Dreams During the War

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Portugal

Publishing organisation: The Bumaga magazine, GIJN

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-11-18

Language: English, Russian

Authors: Caroline Nugumanova, Karina Levitina, Yana Sosnovskaya, Anna K, Liubov Popovets. Karina, Anna and Yana asked for anonymity. Interviewed specialists are Veronica Koneva and Svetlana Bardina.


Caroline, Karina and Anna are sociology students at the European University. I met Karina first, when I came into the Google form and wrote her to offer collaboration. She agreed, and when they had some 900 dreams, we discussed what dream theory and methology we shall apply. Caroline took this part on her. Yana, who is an analyst, generously checked my text analysis’ results.
Me, Liubov Popovets, is a data journalist and infographer. I work for Russian media (as “Holod”, “Tinkoff Data” etc), NGO (n-ost, Social Technology Greener) and used to lecture on data visualization at the HSE university.

Project description:

It’s a data journalism piece about dreams Russians see after Russia invaded Ukraine, with the analysis of the dreams and the dreamers, visualizations and a psychoanalyst’s comments. I researched who people dreamt about, what did they feel like and what did they do. Most of dreams were scary, people felt fear and unsuccessfully tried to do anything. Vladimir Putin was the most often “guest” of the dreams, followed by Volodymir Zelensky and Ekaterina Shulman, a popular opposition political expert.

Impact reached:

Total coverage is almost 6,000 views, however, overall impact of this project is a bit hard to measure. The dreams research is a way to document reality in times when the human capacity for self-deception increases. I also hope that people who stay in Russia and don’t support the government saw that they are not alone to live those painful feelings they can’t do much with, that there are a lot of people with similar fears and antagonism to the war. The psychoanalytic I interviewed stated that even telling a dream to someone helps coping with the distress. As for the colleagues, a Russian independent media “Bumaga” (“Paper”) took an interview with me and one of the sociology student about the working process and the results, and our projects was [mentioned](https://twitter.com/gijn/status/1598619467038134272) by Global Investigative Journalism Network on Twitter and their [website](https://gijn.org/2022/12/07/top-10-ddj-chempionat-mira-po-futbolu-snyi-rossiyan-vo-vremya-voynyi-i-ozvuchivanie-diagramm/). I also wrote an article about the research for The Nightingale Magazine, hope to see it published soon.

Techniques/technologies used:

We first asked people to fill the Google Form and describe their dreams. Then we had a Google document with their answers. Then we read them and manually marked them by the role of the dreamer, the emotions (using the emotion wheel theory) and by the actions they took. So we used:

– Excel to analyse the collected data and make it machine readable and ready for visualization;
– Python spaCy library to drag the proper nouns so that we knew which famous people, relatives and places the dreamers mentioned, lemmatizied them and then could count their occurrences;
– Flourish to create interactive Sankey charts;
– Illustrator to draw the static infographics;
– Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, DALL-E to illustrate the dreams’ plots;
– Figma to create the website prototype and pictures for sharing on social media;
– Readymag to publish the project.

Context about the project:

I suppose the political landscape is more or less known, however, I’d like to tell a bit about the situation in Russia. On December, 26 a man got an administrative penalty because he wrote in his instagram that he had a dream about Volodymir Zelensky. People, especially the younger one and with an active civic position feel extremely under pressure because of the censorship. We made sure of that reading the dreams people sent us, of course, anonymously. Only one from four sociology students agreed that I mentioned her in the authors section – she had left Russia before. Others were afraid because of the word “war” used in the article, the word which Russian officials prohibit to use to describe the invasion. These are minor threats, however even dreams are not safe from repression: some plots might be interpreted as “defamation of the army”, and publishing them may lead to a keen interest on the part of the police.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Even topics which seem too abstract and which presume only qualitative data can be approached. There are a lot of bright themes which get undercovered every time because authors don’t know how to enrich them with data and what methodology to apply. Also, data collected and marked by you manually makes your project outstanding, not necessarily amateur.

While working for a media outlet, I often heard from my editor that the ideas I bring to status meetings require too many resources and are therefore out of that media format. I find the word “format” destroying creativity. I mean, I understand the editor and his worries, but to me there is nothing better than combining everything that exists in journalism: reporting, telling stories, interviewing, data analysis. This gives much a broader picture.

Project links: