I started this newsletter as an outlet for my reporting on Ukraine, where I reported during the beginning of the invasion. But since it is my hope that this side project of mine will outlast the war, I have given it an admittedly cryptic name that better encapsulates my career.
Who am I?
I am Bennett Murray, a freelance reporter currently in Serbia. When the Russian invasion started, I was an Alfa Fellow in Russia who had just started work at the Moscow Times. Ten days later, I was crossing the Polish-Ukrainian border following a hasty departure from Russia. Prior to 2019, I had spent my twenties reporting in Southeast Asia, first as a reporter at the Phnom Penh Post and then as the Vietnam bureau chief for Deutsche Presse-Agentur (German Press Agency).
What happened in 1991?
Nirvana released Nevermind, the first Sonic the Hedgehog game was released, Rugrats premiered on Nickelodeon, and the Soviet Union came crashing down for good, transforming societies across the Eurasian landmass and beyond.
Shortly before moving to Ukraine from Vietnam in 2019 to study Russian (as one does), I mentioned my plans to an old colleague from my Cambodia days. After adding that I was interested in eventually reporting in Moscow, he quipped that I was “going back to where it had all started.” It had not yet occurred to me, but I had somehow managed to plot a career between otherwise drastically different nations all formerly within the Soviet sphere. While that had not been my intention, I rather doubt it was a coincidence.
For whatever the reason, I keep finding myself in capital cities where the oldest dive bar was never opened before 1992 or so, and where the opening of the first McDonalds warrants a think piece in anglophone media. With the exception of Ukraine, all have been heavily authoritarian.
Eventually, this newsletter will probably seek to find some other common denominator between Luhansk and Lang Son. Stay tuned.