Think Tank

Alexei Pogorelov: “When we had no electricity and we were forced to save on everything, even charging our phone battery, we were still listening to the radio.”

A call to fellow media professionals for help.

Interview with Alexei Pogorelov, President of the Ukrainian Media Business Association (UMBA)

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, accurate information is more important than ever. What we really need now is for the world to receive trustworthy, verified information from across the country so that people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus know exactly what is going on. However, journalists working in Ukraine are facing unprecedented challenges.

Ukrainian media organisations are working tirelessly and under extreme pressure to spread the news and inform Ukrainians about all aspects of the Russian invasion. In rural areas, media organisations are the ones organising public services and making sure people have the right information to structure, organise and plan their lives under extraordinary conditions. We spoke to Alexei Pogorelov, President of the Ukrainian Media Business Association (UMBA), to find out what their needs are and how we can help.

That is why we are now calling on media organisations across Europe to join forces to provide Ukrainian media organisations with the financial, operational and technical support they need at this very difficult time.

Listen to or read the interview with Alexei Pogorelov

Ioana Straeter – You have lived three weeks now under a state of war with Russia. How has your life been during these three weeks?

Alexei Pogorelov – After several days, the electricity stopped, and the constant shooting started: with artillery, with helicopters, with planes. It was so awful! We were sleeping in the basement of our house because of security reasons. Then the gas supply stopped. We had no resources for living – like electricity, like gas, and mobile communication was occasional. It was very bad. We had no mobile internet, of course, but somehow sometimes we could make a call to our parents and say that we are still alive. We were trying to find a way to leave the place. Explosions were everywhere. We could only guess where Russian troops were and where the Ukrainian army was. One of our neighbors was trying to communicate with Russians that were in tanks near our petrol station. We were trying to find out a way to leave the territory. The negotiations started for the green corridors. One day we saw a very long column of private automobiles and they were leaving the territory. But we were late, and we saw just the final cars of this column so we could not join anymore. The next day we were lucky. We decided to leave, but we were just six private cars without any protection, and the worst place to be was the Zhytomersky Highway. This is a highway from Kyiv to the town of Zhytomyr and this highway was occupied by Russians and we knew the Russians were shooting on private cars there. We were lucky and we crossed this highway. There was no one there, so we were lucky we could cross it. Immediately after this highway was the territory controlled by the Ukrainian army. So that’s the situation. 

IS – Do you feel safer now? Are you able now to plan for yourself and your family? What about cash, how are you living?

AP – We have some money in cash, as well some on credit cards. Banking system is working properly in Ukraine so we can pay for our expenses. Here in Cherkasy region where we are now, in central Ukraine, we have a lot of alarms of air threats several times a day. Yesterday it was Sunday, and it looked like a weekend day for the Russian Army so there were less shooting and airstrike alarms. This night we already had one alert. But in comparison with the war in Vorzel, where we lived for at least 12 days, there were constant explosions all around you, helicopters were flying over your head, where there are fighters flying over your head and turning around just above the trees – it’s quite a different situation. Nobody can be safe in Ukraine now. It’s clear. 

“The biggest problem is the cash flow”


IS – Is it possible to just think about the next week, next month? Are you in touch with your members?

AP – It’s very difficult. We have a close connection with our members. While I was near Vorzel my colleague Olga made a questionnaire, she asked our members to answer some questions about how they’re living, what they can plan.

Olha Kostak (Project Manager UMBA)

Olha Kostak (Project Manager UMBA)

We have got ninety-two or ninety-three answers. Yesterday I analyzed everything. 

  1. The biggest problem is the cash flow. The advertising market stopped; all media have no income. More than 80 percent of media are still working but stopped printing because of electricity problems, newsprint deficit and postal delivery difficulties. Especially in the regions of active war actions. Almost all of them are working online on websites, Facebook groups, and other social networks because they’re trying to communicate with audiences. The main issue is money to pay the people, just to buy food. That is the biggest problem for everyone. 
  1. The second very big problem, which no one is talking about: how to plan the future? 

This is a very big issue, and I believe you can help us somehow. Media now in Ukraine, they are united. We have, let’s say, common information flow for radio stations, for TV stations. When we had no electricity and we were forced to save on everything, even our phone battery’ charge, we were still listening to the radio. There is a standard application in the smartphone and you can listen to the radio via smartphone. It was the only information channel for us there since there was no internet, no television, no electricity…. but the radio was working. 

Back to the planning, we need to consider three different types of territories. 

  1. First are the ones where explosions are going on and obviously, there is no electricity – but radio can work there. This is the only thing that works while you have no internet, you have no social networks, but Radio FM is working. 
  2. Second: if you have electricity, you can have wider communication channels and you can even print for older people, for example. You can print on an ordinary printer and distribute it manually or through the kiosk or in a shop. 
  3. Third: there is a part of Ukraine where still everything is working as usual.
    We can see the occupants are trying to destroy television stations to stop the distribution of Ukrainian information, and spread propaganda instead; spread the information saying that they won the war.

    These are the three different types of information distribution depending on access to electricity, if it is occupied territory, or if it is still Ukrainian territory. 

Back to the planning: planning is the weakest part after the money that is needed to buy food. The weakest part is the planning because in the first weeks a lot of people were expecting to win quickly or that the war will be finished after several weeks. Now we can understand that it will not be finished for some time, and this time may be long. 

Planning is important, but no one was ready for this situation. Nobody has an understanding of which actions will be good and which not. That’s why it will be very important [to learn]  if people who have experience in other countries where something like that happened before. How to plan? What to do? How to prepare for the next weeks, and the next months. It’s very important not only for the media, but for the people because all people are listening to the media. What we have through media now is mainly information about the war, about the bombing, about the destruction. Nobody knows what to do tomorrow. Nevertheless, we need to help people to think about tomorrow somehow, to plan something, to do something. 

IS – I think it was 10 years ago we worked together on the congress in Kyiv in 2012. I remember the wonderful collaboration you enjoyed with Russian colleagues, with the Russian Association, and how they were your number one supporters above all others. How is your communication with them now?

AP – No communication. Not at all. Since 2014. For five years in a row we ran the congress for press distributors and press publishers together with them, and it was quite a good congress. [Then] At the beginning of 2014, they said: “Look, as you can understand, we can’t communicate with you anymore because it’s risky for us.”

IS – I did not know that. I thought you were perhaps still in contact with colleagues in Russia. Let’s go back to your situation. I understood problem number one is, of course, cash flow. You have to live: you have to eat. Problem number two is information distribution and for that radio is a very important means, especially for the areas that are under bombardment. Then if you have electricity, you can print and distribute it manually in the shops or in the kiosk. And thirdly you really need to counteract the Russian propaganda and counteract their claims that they are winning the war. Moving forward a key point is planning. You need to understand how you can plan for the future. For this, experience from others who have been through comparably terrible times would be very valuable.

These are my key take outs. Now I know that you are already working with media in Western countries to find ways to help you. Concretely, how can Wester publishers help? What do you need?

AP – Starting from the direct needs of publishers and journalists, the first need is some amount of money for them to survive. 

Second: since very local media are working for the people – they have become very important not only as an information source, but as service providers. By service, I mean communication service. They are doing a big job to discuss local issues; local problems like garbage collection, repairing networks, and a lot of issues, which Ukraine is going through. This local media is a platform to discuss, and to find solutions. They cannot be neglected as they are very small. The local media is important, but they are the weakest in the chain. They are three to five people for each medium, they have no support now, not from the local power or from local businesses. Even before they didn’t have advertising budgets or the means of national advertisers. They rely on local advertisements like classified advertisements. This has absolutely stopped. They lost all the money for making a living. And this is important. Since they are the weakest in the chain, they don’t have access to international sources, often they don’t speak English, often they just speak Ukrainian or maybe Russian, but do not speak European languages like German, English, so they don’t even have access to the publications abroad. They don’t have the possibility to directly communicate with colleagues. 

What can we do for them as an association? We can help them to establish a connection – maybe a not direct connection – but to provide valuable information for them: how to plan, how to estimate what can happen tomorrow. How to make new connections with the local people, with the farmers because farmers need to start working on the crops already now. They will need to understand where they will find everything. Will it be safe for the crops? It’s a long period even between April and September until the crops can be collected, and they need to invest money. If we can help them, all of them – not only journalists and media publishers and editors, but people all around Ukraine through media, this is very important. 

IS – Absolutely. It’s a global imperative, not only for Ukraine.

I understand that through the media, you need to help the local population to continue their lives and save what is possible to save. What are your resources, how many people can help you there?

AP – We have three staff workers: me, Olga and Oksana, she’s our accountant. As an association, we unite more than 50 publishing companies and among them, national publishers like Burda Ukraine, Edipresse, and other national publishers and we have very small members in cities that are heavily bombarded these days, not far from the Russian border. We are quite big if we need to distribute something.

IS – The most important thing is the network still works among you and your members.  

AP – Definitely. Ukraine is very united now. We keep a close connection. I forgot to say one more thing. I understand the arguments of the European leaders, but the worst thing for us in this war is Russian aviation. They are heavily bombing. It’s awful. It’s absolutely awful. They are bombing cities especially. It’s not a mistake. It’s a target. They’re bombing houses, schools, hospitals. It’s a target for them. Somehow, we need to stop it because on the ground, the Ukrainian army is quite strong. But we need somehow to close the sky.

IS – This is really terrible, Alexei. But on the other hand, it’s just wonderful that you are so united now in Ukraine. I think you noticed that Europe and the Western world is also backing you up with everything they can. We will spread the word about your needs. And I am sure that many media professionals and bodieswill be ready to help. Thank you so much.

AP – One more illustration for you for the unification. Yesterday, we discussed with the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, to join forces to ask Google and Facebook for support. Because we know about their efforts to finance journalism, we will ask them to support local media in Ukraine. We will send letters today for them. If you can also ask them for the same kind of support, it also will be very valuable. I will send you our letters. 

IS – Thank you so much, Alexei. We’ll spread the word about your needs. Stay safe!

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