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How a Ukrainian journalist’s moving story caused a young Kazakh to choose a broadcast career

22 апреля 2013, 19:01

Five years ago a Ukrainian journalist came to Almaty to tell a heart-rending story to students at the Kazakhstan Institute for Management, Economics and Strategic Research.

Tatyana Goryachova described how she’d had acid thrown in her face for writing about corruption in her city, Berdyansk. Her moving account included the searing pain of the hydrochloric acid in her eyes and how she begged God to save her sight after staff at the Filitov Eye Clinic in Odessa said she’d lose it.

She also told the KIMEP students how an American journalist friend had talked a Texas billionaire into bringing her to the United States to save the eye that was damaged the most – the left.

Among the students listening emotionally to Tatyana’s and the American journalist’s accounts was Dinara Bolatbekkyzy of Shymkent, who was majoring in public administration, not journalism.

That day changed Dinara’s life forever, setting her on a career path she’d never expected – broadcast journalism. She’s become a rising star in the field, recently becoming co-anchor of the evening newscasts at the Kazakhstan 1 – Kazakhstan channel, which broadcasts in Kazakh.

I didn’t remember Dinara when she asked me recently to be a guest expert on a Kazakhstan 1 newscast.

But she certainly remembered me. You see, I was the American journalist who spoke with Tatyana that day.

After doing media consulting and university teaching in Ukraine, where I met Tatyana, I became a journalism professor at KIMEP. I invited her to speak there to inspire students. There’s no question she did.

“As I listened to her, I saw how much she loved journalism, and I admired how brave she was,” Dinara told me recently. “I was also impressed with her commitment to journalism. Even after she was treated – with your help – she kept writing.”

Dinara Bolatbekkyzy. Photo courtesy of Kazakhstan 1 – Kazakhstan

Dinara Bolatbekkyzy. Photo courtesy of Kazakhstan 1 – Kazakhstan

Dinara also said that my account of my support for Tatyana had touched her as well. “I was impressed by your moral courage,” she said.

I visited Berdyansk three times to show my support for Tatyana. My family was afraid for my safety. So was the billionaire, a modest man who has asked that I not disclose who was the one who paid for Tatyana’s treatment in the States.

I naively believed that the Berdyansk bad guys who had attacked Tatyana wouldn’t dare attack an American journalist.

As it turned out, I wasn’t attacked. But I shouldn’t have been so confident that I wouldn’t be. In Russia, where many malevolent officials and other bad guys have the same contempt for journalists as in Ukraine, American journalists have been killed.

Although Dinara didn’t decide to become a journalist right away, the reverence with which Tatyana and I spoke of the profession we love had planted the seed.

Hal Foster and Tatyana Goryachova, the Ukrainian journalist who inspired Dinara Bolatbekkyzy. The photo was taken in 2003. Photo courtesy of Tatyana Goryachova

Hal Foster and Tatyana Goryachova, the Ukrainian journalist who inspired Dinara Bolatbekkyzy. The photo was taken in 2003. Photo courtesy of Tatyana Goryachova

After graduating from KIMEP, she became a finance intern at the Kazakhstan Growth Fund in Almaty. But the work failed to stir her soul as journalism had Tatyana’s soul.

Then Dinara heard about a broadcasting short course that former Channel 31 anchors Erzhan Suleymeov and Kamilla Zhussupova were teaching in the evening. She enrolled.

At the end of the course, students did a four-story mini-newscast. Dinara aced the assignment, delivering stories in Kazakh, English, Russian and Turkish, which she’d learned at Kazakh-Turkish Girls High School in Shymkent.

The news director of the KTK channel, who had seen her superb performance, “gave me his card,” Dinara said.

He had assumed she had a journalism degree. When he learned she didn’t, he urged her to rectify that situation.

“God has given you all this natural talent,” he said, “but you need a degree in journalism.”

She decided to look overseas – and found a broadcast-journalism program at the University of the Arts in London.

She was the only international student among the 23 in her class, and at age 22, the youngest.

Because she had learned English with an American accent, she struggled with British pronunciation. She was so determined to succeed, however, that “I watched BBC day and night to get the accent right.”

She loved the fact that her university stressed real-world journalism, not theory. “We had lots of practical teaching skills and assignments,” including interviewing members of Parliament, she said.

Then the BBC World Service network announced it was seeking a recent journalism graduate to try out for a full-time job. Dinara topped all of the native English speakers who applied to obtain the chance.

Her language skills stunned the World Service team, which had her do an important interview with the Turkish foreign minister during a tense NATO situation and had her interview Russian speakers as well.

Dinara returned to Kazakhstan in August of 2012. She did a three-month stint at the Khabar television channel in Astana, then made an English-language documentary about the Central Asian Youth Network of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

At that point Kazakhstan 1 offered her an Almaty-based freelance journalist’s job. The year 2012 was Kazakhstan’s 20th anniversary of independence, so she traveled across the country doing independence-related stories.

Along the way she caught the eye of Nurzhan Mukhamedzhanova, chairman of the board of Kazakhstan 1 –  Kazakhstan.

Nurzhan, a forward-thinking executive who also is a shrewd judge of talent, told Dinara she needed to work for the channel’s News Department in Astana instead of the Program Department in Almaty.

Dinara Bolatbekkyzy with her Kazakhstan 1 – Kazakhstan co-anchor Meyirzhan Alibekuli. Photo courtesy of Kazakhstan 1 – Kazakhstan

Dinara Bolatbekkyzy with her Kazakhstan 1 – Kazakhstan co-anchor Meyirzhan Alibekuli. Photo courtesy of Kazakhstan 1 – Kazakhstan

Dinara arrived in Astana in February of 2012. One of her pioneering efforts was interviewing foreigners, translating what they’d said into Kazakh, then running their dubbed words in sync with their on-screen actions.

Previously, local TV stations would translate foreigners’ words but not dub them in sync.

Dinara’s more natural approach allowed viewers to “get the emotions of the person” as he or she spoke, she said.

Kazakhstan 1 – Kazakhstan’s management has been so happy with the innovation that the station uses it often these days. In fact, Dinara used the approach when she interviewed me recently as a global economic expert. Here’s the link to that interview: http://www.kaztrk.kz/kaz/news/society/Zhahandik__dagdaristin_salkini_ali_bar_id1365180861.html#go


By September of last year, Nurzhan Mukhamedzhanova was so pleased with the new approach that she suggested Dinara do a 15-minute weekly interview with foreign guests on Friday evenings. Here’s a sample of the show:  http://www.kaztrk.kz/kaz/telekanal/program_archive/30478.html#go 


On April 1 of this year, Dinara’s innovation and hard work led to her being promoted to a co-anchor position opposite veteran newscaster Meyirzhan Alibekuli. I was really happy I was her first foreign guest in her new position.

Dinara is still only 24 – so her career is just starting. With her intelligence, skills and dedication, I’m sure she’ll have an impact on Kazakhstan’s world of journalism for years to come.

And she contends she owes so much of it to the presentations that Tatyana Goryachova and I gave to KIMEP students five years ago.

“She was so confident about what she wanted to do,” Dinara said. “I decided then that I wanted to find some field where I could be as committed as she was.”

You can be sure, Dinara, that I will be sharing this feature story with Tatyana. She will be as proud of you as I am.

A few years ago, the two of us inspired you. Now you’re inspiring us. Thank you.


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