Please wait...
Please wait...


Smart thinking from the people running the content business.

Media Group Ukraine's Bondarenko on the front line

Evgeniy Bondarenko, CEO of Media Group Ukraine (MGU), discusses how the Kyiv-based broadcaster has been impacted by the war, how it has responded and what he thinks of the international reaction so far.

Evgeniy Bondarenko

How has the Ukrainian TV industry been affected by the invasion?
When the Russian air force began bombing Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities and Putin announced the war, [our news channel] Ukraine 24 quickly changed its format and started broadcasting a special news telethon covering the events in Ukraine.

This was broadcast on all Media Group Ukraine channels – which include Ukraine 24, Channel Ukraine, NLO TV, Indigo TV, Football 1/2/3, 34 Kanal, our international TV channels Ukraine 1 and Ukraine 2, as well as the international version on NLO TV. Our digital resources, which include websites, Ukraine 24 and our pages on the Facebook, Telegram and Viber platforms, also joined the 24-hour information marathon.

Everything was happening so drastically that it took us just a few hours to realise that only by being united could we resist the enemy. So on the same day, February 24, the four national media groups (including MGU) plus [public broadcasters] Suspilne and Rada joined efforts to create the common telethon, Yedyni Novyny (United News), where we’re broadcasting 24/7 urgent and accurate news about Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The project has no centralised management. Each channel has a five-hour slot. It is done so everyone can have time to rest and prepare. It is like a relay race in which each news team passes the baton to the next one.

How are you managing to continue producing and broadcasting during the invasion?
As soon as the air raid sirens go off or a bombing raid begins, the Ukrainian studio streaming at that particular moment passes either to its channel’s reserve studio or to one of our fellow media groups, and all the employees go to hide in the bomb shelter.

Ukraine 24 has been broadcasting from its reserve studios. Broadcasting from our main studio complex in Kyiv became impossible on February 25 due to the constant threat to the lives of our employees, as air strikes and shelling have been happening very close to our TV centre. Our employees are working from anywhere in Ukraine and our mobile newsroom. Some prepare reports or stream live from hot spots, such as basements in the occupied suburbs of Kyiv or shelters in Kharkiv or besieged Mariupol.

And we’re doing our best to bring important and useful information to our viewers, Ukrainians, who despite all the sufferings in this war still have faith in Ukraine’s victory and are doing everything to achieve it, and we’re talking to our viewers as to the people who have made their choice.

We’re also trying our best to make the information product of this tragic time more lively. Our hosts can even broadcast jokes on air as you can’t defeat people who have a sense of humour. Each of us wakes up every day with the hope to learn the most important and expected news. But the war goes on. And so does life.

Some of our channels’ programmes are now available on YouTube. For example, at the beginning of the war, our Football 1/2/3 channels, with over a million subscribers, renewed streaming. On March 24, our TV channels Football 1 and Football 2 also resumed broadcasting, so our viewers can now watch friendly matches, UEFA Nations League and Qatar 2022 World Cup play-offs. And we reoriented our NLO TV to aim it at children.

How has MGU’s ability to do business been affected?
Ukraine’s media business, as it was before February 24, is now non-existent. Everything changed in a couple of hours. Sales of commercials, advertising time and advertising slots are the media’s primary sources of income. We would like to note our advertisers are nevertheless still paying for the services we have rendered, and everybody supports one another. But we don’t have a constant and stable source of income. We understand we can only go on moving with support from the international community.

Ukraine 24 began a news telethon after the invasion

Since all the major TV channels have joined forces to broadcast news and commentary on the war, there is simply no advertising time. Some digital advertising, both on the web and streaming platforms, does exist as well as outdoor billboards, although thematically almost everything is focused on war. It will take some time for the advertising market in Ukraine to return. Businesses will start functioning in new ways. It will take time to assess how the Ukrainian advertising market has changed this year. Many businesses are ready to resume marketing as soon as it is possible.

What initiatives has MGU undertaken in response to the invasion?
We support the #StandWithUkraine and #CloseTheSky campaigns. Closing the sky defines the future of Europe and the world. Unfortunately, we haven’t been heard yet.

Besides, after our appeals, the board of EGTA, an international association of TV and radio sales houses, decided to immediately stop relations with any Russian associations, such as Europa Media Group, Everest Sales, Gazprom Media, Media-1, National Advertising Alliance and Russian Media Group.

Also, the Ukrainian team of the fashion magazine Vogue, given Russia’s unprecedented military aggression and the growing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, called on all international conglomerates and companies to stop any cooperation with the aggressor. This appeal was addressed to brands such as LVMH, Kering, Richemont, Prada Group, Chanel, Hermes, Dolce & Gabbana, Max Mara, Burberry, Valentino, Versace, Hugo Boss, Rolex, Swat and others.

We also joined our colleagues’ initiatives. Ukrainian journalists have addressed the president and the ex-president of the European Commission asking to sanction all Russian TV channels available in the EU. Unfortunately, Russian television discredited itself long ago, for instance, with their account of the Mariupol maternity hospital shelling.

How is the morale among your staff and executives?
Hearing international news about Russia’s preparation for war in Ukraine, we developed mechanisms and strict protocols for the force majeure situation, and thanks to them we could quickly transfer our newsroom and team without interrupting the broadcast. We also evacuated all our employees who expressed such a wish together with their families.

For sure, nobody was prepared for such aggression in the 21st century and in the very heart of Europe. At first, people were scared and shocked. Now almost everybody is back and working. Our office is working remotely, but the processes are done on time, depending on necessity. In general, we believe in the victory and doing our best to bring it closer. Some of our employees joined the army and territorial defence, and many work as volunteers. We have truth on our side and we will win.

What do you think of the international TV industry’s response to the invasion so far?
Ukraine’s ministry of culture and national media groups addressed international TV providers asking them to exclude Russian news channels. Over 20 local providers from Poland, Australia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Germany as well as representatives of international corporations have responded to our plea.

On March 2, the EU banned Russian propagandist resources in its territory. Thanks to this they managed to close Sputnik and Russia Today, including RT English, RT UK, RT Germany, RT France and RT Spanish. Then the British regulator Ofcom withdrew the licence from RT, claiming the channel violates the rules of neutrality of the UK’s Broadcasting Code. On February 28, YouTube blocked Russian propagandist channels in Ukraine. Before that, Google stopped monetisation for a number of Russian YouTube channels, in particular RT. YouTube also blocked Pervy Kanal, Rossia 24, Rossia 1, TASS, RIA Novosti, RBK and Zvezda. Also, from March 1 it blocked Russian propagandist channels RT and Sputnik all over Europe. All these blockings prove the international industry supports us.

What else can the international TV industry do to help?
We would like to address the global TV industry and ask it to support the Ukrainian media. On behalf of Ukrainian broadcasters, we plead for solidarity and support.

On February 24, 2022, Russia unleashed its treacherous invasion of Ukraine and the largest war in Europe since the Second World War. On this fateful day, the biggest Ukrainian media combined forces to fight the enemy on a united information war front. For the second month we have been broadcasting a special TV marathon we called United News. Its potential audience amounts to 300 million households in Europe, the western part of Russia, Middle Asia and America. Together we bring the truth about the struggle of the Ukrainian nation and the Russian war crimes to millions of viewers in Ukraine and the world.

United News is coproduced by the newsrooms of 1+1 Media, Media Group Ukraine, StarLightMedia, Inter Media Group, the public service broadcaster Suspilne and Rada TV channel. An important direction is provision of foreign broadcasting of Ukrainian channels and their wide international distribution. Risking our lives, we bring news stories straight from the front line, from under artillery attacks, and bomb shelters. The information front is just as important now.

We applaud the support that the Ukrainian government provides for the state channel Rada TV and the public service broadcaster, in particular the creation of a news telethon. However, to keep fighting the good fight we are in dire need of additional financial help. Our typical source of funding — advertising and content distribution — has become unavailable to us.

Today, to be able to hold our positions in the information warfare by creating the United News marathon, we critically need your help. We are talking about costs that are directly related to the production of news. To help our newsrooms and our broadcast technicians, that are on the job 24/7. Our crews report live from the sites of active hostilities, the IT and engineers keep up uninterrupted 24-hour transmission despite regular shelling by the Russian air forces and artillery.

Now we call upon our long-time advertiser and distributor partners, and the global media community for financial support of the independent Ukrainian media that stand in the way of Putin’s propaganda and Russian military aggression. You can make payments to the accounts of our partner, charitable foundation Smart Angel, which implements a related charitable programme to support the media in time of war.

Partners, colleagues, thank you for your support of Ukraine and independent Ukrainian media. Together with you, we are strong! Together with you, we will win!