In recent weeks, the security situation in eastern Ukraine has deteriorated significantly. Russian-backed separatist forces have launched attacks and casualties have risen. Suffering of both soldiers and civilians has been exacerbated by the harsh winter weather, with whole communities cut off from power and heat. While the situation is still developing, there may be further needs Spirit of America can help address in order to support a key partner of the United States.
In more promising news, I’m happy to report that, in the year since its launch, SoA-supported Army FM has grown hugely. As you may recall, we funded this radio station based upon a critical need identified by the US Embassy and its Ukrainian partners: in a war which had seen the annexation of the entire Crimean peninsula by Russia as well as the occupation of two eastern provinces by Russian-backed separatists, Ukrainian soldiers fighting to preserve their country’s independence were being bombarded by morale-crushing Russian propaganda with no alternative source of information and entertainment. Army FM provided that alternative.
Army FM launched on March 1st last year. In a great example of our venture capital-style model, Spirit of America funded the studio equipment needed to generate content and the first three transmitters in key areas along the frontlines (known as the Antiterrorist Operation, or ATO, Zone). Starting small would help us and the joint US-Ukrainian team validate the concept, ensuring that what sounded like a good idea actually was a good idea.
While initial results were very promising – the week after its launch, Army FM was already the most listened online radio station in Ukraine – the true importance of the project became clear when the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense included expansion of the radio network in its budget this year. For a government whose finances are highly constrained by the current conflict to allocate scarce resources to this project, this is a very telling signal of the importance of the initiative and the impact it is having.
This week, Army FM is about to broadcast in its fifteenth city, at which point it will cover approximately 80 percent of the ATO Zone. And, efforts are underway to expand throughout the rest of Ukraine as well.
When the project manager, Aleksey, and the station chief, Iana, updated Chris and me on Army FM, their passion for the project and enthusiasm for the station’s future was evident. As they plan a celebration for Army FM’s first anniversary, they related highlights from the last year. Interviews with the Ukrainian president, the US Ambassador, and other luminaries. The expansion of the morning show. Civilians from the occupied territories calling in to voice solidarity and their support for a free Ukraine. Tours for young orphans from communities that had seen horrific combat. Flags and other mementoes given by soldiers who had benefited from listening to Army FM on the frontlines. All tangible examples of the impact of Army FM, not to mention a cause for optimism in uncertain times.
And, the success of Army FM is a testament to the combined efforts of everyone involved in the project. The Ukrainian team, whose efforts and initiative were the driving force behind the project; the US advisors, whose advice and partnership helped develop a critical capability; and you, the Spirit of America team, whose support turned Army FM from an idea into reality.
Thank you for joining with us in this effort. Stay tuned for more updates.