Matt Kupfer’s work for an English-language newspaper in Ukraine took a strange turn last August, when President Trump tried to get the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden, his rival in the 2020 election. Suddenly Matt wasn’t covering allegations of corruption in a former Soviet state: instead, charges of abuse of power in Washington followed a paper trail back in Kyiv. It seemed every journalist in America needed Matt as a guide to twists and turns of a country where Russians, Europeans, and Americans were all fighting for influence.
Recently, Brandeis’ International Global Studies Department (IGS) had the chance to speak with Matthew Kupfer, Brandeis alumni ‘12 about his experiences reporting the Trump-Ukraine scandal and his life as a journalist in Ukraine.
Professional Work and Trump’s Impeachment
While certainly a long way from his hometown of Phoenix AZ, Matthew has nonetheless developed a close relationship with his new home in Ukraine. Living and working in the city of Kyiv has given him a unique perspective on the people and politics that have shaped US-Ukrainian political relations over recent years.
That said, “…working for an independent newspaper in Kyiv is a tough job,” Matt explained, “you’re up against big competitors […] We present an ‘on the ground’ perspective of Ukraine, not the perspective you’ll get from international news companies”.
Initially coming from the international news rooms of the Moscow Times, Matthew has since settled into a career with the more local Kyiv Post, an English language paper that champions anti corruption efforts in the country.
Since beginning with the Kyiv Post, Matthew has reported on breaking news, conducted high level interviews, and produced for live broadcast.
Last August, Matthew extensively covered the Trump impeachment, a news story that brought international broadcasters and journalists descending upon his usually underreported corner of Eastern Europe.
Some of his important work on the topic included a revealing profile of Andrii Telizhenko, an ex-diplomat and Rudy Giuliani collaborator.
But while the international news rooms focused on the high-octane clash between Trump and Ukraine, Matthew worked to show the world that things looked very different from the local Ukrainian perspective.
“Impeachment and Trump’s bullying of Ukraine does not actually mean much to everyday Ukrainians,” Matthew put bluntly, “there is little political hostility against Americans like me or America in general. If anything, most people are more worried with the abuses of their own government. Ukrainians don’t really know what’s going on […] Soviet communism is still the biggest threat in the minds of many Ukrainians, not America.”
Surprisingly, Matthew explained how many Ukrainians he met did not have the political knowledge needed to fully understand the Trump–Ukraine scandal and its implications in regards to the American President’s impeachment. “Ukrainians do not like to blame America for their own political failings, and do not see American politics as a force that controls or greatly influences Ukrainian politics” he stated.
In his own political analysis of the situation, Matthew sees this Ukraine-centric view of politics as favorable to the ruling government. If anything, the Ukrainian government’s main objective has been to avoid any signs that they are rebutting Trump, as they have nothing to gain from getting dragged into what has been first and foremost an American political scandal.
“The US-Ukraine partnership has always been very valuable to the country,” Mathew said, “[…] because of this, the Ukrainian government is avoiding pressuring Trump, they have nothing to gain and everything to lose from getting involved.”
Furthermore, he explained that “the government here has never in any official capacity labeled Trump as a ‘bad guy’, nor do they see the Bidens as ‘bad guys’. That said, it’s hard for them to be publicly characterized as corrupt by the President. It makes them look weak, and the Ukrainian people have always generally seen their politicians as fairly corrupt. It’s all bad for their image.”
On top of everything, Matthew was quick to add, there’s always the issue of Russia. On one hand, the American President attacks their legitimacy. On the other, they must appease Trump, as American political and military support becomes increasingly important in the face of growing Russian aggression.
Life in Ukraine
Similar to Matthew’s professional life, his experiences living day to day in Ukraine has given him a multitude of equally fulfilling and educational experiences.
Living in Ukraine is generally comfortable. Thanks to his language skills, he has developed good relationships with friends and colleagues over his two and a half years in the country. However, there have been a number of challenges along the way as well.
“Adjusting to any new cultural context is always a challenge” Matthew said. But all things considered, he enjoys relative comfort as a foreigner in Ukraine and looks forward to continuing his work in the region into the near future.
When asked about his time at Brandeis University and any potential advice he might have for current students, Matthew reflected positively on the strong foundations he built during his time at college.
That said, Matthew stressed that undergraduate school is not about “picking some path and pursuing it 100%”. Instead, Matthew suggests that current Brandeis students go into IGS, or any of the major programs, with an open mind and the willingness to take in new experiences and learn new things.
Furthermore, he saw his decision to learn a new language as a real breakthrough decision in his career. Working abroad, he explained, is not easy. “It is hard to break into the world of international careers” he explained.
That said, he asks current students to really think about what they want to do, and what skills might be needed in order to be successful abroad, like language learning. He pointed out that undergraduate school is perhaps the best opportunity to do those types of things.
Additionally, he stressed not being afraid to share your interests in an online capacity. “Connect and network with people with similar interests or are in the line of work you are interested in. Building relationships in the field you want to work in is key.”