Since the first day of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, local radio Lvovskaya Khvylya has replaced its entertainment programs with a permanent special to inform tens of thousands of its listeners in the country’s west of the ongoing conflict.
“We are a music and entertainment radio, but we also make a lot of news because citizens need information, especially at this time,” says Volodymyr Melnyk, a 28-year-old DJ and presenter, in a small brand new red and white studio in Lviv. city 80 kilometers from the Polish border.
Between two Ukrainian rock or patriotic hits, Volodymyr Melnyk and his friend Andrey Antonyuk, 41, humorously comment on the news on this 30-year-old local radio station, one of the first created after the collapse of the USSR.
– Information channel –
“In wartime, you need to convey positive things, we can laugh at Putin, at Russian troops who cannot take our cities, but we cannot have fun, as before the war,” emphasizes Volodymyr Melnyk, who works at this Ukrainian radio station “Lvivska Khvylya” (Lviv wave, in Ukrainian) for eight years now.
On February 24, the day the Russian attack began, a group of 40 people, including five journalists and a dozen presenters, went into combat mode for the second time in their history.
In 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and the start of a conflict with Russia-backed pro-Russian militants in the Donbas, radio in the east had already shaken up its programs.
“The war greatly affected our work, because there is also a psychological factor that prevented us from working at first,” says Marta Oliyarnik, a 27-year-old journalist who hides her emotions behind large round glasses. Even as professionals, “events cannot leave (us) indifferent.”
After 24 days of war, radio, in spite of itself, became an important link between the authorities and the population. Thus, Lvivska Khvylya informs between 300,000 and 400,000 listeners a day, a figure that has doubled since the start of hostilities.
School closures in Lviv, the need for humanitarian aid, as well as the situation in the south and east of Ukraine and international statements: on the menu of the 17-hour bulletin, Marta Oliyarnik finds a balance between local and national news, “a mission of public service,” she said.
The station runs its own programs from 7 pm to 7 pm, meanwhile passing the baton to a news channel set up at the start of the conflict by the national TV and radio stations, which thus pool their resources.
This is based on the premise that the media during times of war play a critical role in maintaining public morale and supporting the war effort.
Military or civilian losses are made public only bit by bit.
“These numbers scare us, we experience them personally, but we also try to give a lot of positive information, such as the human and material losses of the enemy,” says Marta. According to this journalist, the true human casualties will be known only after the end of the war.
– “Critical Infrastructure” –
Several times a day, sirens interrupt broadcasts.
On Friday morning, Vasil Pakush, 31, technical director, was forced to sound an alarm from his home, urging the public to go to shelters.
On that day, “Russian missiles” hit the Lviv airport area, but no one was killed, local authorities said.
From his small office overlooking the studio, Vasily Pakush monitors the condition of dozens of telecommunications towers that relay broadcasts from Lviv Khvyla to all of western Ukraine and east to Kyiv.
The closest to the capital, at the gates of which there are fierce battles, was twice bombed. As a result of another strike, this time on Rivne, on March 14, almost nine people were killed and nine were injured.
“These towers are critical infrastructure. When they are attacked, it is dangerous for the population, because communication is lost,” Vasily Pakush notes, pointing to the Lviv tower next to it.
The engineer, who regularly climbs to the top of the latter to repair it, says he’s willing to do anything to restore communications in the event of a bombing. “Even if we pray it doesn’t happen, if they destroy it, we’ll hang an antenna on a tree if necessary.”