Sonya Savina

Country/area: Russia

Organisation: Important Stories, YouTube

Organisation size: Small

Cover letter:

I am a data journalist for “Important Stories”, a small investigative media based in Russia. I have been working as a data journalist for 5 years. My career started after graduation from the National Research University “Higher School of Economics” in Moscow, where I got my master’s degree in data journalism. Before “Important Stories” I worked as a data journalist for RBC, Proekt and Conflict Intelligence Team

My area of interest is to unveil social problems in Russia through the open data. I suppose that my approach to tell people data-stories is unique for Russian data journalism, because it combines insights based on data analysis and also stories told by ordinary Russian people who are faced with problems which I found in data. I believe that behind every cell in Excel spreadsheets there is a real person and often they are victims of bad government decisions. 

I usually work in two different formats: publish a text story with data visualisations on our site and make a video version for YouTube. 

The whole year of 2021 was tough for our team and for all of the Russian independent journalists. For example, the Russian government designated “Important Stories” as a “foreign agent” (this is a kind of repressive policy towards Russian independent journalism). It happened after we published several investigations about president Vladimir Putin and his allies. Despite all of this pressure, 2021 was full of interesting data stories that we published, some of which I invite you to read.

Description of portfolio:

The article “I’m never going back to that hell — I don’t want to give birth in this country anymore” tells why in Russia despite all the government’s promises to help pregnant women, they are still scared to give birth. We have analysed data concerning maternal and infant mortality rates and talked to families whose children either suffered trauma or died during labour. The video version of the story gained more than 500 thousand views (https://youtu.be/QGZAI5wBNG8). After this story was published, we received many similar stories from all over the country. Also one of our heroines won the court against the doctors and they paid her compensation.

In the data story “They have been re-optimized to the point that soon no one will be able to get sick at all” we have proved that 20 million Russians may not be able to wait for an ambulance to arrive when their lives are at stake. To assess the territorial availability of emergency medical care, we calculated the travel time from each Russian settlement to the nearest medical institution, at which an ambulance can be located. To build routes, we collected the coordinates of Russian settlements and the nearest medical facilities. Then we wrote a program in the Python programming language, which for each locality searches for the nearest medical facility and calculates the distance to it and the time on the road using the Yandex API. We have also made a video report (https://youtu.be/JeCt_eux8-U) from a Russian district, where the only ambulance team serves 40 settlements, with a population of 10 thousand.

For the data story “I sit and pray to God to get there alive” we analyzed all available open data on public transportation system in Russia. We found out that most of the public transport in Russia is worn out and accidents are becoming more frequent. To test how safe and accessible Russian public transport really is we went to Astrakhan, the city that is declared the worst in terms of the quality of passenger traffic.

For a data story “To stand in a queue for thirty years – we will stay alive in despite” we analyzed data on queues for apartments in Russian regions and found that 54 % of all Russian families have been waiting in queue for housing for ten or more years. We investigated how it can affect “children of the GULAG” (old people who were repressed during the Soviet era and members of their families who are trying to return home from exile) and found that they could never wait to return from exile because of the queues.

In the data story “Houses wintered with snow” we analyzed data on resettlement from deteriorated houses in Russia and figured out, in which regions people wait for resettle for the longest time. We also talked to the town residents in one of the Russian regions, where every third is forced to survive under a rotten roof, with a leaky floor and without central heating. 

I am the principal creator of all these projects: my role was to collect, analyze, vizualise data and also reporting. I am also thankful to my co-author Gleb Limansky for filming and editing video-versions in 3 of these projects.

Project links: