PRAGUE — Radio Ukraine is calling.
A new Prague-based internet radio station has started broadcasting news, information and music tailored to the daily concerns of some 300,000 Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in the Czech Republic since Russia launched its military assault on Ukraine.
In a studio in the heart of the Czech capital, radio veterans work with absolute newbies to provide refugees with what they need to know to settle in a new country as easily as possible.
The 10-person staff combines people who have fled Ukraine in recent weeks with those who have lived abroad for years. No matter who they are, their common goal is to help their fellow Ukrainians and their homeland against the brutal Russian invasion.
Natalia Churikova, an experienced journalist with Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said she couldn’t say no to an offer to become the broadcaster’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 going through some really bad things trying to escape the Ukraine,” Churikova said.
Employee Sofia Tatomyr is among those who left to escape the war. The 22-year-old from the western town of Kalush was considering moving to another town in Ukraine when a friend called him one morning: “Sofia, the war has just started.
Her parents and older brother chose to stay home, but wanted her to join her aunt in Prague.
“It happened all of a sudden,” she said. She boarded a bus alone in Cherniutsi and arrived 28 hours later in the Czech capital, a city she had never visited.
“When I was already abroad, I remember when I was crying and trying to buy a ticket and I couldn’t spell which ticket I needed. It was really difficult,” said she declared.
Tatomyr worked as a graphic designer and singer in Ukraine after graduating as a publisher and editor. Broadcasting was part of his university education. To his surprise, his aunt’s brother found a job ad for a new Ukrainian radio station.
She said she needed “a little time to understand that not everyone can be on the front line in war and everyone has to do what he or she can do best”.
“So that’s how I lift my spirits: that I’m doing my job, that I’m doing what I can do best, and that’s the best way to help our people, I can help Ukraine “, she says.
Safe in Prague, she was still trying to come to terms with the invasion of her homeland.
“It’s awful,” she said. “I still can’t find any logical explanation for what they are doing and why they are doing it. In the 21st century, a war? Why? We were a peaceful nation.
Another presenter, Marharyta Golobrodska, was working as an editor for a software company when she received a call from Churikova, whom she had known from an internship at Radio Free Europe.
“I used to think of early risers as being ready to work from 6 a.m., but that’s what I do now and I really appreciate it,” Golobrodska said. “That’s what I always wanted to do, be useful to my country, even though I live so far away.”
For 12 hours every weekday – and 11 a.m. on weekends – Radio Ukraine plays Ukrainian and Western music while presenting news from Ukraine and the Czech Republic as well as information for refugees every 15 minutes. It includes details of where they can get the documents they need from local authorities, how to get a job or medical treatment, or how to find places for children in schools. Children can also listen to Ukrainian fairy tales.
Originally from the southern city of Mykolaiv, Golobrodska has lived 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 lead them to safety. In Prague, she involved them in her show.
“My mother, for example, told me that she would like to know what she is not supposed to do here. For example, that she cannot park the car wherever she wants, like in Ukraine,” she said.
Bohemia Media, which operates several radio stations in the Czech Republic, came up with the idea to launch the station. It provided a studio and its employees cooperated with the Ukrainian Embassy, the local Ukrainian community and others to make it a reality in just three weeks. It also covers salaries.
Lukas Nadvornik, the project manager, said the plan is for the station to stay on the air for as long as necessary. The main task for now is to make its existence known to as many potential listeners as possible.
One of them is Sophia Medvedeva. The 23-year-old web designer couldn’t hold back her tears as she spoke about the recent six-day journey with her mother and younger brother from Mykolaiv to Krakow, Poland.
But in Prague, she joins her fiancé and Radio Ukraine helps her adjust to a new life.
“I’m so amazed to have the chance to listen to Ukrainian music when I’m not in my native country. I feel like I’m not alone,” she said. His only recommendation is to invite a psychologist to “advise Ukrainian refugees how to deal with survivor syndrome and how to deal with depression”.
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