomington, and I love the place. And I very much wish I will come back and see all my friends and get to go for a walk again. Thank you.

SUZANNAH EVANS COMFORT: I've been speaking today with Angelina Davydova, a Russian journalist. Thank you so much for being with us. This is Suzannah Evans Comfort for Profiles.

AARON CAIN: For more information about Profiles including archives of past shows, go to Profiles is a production of WFIU and comes from the studios of Indiana University. The producer is Jillian Burley. The studio engineer is Michael Paskash. The executive producer is John Bailey. Please join us again next week for another edition of Profiles.



Angelina Davydova

Angelina Davydova (Photo courtesy of RNEI)

Angelina Davydova is an environmental journalist as well as a director of the German-Russian Office of Environmental Information. Her current work focuses on climate change, specifically from a global cooperation aspect. Articles written by her can be found in Reuters, Science Magazine and several other international media outlets.

After receiving a degree in economics from St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance, she began her work in journalism, writing for Russian and international media. Davydova is a lecturer at St. Petersburg University in Russia where she currently resides.

Davydova's academic career has only progressed since she began writing; in 2006, she was named a Reuters Foundation Fellow at Oxford University and participated in the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at UC Berkeley in 2012. In 2018-2019, she served as a Humphrey Fellow at UC Davis.

She spoke remotely from St. Petersburg, Russia with Suzannah Evans Comfort, assistant professor at Indiana University's Media School in journalism practice and environmental communication.  

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