It’s a beautiful spring day in the capital of Ukraine, and Europe Project Manager Chris Clary and I just had the opportunity to tour the studio of the SoA-funded Army FM radio station here. I’m very happy to tell you that, in the first two months of its existence, Army FM has gotten off to a great start.
In an effort we first told you about here and here, Spirit of America is supporting a US and Ukrainian team’s efforts to provide an alternate source of information and entertainment to Ukrainian troops engaged in a very tough fight against Russian-backed separatists. These soldiers are subjected to a relentless barrage of Russian propaganda – TV, radio, and even via text message – with no alternative. In a battle that has very real implications for the future of NATO and the West, improving the morale of troops on the front lines is critical. Army FM, the first Ukrainian Armed Forces radio, solves that problem. It launched on March 1st.
For Spirit of America, this has been a really meaningful project to support. Why?
- It addresses a very real problem. Russian and separatist propaganda is taking a toll on the countries along the eastern NATO periphery, creating destabilizing narratives that seek to drive a wedge between vulnerable minority Russian populations and the West. Left unchecked, this campaign could lead to the unraveling of the NATO alliance.
- We have great partners. Any project SoA supports is only as good as its partners, and the team in Ukraine is tremendous. Both the advisors from the US Embassy as well as their Ukrainian counterparts have taken a thoughtful, considerate approach to this problem, and are as motivated and dedicated a team as we’ve worked with.
- The approach makes sense. There is much discussion of countering propaganda in conflict areas these days, but we’ve learned over the years that countering propaganda with propaganda simply doesn’t work: that approach just delegitimizes both sides. Instead, the only way to counter propaganda is by meeting the basic information needs of the population, addressing their questions and concerns in verifiable ways. In this case, some of the most valuable information pertains to soldiers’ questions regarding pay calculations and veteran status – simple questions that if answered reduce confusion and improve morale.
Accordingly, I was excited to tour the studio, having last seen it when it was still under construction. What a difference a couple of months makes! Where once there were half-demolished walls and piles of rubble, now there was a recording studio, offices, and an area for studio employees to compile news and develop content.
More important than the new space, however, was the people and the content they were generating. I had a chance to interact with the entire team, a diverse mixture of Ukrainian military and civilian experts: Alexey, a civilian advisor to the Minister of Defense with a background in the private sector who serves as the architect of the enterprise; Iana, a major in the Ukrainian Armed Forces who is the director of the Ministry of Defense media center; Valeriy, a civilian with a long career in radio who is the station manager; Valeriy’s military counterpart, Sergei; Sasha, an Army conscript who is the station’s technical guru; Roberto, another soldier who did sports broadcasting before the war and is now filling that role at Army FM; Marina, a civilian news presenter; and several more.
That team, advised by an official from the US Embassy, is creating content that directly addresses the needs of Ukrainian soldiers fighting for the freedom and independence of their country in the east. They’re not just generating bland news content; rather, they’re tailoring the broadcasts to engage the troops in the best manner possible. Along with news and music, Army FM is delivering sports and comedy programming, shows highlighting heroes of the war, messages from chaplains, and even in-depth interviews with high-ranking officials to explain current events and the Ukrainian government’s approach to the conflict. I even did my part by taping an interview after we finished the tour.
Radio FM’s most popular show by far, however, is a program where friends and family (and even the general population) can send messages to their loved ones on the front lines. This is a tangible demonstration of the solidarity of the Ukrainian people in standing behind their military, and a huge morale boost.
And, this programming is resonating, both with the military and with civilians around the country. Since its launch in March, Army FM has become the most-listened to internet radio station in Ukraine. It is also being broadcast from three transmitters on the front lines, with more being planned. This is a testament to the hard work and thoughtful approach taken by the joint US-Ukrainian team. Find out more in this article that was featured in the Kyiv Post: http://www.kyivpost.com/article/content/kyiv-post-plus/army-radio-station-entertains-informs-ukraines-soldiers-in-donbas-410014.html, and visit the official Army FM Facebook page.
You can join this team. Get involved in this project here and contribute to a meaningful effort. Support a key US partner, and help safeguard the values and ideals of the West.
Field Ops Director