Griz Chat: Russian Scholar, Journalist Studies Fake News During Tense Time

A picture off Anastasia Zhukova.
Anastasia Zhukova, a Russian journalist, is improving her language skills at UM’s English Language Institute as a Humphrey Fellow.

MISSOULA – Anastasia Zhukova found herself a stranger in a strange land this spring.

The 17-year Russian journalist landed a prestigious Humphrey Fellowship, a Fulbright Exchange Program funded by the U.S. Department of State, which allows professionals from abroad to study a year at American universities to foster mutual understanding. This brought Zhukova to the University of Montana for four months, just as Russian troops invaded Ukraine and tensions spiked to Cold-War levels between her homeland and the West.

She admits the timing is not ideal. But it gives her a front-row seat to compare and contrast media coverage in the two countries while providing insight into a topic she finds fascinating: fake news.

Zhukova is honing her language skills at UM’s English Language Institute, which provides the only long-term English training for Humphrey Fellows in the U.S. UM has hosted the Fellows since 2013, and this year she is one of 14 scholars on campus from 13 countries with a wide array of professional backgrounds.

Zhukova hails from Sakhalin, an island off the east coast of Russia near Japan. She earned her undergraduate degree at Krasnoyarsk in central Siberia, and she later attained a master’s degree in education. She has been a radio, television and online reporter, and for several years she hosted the morning show on regional radio stations. Before becoming a Humphrey Fellow, Zhukova worked as the editor-in-chief of the news department of a Sakhalin media company.

“We are focused on informing residents about important events in the region and in the country, and we also help people solve their problems,” she said. “My extended family is quite large, with parents, two sisters and their nuclear families. Now they miss me very much and worry about how I will live in the U.S.A. for almost a whole year. But I reassure them, because in Missoula all people are very kind and friendly.”

UM News recently asked Zhukova about her adventure to the mountains of Montana during such a tense time.

UM News: What prompted you to seek out a Humphrey Fellowship?

With the development of the Internet and social networks, the world of news began to change very quickly. In the past people specially bought newspapers or turned on the TV or radio to find out what was happening in the world. Now a few seconds are enough to go to the website or app and get information. When I visited the U.S. for the first time in 2017, I saw enthusiasm with which editorial staffers in America use new technologies for their work. And it helps them to be closer to the audience. Therefore, I wanted to gain knowledge about how this system works in the U.S.A., and I am very glad that I’m a Humphrey Fellow right now.

What has it been like traveling to the U.S. during this time of COVID-19 and rising tensions between our two nations?

To arrive in the U.S.A., I had a long journey. I spent more than 30 hours on the road from Armenia to Missoula, Montana. Now there is no direct flight between Russia and U.S.A, therefore there were many transfers and expectations at airports. But I did not feel disrespected or neglected because I am from Russia. As for COVID-19, in recent years the need to wear masks, take a vaccine or pass an express test has become an ordinary routine, so this did not cause any inconvenience. On one flight there was a condition that you could not use a fabric mask – a medical one was needed. I had several masks with me, so I did not have to look for a new mask at the airport.

As a Russian citizen, how have you been treated at UM and by the people of Montana?

When I arrived, I met with the English Language Institute team and other members of the Humphrey Program. They all knew that I was from Russia. They all reacted to me with kindness. Some even expressed words of sympathy about what is happening now. In the early days, I was very worried about how other people and residents of Montana would react when they would find out that I am from Russia. But that didn’t become a problem. I have never encountered discrimination or aggression. All people are very friendly.

What are your thoughts about how Russian media outlets and U.S. media outlets are covering the armed conflict in Ukraine? What has struck you about the coverage?

One of the main principles of journalism is to show all sides to the conflict. But now the U.S. and Russian media most often support different positions of the conflict in Ukraine. Therefore, sometimes only information is voiced that will help the audience think only the actions of their country are correct.

You are interested in the term “fake news” in both your homeland and the United States. What do you hope to learn about fake news?

In my opinion, fake news is now one of the important problems for the media. Now, even journalists do not always want or do not always have time to check the sources of information, and fake news can appear even in respected publications. And when readers or viewers see the news with a shocking title, they also usually don’t want to waste their time checking this fact. They are just inclined to this news. I would like to know if there are technologies that allow you to identify fake news without wasting a lot of time. This could help journalists and audiences receive only truthful information.

What has been your most interesting experience during your journey to America?

I visited America for the first time in 2017. I then flew through Japan and the Pacific Ocean and returned along the same route. Now I flew across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. So for me, a trip around the world through both hemispheres of our planet has now ended, and I can put a checkmark in front of this desire. In addition, on international flights, I really like to watch flight attendants. In my opinion, in Russia they are more stringent, and on European and American airlines they are more friendly

What is the main thing you hope to gain from this entire experience?

During the year of Humphrey, I hope not only to gain new knowledge but also to be useful to the community. I would like to be a volunteer in organizations that help people overcome crisis situations. As I noticed during these two months in Missoula, in the U.S.A. much attention is paid to mental health. There is support to help you survive a hard time. I would like to support my colleagues professionally, especially if they need psychological support during these times.


Contact: Anastasia Zhukova, Humphrey Fellow from Russia,; Carissa Luginbill, UM English Language Institute program coordinator, 406-243-2895,