PRAGUE (AP) – Here calls Radio Ukraine.
A new internet radio station based in Prague has started broadcasting news, information and music tailored to the daily concerns of some 300,000 refugees who have arrived in the Czech Republic since Russia began its military attack on Ukraine.
In a studio in the heart of the Czech capital, radio veterans work alongside total novices to care for the refugees with what they need to know to settle into a new country as smoothly as possible.
The 10-strong team unites people who have fled Ukraine in recent weeks with those who have been living abroad for years. No matter who they are, their common goal is to help other Ukrainians and their homeland deal with the brutal Russian invasion.
Natalia Churikova, a veteran journalist at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from Prague, said she couldn’t turn down an offer to become the station’s editor-in-chief.
“It was for my people, for people who really needed help, who really needed support, something that would help them start a new life or start their life over here after they’ve been trying to get out of Ukraine flee, have been through very bad things,” Churikova said.
Associate Sofia Tatomyr is one of those fleeing the war.
The 22-year-old from western town Kalush was making plans to move to another city in Ukraine when one morning a friend called: “Sofia, the war has just begun.”
Her parents and older brother decided to stay at home but wanted her to come to Prague to live with her aunt.
“It happened all of a sudden,” she said. She boarded a bus alone in Cherniutsi and 28 hours later arrived in the Czech capital, a city she had never visited.
“When I was already abroad I remember the moment I cried trying to buy a ticket and I couldn’t spell which ticket I needed. It was really difficult,” she said.
After graduating as a publisher and media editor, Tatomyr worked as a graphic designer and singer in Ukraine. Broadcasting was part of her studies at the university. To her surprise, her aunt’s brother found a job vacancy for a new Ukrainian radio station.
She said she needed “some time to understand that not everyone can be on the front lines at war and everyone has to do what he or she does best”.
“So that’s how I cheer myself up that I’m doing my job, that I’m doing what I do best, and that’s the best way I can help our people, I can help Ukraine. That’s how I feel about it,” she said.
Safe in Prague, she was still trying to cope with the invasion of her homeland.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “I still can’t find a logical explanation for what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. A war in the 21st century? Why? We were a peaceful nation just living our lives.”
Another speaker, Marharyta Golobrodska, was working as a copywriter for a software company when she received a call from Churikova, who she knew from an internship at Radio Free Europe.
“I used to think those who get up early were crazy when they’re ready for work from 6 a.m., but now I do it and I really enjoy it,” Golobrodska said. “I’ve always wanted to do that, help my country, even though I live so far away.”
For 12 hours every weekday – and 11 hours on weekends – Radio Ukraine plays Ukrainian and Western music and presents news from Ukraine and the Czech Republic and information for refugees every 15 minutes. It includes details on where to get the documents they need from the local authorities, how to get a job or medical treatment, or how to find a place at school for children. Children can listen to Ukrainian fairy tales.
Golobrodska comes from the southern city of Mykolaiv and has been living in the Czech Republic for eight and a half years. After the invasion, she traveled to western Ukraine to meet her mother and 9-year-old sister and take them to safety. In Prague she included them in her show.
“For example, my mother told me that she would like to hear what not to do here. For example, that she cannot park the car anywhere in Ukraine she wants,” she said.
Bohemia Media, which runs several radio stations in the Czech Republic, had the idea to start the station. It provided a studio and its people worked with the Ukrainian Embassy, the local Ukrainian community and others to make it a reality in three weeks. It also covers salaries.
Lukas Nadvornik, the owner of Mediapark, a company representing Bohemia Media, said the station should stay on the air for as long as necessary. The main task now is to let as many potential listeners as possible know about its existence.
One of them is Sophia Medvedeva. The 23-year-old web designer couldn’t hold back tears as she discussed the recent six-day trip with her mother and younger brother from Mykolaiv to Krakow, Poland.
But in Prague she joined her fiancé and Radio Ukraine helped her adjust to a new life.
“I’m so amazed at the opportunity to listen to Ukrainian music when I’m away from my homeland. I feel like I’m not alone,” she said. Her only recommendation for this is to invite a psychologist to “advise the Ukrainian refugees on how to combat survival syndrome and depression”.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.