Ukraine? Yes please.

The office for Nikolaevskie Novosti is located in the city government building in Nikolayev, Ukraine, which sits about 5,500 miles east of Augusta. Making vacation plans? Build a solid 30 hours of travel time - each way - into your schedule. And before you ask, yes. That's a statue of Lenin in front of the building.

Four weeks ago, I had never been off the continent, never even been more than 10 miles outside the United States. I never dreamed I would go to Ukraine.

I came back Sunday.

As it did for photo chief Todd Bennett and digital development director Kim Luciani in May, the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself in the form of the Ukraine Media Partnership Program, or UMPP. A project of IREX, an organization that works to solve development issues in more than 120 countries, the UMPP is financed through a State Department grant and seeks to strengthen the relatively new private media industry in Ukraine.

Right away, you start to notice some differences.

The Augusta Chronicle has been in operation since 1785. The newspaper in Nikolayev we were partnered with, Nikolaevskie Novosti, opened its doors in 1995.

The paper we partnered with has 15 employees, while the Chronicle has more than 15 people working evenings on the copy desk.

Augusta was founded in 1777, and has been a relatively free city ever since. Nikolayev was created in 1789 by order of Catherine the Great as a shipbuilding hub (a true military-industrial complex), and had been largely closed to outsiders until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Augusta has a single daily newspaper. Nikolayev is home to five competing newspapers. 

Ohh, and they speak Russian. Fortunately for Emily and I, so did our translators. 

Fortunately for the half-million residents of the city of Nikolayev, the 15 members of the staff of Nikolaevskie Novosti share a passion for their community and a dedication to journalism that fuels a strong newspaper. Acting together, members of each staff are working to make each other's product stronger for the communities they serve. 

A committment shared by each paper, in Russian or in English, whether it is approaching its 20th anniversary or its 230th anniversary. 

As Todd Bennett did before me, I will attempt to share some of the moments from my trip. His photos are probably better, but in my defense, that's what we pay him for.

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