Either There Is Truth, Or There Is No Truth, — Andriy Kulykov five years after Euromaidan
Marta Dyczok speaks to Andriy Kulykov and Kyrylo Loukerenko about Hromadske Radio During the Euromaidan and Five Years Later
Hello and welcome to a new episode of Ukraine Calling. I’m Bohdan Nahaylo for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. This week we’re taking a little trip down memory lane and looking forward. Marta Dyczok speaks to two of Hromadske Radio’s key people, co-founder and head of the board Andriy Kulykov and Executive Director Kyrylo Loukerenko. She asks them to reflect on what Hromadske Radio was doing five years ago, during the Euromaidan protests, and what challenges they now face.
[NEWS in the audio version of the show]
Dyczok: Five years ago this week Ukrainian had been taking the streets in what would become known as the Euromaidan protests. Hromadske Radio – Public Radio of Ukraine- was just a few months old back then. It was a small grass roots volunteer project that appeared in response to the state and corporate censorship that existed in Ukraine back then. It was one of a very few independent media outlets that existed at that time. When the protest began journalists of Hromadske Radio started going down to Maidan asking people why they were there, and they recorded these voices, these people public opinion, and created a really valued record of what people were thinking at the time as events were unfolding. We have two key people from Hromadske Radio with us today –Andriy Kulykov who is a co-founder and Head of the Board and Kyrylo Loukerenko, Executive Director. We reached Mr. Kulykov in Kyiv and Mr. Loukerenko in Washington D.C. Thank you very much for finding the time to speak to us. I would like to start with Andriy Kulykov. Mr. Kulykov, you were on Maidan recording voices regularly. One of the most poignant recording you made was on the night of November 30th when news broke that Ukraine was not going to sign the EU-Ukraine Association agreement. You went down there in the middle of the night, you spoke to people who were there. Do you happen to remember the mood at the time?
Kulykov: The mood was rather calm. People thought they had paid their due to the protest, and I think that they were looking for an opportunity to continue their work by other means. I do not remember any anxiety or confusion among them. It was rather a matter of fact. Of course, there was resolution to continue their work, to continue their cause, but there was no fear among them.
Dyczok: One of the people you spoke to, Victoria Sumar, said something that I think was prophetic. She said, “I think the Maidan has just begun.” Which, as we see, was what actually happened. The next morning you were also recording voices of people, because between the two interviews that you did the protest got broken up and the next morning you were at Mykhailvsky Monastery speaking to people who had survived the breaking up of Maidan. Another very interesting report you did was from the alternative or Anti-Maidan, which was one of a very few reports at that time on what was happening on pro-Yanukovych protest. After the Maidan when the war began there has been mixed reporting on what’s happening in Ukraine, and what’s happening in the areas that are not controlled by Ukraine. Do you feel that Ukraine’s media has done enough to report both sides of what ‘s happening in this current conflict?
Kulykov: Honestly, I cannot judge, because I cannot give an assessment of the entire Ukrainian media. On the other hand, the fact that I am in two minds about this probably suggests that not enough was done. I can say that there is a feeling of incompleteness about what we were doing, which may be characteristic of many, many colleagues. And to what Ms Sumar said, and you quoted, I could add the very thoughtful words of Kyrylo Loukerenko who is also on the line with us. He wrote a letter to us who were then working on Hromadske Radio and said, ‘we slept through the revolution.’ He was the first person, at least among people whom I know, to use the word “revolution” in relation to the events. Of course, I think he was exaggerating this because we, and he in particular, did not sleep through the revolution. We woke up right at the time and since this letter we started to really unfold our operation.
Dyczok: Hromadske Radio was one of a few independent media outlets before the Euromaidan. Now five years have passed. What have you been doing over these five years? What have you accomplished? What challenges are independent media outlets like Hromadske Radio still facing?
Kulykov: We have been steadily unfolding our operation. We are gaining in authority and popularity, and more and more other media outlets have started to quote what [information] we got from our guests and our news service. I think that we have matured, we have grown. On the other hand, there is still a lot to be done. One of our problems is that we are kept away from the really good waves and frequencies, although we apply for them regularly [broadcast licenses]. I think people engaged in commercial and public broadcasting are interested in keeping Hromadske Radio away, and one of the reasons, maybe, is that we try to be really independent.
Dyczok: Independent radio. Journalism is under threat in many countries. We live now in what many people call a post-truth era. How is this manifested in a radio station in Ukraine? How is this perhaps different from what’s happening in other countries? Or are the challenges the same?
Kulykov: I do not know so much about other countries and I do not recognize [acknowledge] the term post-truth.
Kulykov: For me, either there is truth, or there is no truth. All these things about post-truth, fake news, and other stuff, is just a set of terms which is called upon to cover the lack of professionalism among us [journalists]. So, the biggest challenge today is not to invent other terms to justify our lack of quality, but to consistently work to improve the quality.
Dyczok: So, it’s up to journalist to perform their function properly rather than look for excuses.
Kulykov: Yes, of course.
Dyczok: Why is radio important?
Kulykov: Radio is a natural means of promoting democracy and offers the biggest possible means of communication among different people. It is very fast, and it does not usually impose ideas. It offers ideas to choose from.
Dyczok: Ukraine is now on a receiving end of the war and parts of the country have been occupied. That means there are challenges in providing accurate information to those areas. In what way can radio, or has radio been a player in this game?
Kulykov: Well, radio, and I have seen this with my own eyes and heard this with my own ears when I was in those areas [the war zone], radio sometimes is the only available means of getting information when you are close to the front line or other areas devastated by war or by some other disaster. You cannot get television service there, the internet does not work, and telephone is really dangerous because you can aim your rockets according to the telephone signal. And then there’s radio, which reaches far and deep, and which people tend to listen to.
Dyczok: How do you maintain journalistic standards in conditions of war?
Kulykov: My view is that they should be intact. If we allow ourselves to sacrifice our journalistic standards then it will be much harder to come back to them after the war ends.
Dyczok: Do you find that journalists in Ukraine are aiming to maintain these standards?
Kulykov: Excuse me?
Dyczok: Do you feel that journalists in Ukraine aim to maintain standards in conditions of war?
Kulykov: Oh well yes, very many of us are. Very many of us do aim to do this. But journalists are different, as media is different. There is a constant discussion about correlation between professionalism and patriotism, and all this kind of stuff. It’s hard to tell how this will end, because it’s probably for the first time that we find ourselves in this sort of situation. But I think that there is enough feeling of responsibility among Ukrainian journalists to push them in the right direction.
Dyczok: Where are the pressures coming from? You can speak about Hromadske Radio specifically or journalism in Ukraine more broadly.
Kulykov: Come again?
Dyczok: Where are the pressures coming from? The challenges that you’re facing as journalists? Are there any pressures, and where are they coming from? And this again for Hromadske Radio or journalists in general in Ukraine.
Kulykov: I do not think that we in Hromadske Radio separate ourselves from the rest of our colleagues. Of course, there are specifics about our work just as there are specifics about work of other media outlets. Pressures come from all kinds of sources. Sometimes benevolent attitudes directed towards you can also be pressure when you start to try to please those people who treat you well. And some of the pressure comes from within, when you try to outperform yourself. This is also one of the problems that we have to cope with. But I have to stop at this point.
Dyczok: Thank you very much for finding the time to speak to us.
Kulykov: Thank you Marta. Thank you, Adam and thank you Kyrylo. Bye bye.
Dyczok: Bye. Kyrylo are you still there?
Loukerenko: Yes, I was listening, it was very profound. And really a pleasure to work with such people as Andriy.
Dyczok: Indeed it is. And people like you. So, I’d like to ask Mr. Kyrylo Loukerenko a few questions, who is currently on a fellowship in Washington, but 5 years ago was down on the Maidan in Kyiv. Mr. Loukerenko, you were on the Maidan on the first day when the protests broke out. Why did you decide to go down there? What were you asking people, what do you remember them telling you?
Loukerenko: Well it was a situation when you, well, me actually, I was not able to be anywhere else. It was a very acute situation. It was a feeling of injustice, you just open your Facebook and you see your friends, the people whom you respect, they say yeah I have to be there; we do not trust to the government of Yanukovych, we do want to be a part of Europe. So, let’s get together, and let’s think and do something to overt this other, not European choice. So basically, well I was not able to think of anything else on that evening.
Dyczok: One of the people you spoke to was Yuriy Lutsenko, excuse me, Ihor Lutsenko, and I don’t know if you’ll remember this, but you asked him, ‘Why are you here? What did you have planned for tonight?’ And he said the he had actually a romantic dinner planned for the evening, but when he heard the news breaking, he felt compelled to go down to the Maidan. Do you feel that a lot of people put aside their personal plans to get involved in politics at the time, and since those events began?
Loukerenko: I think that many people put aside their choices and business for that evening. But I would say that in case of Ihor Lutsenko, he was an activist before, and for him it was a logical continuation of his actual previous work, and his previous way of life. And Ihor Lutsenko is now an MP, a Peoples’ Deputy, and he’s in the Ukrainian parliament, presenting a democratic and nationalistic opinion. Or representing people with democratic and nationalist beliefs in Verkhovna Rada [Parliament]. So, I remember many faces of people whom with I was talking that evening, and not only him. It was some other people, like political technologists, some students, and for them, you know to understand what was happening at that moment, you just have to bear in mind what was happening in Ukraine a year before, two years before. Well it was 2012, it was parliamentary elections in Ukraine. I believe that the parliamentary elections of 2012 were not fair. And many people did feel the same at that time. So, it was, you know it was a moment that you just felt that well, the situation was going in very wrong directions. Starting maybe, from 2010 with second election of Yanukovych, and then you just felt that the country was moving towards something really undesirable. And the election of 2012 just put stress on it. You just saw those thugs who were at voting stations preventing people from making their choice, or just manipulating the election process. So, in 2013 it was just a logical point when you just felt that things were not good, and they were moving to a wrong direction. So, it was your natural decision to be there on that evening.
Dyczok: Thank you for reminding us what things were like before 2013 because I think a lot of people have forgotten what censorship was like, and how there was a complete lack of political freedoms. After the Euromaidan, many things have changed and Ihor Lutsenko, who you mentioned, was an activist, he’s now become a member of parliament. Viktoria Sumar, who had also been an activist, she’s also become a member of Parliament. And a lot of changes have occurred as a result of the Euromaidan. Let’s talk a little about how Hromadske Radio has changed. Because before the Euromaidan, it was a very small volunteer project. And now it has five years later become quite an important larger project. Can you tell us how how Hromadske Radio has changed after the Euromaidan?
Loukerenko: We were really just a tiny group of people, tiny group of journalists….
Dyczok:… Volunteers. You weren’t paid …
Loukerenko: We were not paid at all. We were actually contributing our own money for setting up our first website, for recording our first interviews. It was 100% volunteering work. All of us, we were working on some other employment, some other jobs to sustain [support] ourselves, and our free time we were devoting to Hromadske Radio. So, it was a moment when we decided to organize Hromadske Radio.
Now, many similar groups who arose during Euromaidan did not survive, and we are still alive and kicking and, the biggest challenge, actually, is that we changed, and we became a professional radio and website organization. We are now a professional media operating seventy frequencies, mostly around Eastern Ukraine, mostly Donbas, but also Kyiv and Dnipro and some other small towns across Ukraine.
So, we have a very good website and we have web applications and we are on many platforms across the internet. Definitely, we grew and we now have a team which actually contributes to the general media discourse in Ukraine. We are frequently quoted by other media organizations and we are actually quite popular as a podcaster. I would say that we are podcaster number one in Ukraine in terms of quality of our podcasts and in terms of quantity as well.
However, we have this situation where we need to come to sustainable operations. So instead of this team of like-minded volunteers, we need to sustain operations and we need to survive for many years. And basically we now have this very important turning point from that volunteering team, to a team of professionals doing their job. It’s a very much a long-distance run, I would say. At the moment I would say we are in the middle of a transformation towards that new, more professional in terms of sustainability, modus of operation.
Dyczok: Something I asked Andriy Kulykov and I’d like your opinion on this is: what are the challenges for serious media outlets in an environment where there’s a lot of fake news, there’s a lot of infotainment and it’s difficult to get audiences and people’s attention to focus on serious issues. How does Hromadske Radio challenge that, or is that a challenge? How do you deal with that challenge?
Loukerenko: When you see how other media organizations cope with the situation… I see what the BBC World Service, and the BBC website is doing. They are actually becoming much more light. They provide the audience with some lightweight news. They are trying to reach some audiences, who does not apt to receiving serious news. Possibly this is one way, when you are providing the audience with diverse pieces of news, including lighter news, and you are trying to add some more serious pieces of news to those. So, this is one approach.
Another approach is just to remain a serious medium. A more populist approach is… Actually, I don’t know which is the better way. There are some discussions inside Hromadske Radio, how should we do this. We are trying some different approaches trying to check how to talk to the audience. Because the audience on the Web is not exactly the same as the radio audience twenty years ago. People are different. There are some younger people who actually grew up watching YouTube and posting in Instagram.
It’s not exactly the audience of 20 years ago. People are different. There are some younger people who grew up watching YouTube and posting on Instagram. And you need to talk to them too.
Dyczok: Yes. Sorry to interrupt. This is something that my students and I are discussing, how to have substantive news that is interesting to listen to or watch or read. And I think that’s one of the challenges facing Hromadske Radio, BBC, and all serious media outlets. Another serious question is the financial one, that many traditional media outlets are facing, as well as attracting audiences. What is Hromadske Radio doing to address this financial challenge?
Loukerenko: For Hromadske Radio this year has been really difficult. It’s near the end so I can speak about the entire year. It was quite a difficult year for us. We are thinking about sustainability. Our financing was not what we were expecting. So, at the moment we are thinking about some changes, in terms of sustainability, how to manage the organization in the future. We came to a consensus that we need to build a financially feasible organization which obtains financing from various sources. Because right now we rely on grants and crowdfunding. But we need to develop some sales and marketing departments to sustain ourselves, and look into money from sponsorship, possibly advertising. So, we need to have additional ways to sustain this station.
Dyczok: So, you’re building a new model? And in the interim…
Loukerenko: We had a strategy session in which we finalized a new model, and now we are trying to realize this model. However, we are not giving up on the regular means for sustainability. And right now, actually, we are running a crowdfunding campaign in Ukraine. It’s on the Spilnokosht website so anyone can make a contribution: https://biggggidea.com/project/chesni-novini-u-chas-peredviborno-brehni/
Dyczok: But for North Americans, or other people outside of Ukraine?
Loukerenko: For North Americans it’s not so easy due to some technical problems with the Spilnokosht website. So, we are trying to launch another campaign on FaceBook, hopefully in the next few days. FaceBook provides us with this new feature, and we will use it. Our colleagues from Razom for Ukraine have successfully used that feature on a number of occasions. It seems easy to operate and it’s also secure for you as a contributor.
Dyczok: We’ll be watching for it, as soon as it appears we’ll post a link on our website. Mr. Loukerenko, thank you very much for finding the time to speak to us, we’ll be looking forward to seeing how the new model works.
Loukerenko: Thank you!
NEWS [Recorded onNovember 25]
Anniversary of the Euromaidan Revolution
Hundreds of Ukrainians on November 22 marked five years since the Maidan revolution, which ousted a pro-Moscow government but sparked war in the east of the country and led to Russia annexing Crimea. President Petro Poroshenko and senior members of the government laid candles at a temporary memorial for the “Heavenly Hundred,” as those who died during the protests are known.
Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had not appeared before a Kiev court because of injuries sustained on a Moscow tennis court, his lawyer said. Yanukovych «cannot appear in court seeing as he has been hospitalized» and is unable to move due to spinal and knee injuries, lawyer Aleksandr Goroshinsky told.
Holodomor Memorial Day
On November 24th, Ukraine and the world commemorate Holodomor Memorial Day. In 1932-33, millions of Ukrainians – children, women and men – were murdered by the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin. This year, it`s the 85th anniversary of this genocide of the Ukrainian people. In 1932-33, the totalitarian Soviet Communist regime of dictator Joseph Stalin sentenced the Ukrainian nation to death by starvation. Millions of children, women and men were condemned to death because of the Ukrainian peoples’ aspiration for independence, their desire to speak their language and maintain their culture and traditions.
British military assistance
Britain will increase military support for Ukraine as the country continues to face Russian aggression, the Defense Secretary announced. Additional troops and a Royal Navy ship will be deployed to Ukraine to defend “freedom and democracy.” Ukrainian Special Forces and Marines will be trained by British personnel and HMS Echo, a Royal Navy hydrographic survey ship with a company of 72, will deploy to the region.
New Madam Minister
Ukrainian parliament appointed Oksana Markarova as Finance Minister nearly half a year after her predecessor Oleksandr Danylyuk was sacked following a public spat with the Prime Minister. Markarova, who was nominated by Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, has served as acting minister since June and been a key negotiator with the International Monetary Fund about a new stand-by loan.
Hromadske Radio has a new music show called Тут і Зараз, which means Here and Now. This week they featured the band The ВЙО. Here’s one of their songs, Падаю в небо, Falling into the Sky. Enjoy!
Hromadske Radio is facing a financial crunch and is appealing to listeners for support. Should you feel inclined to donate to keep this project going, please see the links we’ll post on our site to the crowdfunding and Facebook initiative. Thanks for listening!
Interview transcribed by Marta Dyczok, Larysa Iarovenko, Caitilin O’Hare, and Oksana Smerechuk. News by Ira Zolomko. Music by Marta Dyczok. Sound engineers Andriy Izdryk and Adam Courts. E-mail distribution Ilona Sviezhentseva. Web support by Kyrylo Loukerenko. Special thanks 94.9 CHRW Radio Western.