Sophia Kochmar is a journalist who was the local producer in Ukraine for Britain’s BBC and America’s “60 Minutes.” She graduated from the School of Journalism and Communications of Ukrainian Catholic University in 2015.

Sophia Kochmar wearing a business suit and sitting with her leg crossed over the other, leaning forward and listening

But she became acquainted with UCU much earlier. “My mother was among the first students of the Lviv Theological Academy [now UCU]. She brought me to classes in pastoral theology. I remember how, as a child, I listened to these lectures, drew pictures, and took cookies from Mama’s purse. When Mama saw this, she said: ‘You know, UCU is the kind of university where you can’t eat alone. If you want to take a cookie, you have to take one for yourself and one for the person sitting near you.’ As a child, it was hard for me to share with new people, but this was my first lesson: If you want to belong to this community, you have to know how to make a choice,” the journalist recalls.

Sophia is now working in documentary films, together with various foreign channels as the local producer. Among her efforts: for the BBC «Я звертаюсь до нього за іменем» (“I call him by name,” with English subtitles), a film (with French subtitles)  about the deportation of children for the French channel BFM TV, and a film about an experience of female imprisonment and the survival of Ukrainians during a black-out for America’s CBS TV network.

One of her works, “Lost souls of Bucha,” about a massive burial near the Church of St. Andrew the First-Called in Bucha, won an Emmy award for “outstanding writing.” Regarding this film, Sophia said: “The photographs of bodies which excavators dug up from a mass grave and moved to doors near the church were seen the world over. It deeply moved everyone. But when the Ukrainian investigators identified the dead, the world stopped paying attention to who these people were whom the Russians had killed. One witness in Bucha told me that when the Russians killed our men, the order sounded like: ‘Separate the dirt from the civilians.’ To show that they were not ‘dirt’ but the best among our people is my main task in this war.”

Sophia started to work on documenting war crimes after Kyiv was liberated from the Russian occupiers. “At UCU, they taught us ‘to witness, serve, and communicate.’ Recording interviews with Ukrainians who lived through the Russian occupation, I heard the most about death, sometimes I smelled it, sometimes I held it by the hand… There I usually heard five testimonies a day, of women, men… It was hardest to listen to the men, because they usually didn’t cry, but it was impossible to hear their stories without tears.”

She recalled that when she entered UCU, she was worried that her family could not pay the tuition. “Then one of the university’s vice-rectors said to me: ‘Don’t worry. We don’t throw anyone out because of money. The main thing is use your head, and then money will be found.’” And so it happened. She received a semester scholarship from the Vasiunyk family. And she had an opportunity to acquire a quality education.

“When I graduated from UCU, I knew how to do everything necessary for television: write scripts, go on a live broadcast, hold a microphone and do an interview,” she said. “But the most important thing that UCU gave me was the concept which Archbishop Borys stated: the main thing is to see the person. As a journalist, I’m not afraid to talk with a woman in a morgue near a bag with the body of her tortured son. I’m not afraid in front of the biggest stars of American journalism. But, at the same time, I can ask tough questions about Ukrainian and also international politics.”

Archbishop Borys Gudziak (center) meeting with UCU graduates.

Archbishop Borys Gudziak (center) meets with UCU graduates.

Sophia said that it was difficult to leave the university community, but this encouraged her to create similar environments where she was: “For two years, you live among people who say: ‘This is our life and it’s beautiful. This is our country and we’re responsible for it.’ But then you go out into another environment where you meet people who are convinced that life is terrible. They have no understanding that this is their life. The first two or three years ‘break’ you, because it’s already late to return to UCU (though some do), but it is very difficult to find a similar community in the world. Also, UCU people as a rule form their own communities, in the media, politics, the army, or IT. This is where our strength is.”

Sophia calls upon friends and benefactors of UCU abroad to continue supporting Ukraine: “Supporting Ukraine, you may think, is simply a warm act for young people on another continent. But, investing in the development of education in Ukraine, you create a likelihood that this world will not collapse before your grandchildren grow up,” she emphasized.

Sophia Kachmar interviewing His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.

Sophia Kachmar interviews His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.