As of mid-July, 5.8 million Ukrainians fled to Europe due to Russia’s military invasion. When the refugee wave started in late February, European media stepped in to provide Ukrainians with vital information: access to healthcare, accommodation, legal assistance and other important services. To serve the new audiences effectively, some media created Ukrainian-language versions.
This situation has been clearly new for the media markets affected, sociologist and media expert Maciej Myśliwiec estimates. We check how news outlets from Poland, Moldova and Germany have lived up to the moment and dealt with the launch of Ukrainian versions – and what their Ukrainian colleagues think about the trend.
Ukraine’s western neighbour is in every sense on the front line of aid. On the media side, the largest players – Onet, Gazeta Wyborcza, Interia – have introduced solutions for serving Ukrainian content during the first week of Russia’s open invasion. Some of them keep doing that in July, while others are reporting on the war in Polish.
Some publishers started with streaming Ukrainian TV channels. On February 28 – the fifth day of the all-out war – the largest Polish online publisher Onet started broadcasting the Ukrainian news channel, Ukraina24, on the home page. Interia, another big online media, did the same. As of July 19, the broadcast is not available on their websites, but the streaming service Player.pl continues to broadcast Ukraina24 for free.
[Editor’s note: Ukraina24 suspended broadcast in July as its owner, billionaire and now-former media tycoon Rinat Akhmetov, decided to wind down his media business.]
Onet made the first step to reporting in Ukrainian already on February 25, by opening a separate section on the front page “For Ukrainians – Ukrainian zone”. Reporting included latest information about assistance to Ukrainians (including financial, housing and transport), as well as contact numbers for experts offering free legal, medical and psychological help.
The section got positive feedback, so Onet launched separate news site Onet Україна (“Onet Ukraine”) on March 3. The site gathered content from sister publications belonging to Polish Ringier Axel Springer, such as Business Insider; Ukrainian journalists and 15 translators were involved.
In the end of April Onet suspended for a while Onet Україна, transferring information in Ukrainian on the main page of Onet Wiadomości (“News”). As of July, however, there is no content in Ukrainian in Onet Wiadomości, while Onet Україна is being updated regularly once in a couple days. News from Ukraine in Polish are collected in the separate tab “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” and regularly appear on the top of the homepage and in the “Ukraina” subsection.
The subsection contains a brief description of the country and a brief story of the Russian war in Ukraine. On that page Onet calls it “a conflict in Ukraine”, spreading wrong narratives about the war, as Reuters sometimes does. Onet hasn’t responded to a request for comment from The Fix, so the future of Ukrainian content on the website is unclear.
Another big company launching website Ukrayina.pl in Ukrainian was Agora, publisher of the main Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
They started with a printed 8-page joint special edition of Wyborcza and Ukrainian national newspaper Express, distributed for free in Przemyśl, a city near Ukraine’s border where thousands of Ukrainian refugees were arriving in the first days of full-scale invasion.
“At that time, this newspaper was important because people had been on the road for several days, many did not have access to the Internet, and most people did not speak Polish. Therefore, information on paper in Ukrainian – where to stay overnight, where to go for help, what to do if you do not have a passport – was very important,” says Uliana Vitiuk, editor-in-chief of both Ukrainian Express and Ukrayina.pl.
On March 11 Gazeta.pl team (Agora) launched Ukrayina.pl website with three sections. The team of about 10 people from Express is in charge of the content. Almost all of them are located in Ukraine, the office is based in Lviv, a major city in Ukraine’s west. In just four months, the website expanded to eight sections. Some texts are published both in Polish and Ukrainian due to a higher interest of the audience.
“These are texts about where to start learning Polish and where to do it for free, where to look for a job and what you need for legal employment, how to get a Pesel [Polish ID] number and why it is important, where to get psychological help. Everything that Ukrainian refugees in Poland need to know is on the website Ukrayina.pl,” Vitiuk says.
The traffic on the website is growing, according to Vitiuk. In June, 600,000 real users visited the page, doing 3.65 million impressions. There are days when the content of Ukrayina.pl reaches over 60K real users. Readers are based not only in Poland, but in various Ukrainian cities – Lviv, Kyiv, Ternopil, Odesa and embattled Kharkiv. Ukrayina.pl also has a social media presence: 9,700 subscribers on Facebook and 1,100 on Telegram on July 20th.
Despite audience growth, the publisher’s spending currently exceeds revenue. The Ukrayina.pl team continues to publish Express daily in Ukraine at the same time, as Vitiuk told the Reuters Institute. “We will help as long as it is needed. Because this is the mission of journalism, this is our mission. That is why we will do everything in our power to make the life of Ukrainians in Poland less restless”, Vitiuk ensures.
Instead of launching separate websites in Ukrainian, some news outlets started social media pages. German lifestyle platform funk by public service broadcasters ARD and ZDF did so with its How to Deutschland Instagram account.
Its launch was promoted on March 16 by funk’s account with more than 1 million subscribers. How to Deutschland posted German vocabulary, memes about life in Germany and useful information for refugees in Ukrainian, German and English. Topics include how to find free language courses or how to get a driving licence. The account was free from advertising.
By July How to Deutschland got 20,200 subscribers, but funk decided to suspend it this month. “Most refugees have already been staying in Germany for a longer time period or have left the country again. If the circumstances change and new useful information could be told, we will adapt the site if necessary. The posts will remain online and accessible for everyone. This applies to the whole content of funk – we will display different topics addressing the UA within our existing channels if we see a journalistic need for it”, a funk spokesperson told us.
The war is especially traumatic for children. To support the youngest Ukrainians, Polish broadcaster TVP launched a website for children, which also features Polish language lessons. German broadcasters ARD and ZDF have added content in Ukrainian for kids, including German language learning programs, and public radio Český rozhlas (“Czech radio”) recorded fairy tales in Ukrainian.
Moldova has been hosting 86,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war as of July. In early July, public TV channel TV Moldova-1 started a weekly cycle of news in Ukrainian Щотижневик (“Weekly show”), with Romanian subtitles as required by the law. This information program is primarily focused on refugees from Ukraine who have remained in Moldova, says Ludmila Barba, editor-in-chief of Socio-Economic, Diaspora and Ethnicities TV projects at TV Moldova-1. The program doesn’t have a commercial purpose and is funded by the taxpayers money.
Barba emphasised that the weekly show is not the first TV program in Ukrainian on Moldova-1. For 30 years, TV Moldova-1 has been producing programs in the languages of national minorities living in Moldova, including Ukrainian. TV project Svitanok (“Sunrise”) is a video magazine format and presents stories and essays about the life, culture and traditions of Ukrainians in Moldova.
The channel doesn’t have an audience measurement system so information about the programs’ viewability couldn’t be provided. Barba said that both shows will run throughout 2022. There’s no specific date for the weekly show to be cancelled, everything depends on the situation in Ukraine and in the region, she added.
The introduction of Ukrainian editions in the international media is a positive trend, but it may potentially pose certain threats to publishers on the domestic Ukrainian market, Maciej Myśliwiec says. For example, after the end of the war, Ukraine will be dealing with some import of foreign content, but media expansion of foreign titles that will have editorial offices in Ukrainian ready, creating competition for existing Ukrainian media, is possible as well. Nevertheless, Myśliwiec says such a situation is not certain to happen.
At the same time, big international publishers have opened offices in Ukraine recently. In May The Washington Post announced its own bureau in Kyiv, led by Isabelle Khurshudyan and Max Bearak. On July 22 The New York Times announced its own Kyiv bureau with Andrew Kramer leading coverage as bureau chief. Khurshudyan and Kramer used to be Moscow-based correspondents before. (Neither WaPo nor NYT seem to have any plans to report in the Ukrainian language).
“We are not competitors – we solve different problems working in the same media field. For us the professionalism of foreign media is more important in terms of today’s informational war – especially the accuracy and completeness of the context”, said Margaryta Yermak, general producer of Suspilne digital platforms. She emphasises the importance of SEO for Ukrainians among the other steps for real involvement of Ukrainians in foreign media.
According to Tetiana Siruk, deputy director of Foreign Cooperation Department at Suspilne, Ukrainian media influence the popularity of UA versions abroad: “Own quality content should nudge Ukrainians to look for native content and stay a Ukrainian even at a distance from the homeland”.
Specialised media are not particularly concerned about thematic competition, according to Otar Dovzhenko, editor-in-chief of Detector Media, an outlet focused on Ukrainian media market. He also eliminates personnel problems: “Now in Ukraine, a lot of journalists and editors are looking for work because a whole bunch of media outlets are closing down or going into hibernation due to the war. I think that they will be enough for ours, and yours, and theirs”.
Perks of Ukrainian versions in foreign media, defined by Ukrainian media managers from Suspilne and Detector Media:
However, Myśliwiec couldn’t see the powerful impact of new language versions on international media markets. He admits that Ukrainian content replaces Russian, which is caused by the geopolitical situation, sanctions against some Russian media and negative attitude towards everything Russian. Ukrainian content would thus naturally replace Russian sources. Myśliwiec couldn’t predict whether the “replacement trend” will remain for good.
Photo courtesy of TV Moldova-1