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'We Together' Aims To Unite A Divided Ukraine

Iryna Shtogrin
Iryna Shtogrin
The Ukrainian Service's current affairs programme "We Together," which tackles social issues from the perspective of both the Ukrainian and Russian-speaking communities, celebrated its first anniversary this September. Within a year, the program has become the service’s signature show by uniting listeners in both Eastern and Western Ukraine--regions with an often antagonistic relationship-- around issues that affect them. Host Iryna Shtogrin tells us more.

RFE/RL: "We Together" has easily found its niche, and has become extremely popular among your audience for helping find solutions for chronic social problems.

Shtogrin: By launching this program, we wanted to address a long-standing issue in Ukraine -- the division between the country's eastern and western regions. Politicians in Ukraine are artificially pitting people from the east and west of the country against each other, so that they [politicians] can mask their incompetence, lack of professionalism, and widespread corruption. Like all responsible people who try to understand what's happening around them in the country, we wanted to show our audience that no matter whether we live in the east or the west of the country, or whether we speak Ukrainian or Russian, we are all citizens of Ukraine, and the problems we face are, in fact, the same. So the concept of a program which would bring people in the country closer to each other instead of dividing them was born. Hence the title "We Together".

RFE/RL: It's a rather complex program: it's recorded live for radio with phone-in by the audience, but it also has pre-recorded investigative reports, and you have experts in the studio. And all this is also filmed for the online edition. Could you tell us more about how you prepare the show?

Shtogrin: We usually choose a hot, or often even rather painful topic, and we prepare two investigative reports: one in the eastern, and one in the western part of the country. We invite a specialist or an expert who can comment on that issue. We also pre-record voices from the regions, or enable call-ins from the audience via Skype or phone. That program has a special Facebook page so people can leave their comments, suggest topics, or even make a request to take part in the show.

After the live show, I write up a short version of it, and, along with video reports, infographics and other relevant material, it is then posted on our site. For example, we did a simple visualization on how much money from the budget is spent on science and research vs. on the police. The difference was shocking; very little money on science, but huge amounts on the police, and all this in a country where the police and the courts are notoriously corrupt and are the most distrusted institutions.

RFE/RL: Which has been your most successful show thus far?

Shtogrin: The program I consider one of the most successful is about the problems the Ukrainian coal miners are facing. Two of our journalists --Galyna Tereschuk in Lviv, and Olena Povolyayeva in Donesk --gathered the views of miners in their respective regions. Our investigations revealed that despite the fact that politicians try to pit miners from different regions against each other, or present them as enemies, they experience the same problems, and even use the same terms and phrases, though in the different languages of Ukrainian and of Russian. They have the same sayings, like "Every day we go down to the shaft, but every day we are afraid that we won't come back from there.” What we were able to reveal was that despite the new (since the 2010 Tymoshenko-era) legal requirement that miners be paid by the hour, the owners of the shafts ignore the law, and pay miners based on output, on how much coal they bring to the surface each day. This means that miners with families to feed consciously ignore safety regulations. They go down the shaft no matter what. In our program we exposed this as the main reason for the numerous fatal incidents in the mines, and showed that this problem was widespread in the entire country, not only in one region.

--By Zydrone Krasauskiene