Recently, at a closed ski resort in the Ukrainian Carpathians, Roman Davydov leaned into a microphone and announced the latest war news. Kryvyi Rih in southern Ukraine was under attack; an American journalist had been shot dead; and the British Foreign Secretary had announced new sanctions against Russian oligarchs in London. Davydov, 43, with dark hair and often frowning eyebrows, is the voice of Kraina FM, an independent radio station that moved to an undisclosed location after Russian shelling began. (The Kraina FM team asked me not to identify the village, for security reasons.) Outside Davydov’s improvised booth, an office corner loaned to Kraina FM by a local accountant, there was an eerie sense of normalcy. . Beyond the ski hire shop, where a group of sandbags had been stacked, a man in a blue jacket and ski goggles was operating a small lift for a children’s slope in bright sunshine.
The area, which lies several hours south of Lviv, has become a haven for displaced people, Bogdan Bolkhovetsky, Davydov’s colleague, told me. Bolkhovetsky, general manager of the Kraina FM station, said he and Davydov arrived in the village “by pure chance”. The west of the country is full of refugees, and there are few places for families as they make their way to the borders of Europe. “We found this place because it was the only vacant place,” Bolkhovetsky said. They arrived on the evening of February 27; a few days later, they were setting up the station in a paneled space with a sloping ceiling that barely held their two desks. They have acquired laptops and a mixing board thanks to aid flowing in from the rest of Europe to Ukraine. “We called our friends in Austria and they were so quick,” Bolkhovetsky said. “Guys we’ve never met just sent us the equipment, and a friend of ours brought this equipment. I mean, they brought us these German laptops and the mixing console and we didn’t never seen these people before.”
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Kraina FM is an independent radio station spun off from a now defunct channel called Radio EU. Until the Russian invasion, the station broadcast mainly Ukrainian rock and pop, although it also featured children’s programs and occasional news flashes which, when the channel launched in 2016, Davydov said it would be “the most independent” among Kyiv radio stations. Kraina FM was “funnier and easier,” Davydov later told me in an email. “Now it’s mostly just rock” and “not happy news”. Like millions of other Ukrainians who fled their homes, most station workers left Kyiv after the fighting began. “Everyone was dispersed for two or three days,” Bolkhovetsky told me. “You look at Google Maps, you see the name of the city and you just start calling hotels to spend the night.”
Bolkhovetsky, 49, awoke from a ‘terrible nightmare’ on February 24, when he saw a media alert – ‘Putin addresses the nation’ – and heard the first noises deaf Russian bombs explode around the capital. “I just started packing, throwing everything in there,” he said. With his wife and nine-year-old son, he fled to a summer house outside kyiv. Within days, Russian helicopters were attacking nearby. Some were flying low enough that he could see the pilots in the cockpit. “The faces look like you,” he said. “Just people at work, like fucking robots.” Her son spent most of the day in the basement, still in his pajamas. At one point, when the helicopters took off, Bolkhovetsky piled his family into the car. Once he arrived in a town that was not under attack, he called Davydov and together they looked for a safe place to set up the station.
Davydov had fled Kyiv with his wife and three-year-old daughter, heading to his wife’s office in central Kyiv, where they believed they were safe. But the Russian bombardments forced them to take refuge underground for days. Davydov had a microphone and connector in the trunk of his car, a setup he had previously used to record late night football news for morning bulletins. Despite the bombings, Davydov kept the broadcasts going, recording personal information and uploading it remotely during breaks in the explosions. “For two or three days we only broadcast with my microphone alone,” he said. In the background of these early recordings, children and dogs can be heard – Davydov was recording them in the crowded shelter, their heads wrapped in a plaid shirt to muffle the sound.
Bolkhovetsky and Davydov have spent most of their careers working in radio. Davydov studied economics, but when he was eighteen he started doing comedy programs for a station in what is now called Kamianske, a town of over two hundred thousand people on the Dnieper River, and never looked back. Since then, he’s held just about every on-air position – editor, traffic manager, music director, brand voice, program director. In 2004 he moved to kyiv. Bolkhovetsky, who was born in Luhansk, a region in eastern Ukraine claimed by Russian-backed separatists, worked as an English and French teacher before moving into radio in the late 1990s He moved to kyiv in 2005 and worked in different radio stations.
Once they installed Kraina FM in their mountain, a representative of the National Council of Television and Radio of Ukraine requested that they broadcast a national broadcast. “Everyone else switched to the national station,” Bolkhovetsky told me. “It was a continuous broadcast of a single program on TV stations and everywhere.” Bolkhovetsky and Davydov decided to pursue their own programming. “I mean, you tune into any station and it’s the same,” Bolkhovetsky told me. “What’s the point? Let’s take a different one. They decided to recreate Kraina FM as the ‘national resistance station’.
Right now, Kraina FM is broadcasting in about 20 cities and online. During the first week, the programming was almost exclusively devoted to the Russian advance. By week two, the station had transformed into something profoundly different, coordinating humanitarian logistics and explaining which towns needed what. And a lighter side has also crept into the lineup. “The first week we didn’t think of anything funny,” Davydov said. “And now it’s humor about Russians – aggressive humor – poetry, patriotic poetry, some small reports about Ukrainians.” They broadcast a famous Ukrainian Santa Claus telling children’s stories at night and a psychologist giving advice on how to take care of children during the days marked by bombings and airstrikes – talk to them nicely, show love, listen and don’t contradict what the child says to them.
A network of about fifteen people, in Ukraine, Poland and Russia, helps them to broadcast Kraina FM programs remotely. They use Ukrainian news agencies and the Telegram app to research and set up bulletins. The internet connection is horrible and they are often unable to upload stories and recordings. Usually, Kraina FM’s programming reaches around a million people, but these days they have no idea how many people are listening. The person who would normally monitor this is probably still in Kyiv, presumably with more pressing matters to consider. Perhaps the true measure of the station’s popularity has been its efforts to locate supplies for the Ukrainian military, first responders and other humanitarian groups. One day, a television producer in kyiv told them that the army needed a hundred laptops. Davydov and Bolkhovetsky announced the request on the air. “We made the announcement, like, every fifteen minutes or twenty minutes,” Bolkhovetsky said. About two hours later, the soldiers called back; they had enough laptops. Nevertheless, laptops continued to flow. When I asked why they continued to produce the show, Bolkhovetsky pointed to that experience. “What other reason do you need right now?” »
The ski village is something of a hub for people fleeing the border. “People come, people go,” Bolkhovetsky told me. “That’s how it works here.” At some point, the time came for their own families to leave – their wives and children spent their days anxiously in the station’s hotel rooms while Bolkhovetsky and Davydov operated the station. Both families fled to other parts of Europe. “It’s better to be alone,” Bolkhovetsky told me. “They will take care of themselves and we will take care of our business and ourselves.” Still, saying goodbye, he said, was “terrible, like never before. It’s not comparable to anything in my life, to anything.
Under current martial law in Ukraine, military reservists between the ages of eighteen and sixty must register to be drafted into the army, and all other males in this age group are not expected to leave the country. Even if Bolkhovetsky and Davydov wanted to leave, they couldn’t. I asked Bolkhovetsky and Davydov whether, if called upon, they would fight the Russians. On one of their first days in the village, Bolkhovetsky told me, “We went to the local military post and said, ‘We are here. What do you want us to do?’ ”
“What can you do?” the local soldiers asked them.
“We can do radio,” Bolkhovetsky replied.
Hearing this, the unit leader looked at him. “So go do some radio,” he said.