A new internet radio station in Prague has begun broadcasting news, information and music tailored to the daily concerns of some 300,000 refugees who have arrived in the Czech Republic since Russia launched its military attack on Ukraine.
In a studio in the heart of the Czech capital, radio veterans team up with absolute novices to provide refugees with what they need to know to settle in a new country as smoothly as possible.
The staff of 10 combines people who have fled Ukraine in recent weeks with people who have lived abroad for years. No matter who they are, their common goal is to help fellow Ukrainians and their homeland confront the brutal Russian invasion.
Natalia Churikova, an experienced journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague, said she couldn’t say no to an offer to become editor-in-chief of the broadcaster.
“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 restart their life here after going through really bad things when they tried to escape from Ukraine,” Churikova said. †
Staff member Sofia Tatomyr is one of those who left to flee the war. The 22-year-old from the western city of Kalush was making plans to move to another city in Ukraine when a friend called one morning: “Sofia, the war has just begun.”
Her parents and older brother chose to stay at home, but they wanted her to join her aunt in Prague.
“It just happened all of a sudden,” she says. 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 and I tried to buy a ticket and I couldn’t spell which ticket I needed. It was really hard,” she says.
Tatomyr worked as a graphic designer and singer in Ukraine after graduating as a publisher and media editor. Radio broadcasting was part of her university education. To her surprise, her aunt’s brother found an announcement about jobs for a new Ukrainian radio station.
She said she needed “some time to understand that not everyone can be on the front lines in the war and everyone should do what they do best.”
“So this is how I cheer myself that I’m doing my job, that I’m doing what I do best, and this is the best way I can help our people, I can help Ukraine. This is how I feel about it,” said they.
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 do and why they do it. In the 21st century, a war? Why? We were a peaceful nation living our lives alone.”
Another announcer, Marharyta Golobrodska, was working as a copywriter for a software company when she received a call from Churikova, whom she knew from an internship at Radio Free Europe.
“I used to think those who get up early to be ready for work from 6am were crazy, but that’s what I do now and I really enjoy it,” Golobrodska said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do, be helpful to my country, even though I live so far away.”
Every weekday for 12 hours — and on weekends 11 a.m. — Radio Ukraine plays Ukrainian and Western music, while presenting news about Ukraine and the Czech Republic, along with information for refugees, every 15 minutes. It includes details of 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 for children in schools. Children can listen to Ukrainian fairy tales.
Born in 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 take them to safety. In Prague she involves them in her broadcast.
“My mother, for example, told me that she would like to hear about what she is not allowed to do here. For example, she can’t park the car wherever she wants 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 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 the Mediapark, a company that represents Bohemia Media, said the plan is to keep the station up and running for as long as it needs to. The main task for now is to inform as many potential listeners as possible of its existence.
One of them is Sophia Medvedeva. The 23-year-old web designer couldn’t hold back tears as she talked about the recent six-day ride with her mother and younger brother from Mykolaiv to Krakow, Poland.
But in Prague, she joined her betrothed and Radio Ukraine helped her adjust to a new life. “I am so amazed at the chance to listen to Ukrainian music when I am not in my home country. I feel like I’m not alone,” she said. Her only recommendation for this is to invite a psychologist to “advise Ukrainian refugees on how to fight survival syndrome and depression.”