Lee Zion travels to Ukraine to fight against Russian invaders.
But before he leaves, he has a job to do: donate the weekly he owns to Lafayette, Minnesota, a town of about 500 people in Nicollet County near New Ulm.
It’s true. Zion offers to donate the Lafayette Nicollet Registry. With about 500 subscribers, the newspaper is profitable, Zion said, and has no debt.
It sounds like a bargain, but it’s not a gravy train, he warned.
“To publish a good newspaper, they have to do what I do,” Zion said. “And that is to do everything myself with only a handful of [freelancers]and work seven days a week without ever being absent.”
After decades in journalism, Zion, 54, bought the Ledger four years ago for $35,000. The Brooklyn, NY native had worked at newspapers from coast to coast, rarely holding the same job for more than a few years because, he said, “I have an abrasive personality.”
Before Russia’s invasion in February, Zion didn’t really care about Ukraine. But he cared about the banduraa stringed instrument considered the national instrument of Ukraine.
“It’s a beautiful instrument. I thought one day I was going to buy one,” Zion said. “And the Russians murdered people just for the crime of playing it.
“It sounds silly, but at the same time, it’s so silly it’s diabolical.”
Sion decided he had to go to Ukraine, to help in any way he could. But how could he know what to do, where to go, how to travel? Again, it was the bandura that guided him.
“The first thing I did was search the internet,” he said. “There’s a choir in Toronto that plays bandura. I thought they’re Ukrainian, they’re hardcore. They can definitely tell me who to call.”
The bandurists advised him to contact the Ukrainian Embassy in Chicago. He began to formulate a plan: a flight to Warsaw, then a train to Ukraine. He intends to make himself available to anyone who needs him.
“Where I go depends on other people,” Zion said. “They’ll decide if I’m going to be in a combat zone. They’ll decide if I’m digging ditches. They’ll decide if I’m a teacher. I can be an escort taking people out of Ukraine.
“Maybe they’ll put me in the news, because that’s what I’ve been doing all my adult life.”
In the meantime, he has put his newspaper up for sale. There were a few kicks but no serious offers. So he decided to give it away. Last month, Ledger posted an announcement with its offer.
The owner, he said, “wants to leave the newspaper in good hands. To get this newspaper, completely free of charge, the next owner must show they have the knowledge, experience and willingness to take on the challenge. “. The Ledger, the ad continues, is “a small but financially solvent print run, read by people proud of their children and proud of their hometown.”
Zion said he had a few inquiries and last week met a potential owner. But he stressed that the most important thing for him was to help Ukraine. Passing the log is just something he has to do to make that possible.
Zion is unmarried and has no children. Those closest to him — his father, his brother, some women he was seriously involved with — were initially skeptical of his plans, he said, but they gradually grew closer.
So far, he said, about 7,000 Americans and Canadians are in Ukraine, helping the resistance. He hopes to inspire more to join us.
“If this guy can drop everything and rush to Ukraine, why can’t I?” he said. “I will be 7,001 and they will be 7,002.”