“We were trying to popularise our country through culture for years. The war did it through pain in a few days,” says 37-year- old Yevgeniya Kozmenko. Born in Kyiv, she is a producer for tremBEATS.fm, Germany’s only Ukrainian-language radio show. The team at tremBEATS.fm all work on a voluntary basis, broadcasting on the state-funded community radio ALEX Berlin 91.0 airwaves and online since 2018. The bilingual, bimonthly programme is a mix of music and talk radio: one hour a month is dedicated to Ukrainian chart music, a second to culture and current affairs.
“After the war began in Donbas in 2014 there was a move away from Russian culture and lots of new initiatives started springing up. So the contemporary culture scene developed very quickly and that’s something that we want to show here in Germany,” Yevgeniya explains. “We invite filmmakers and contemporary authors, those who have written not only about the war, but about modern Ukraine, which is flourishing despite the difficulties, and continues and will continue to do so.”
We’re seeing our country being destroyed day after day.
Yevgeniya moved to Leipzig in 2003 for a degree in communications and media studies. She took a job as a project manager in youth education in Berlin back in 2015 and remembers hearing Radio Russkij Berlin everywhere: “A lot of friends told me they only listened to Russian radio because there wasn’t anything available in Ukrainian. So we thought – let’s do it!” Yevgeniya says, and enthuses about new Ukrainian artists and the techno DJs who’ve turned Kyiv into one of Europe’s hottest party destinations.
“I celebrated New Year in Kyiv and stayed there with my parents for a week after. Last week my parents, my sister and her child came to Berlin as refugees,” she says. “It’s hard. On the one hand we’re all relieved that everyone is safe. But at the same time we’re seeing our country being destroyed day after day. We hear from friends and relatives that their houses are being bombed, their apartments burned. Every morning you wake up and check the news to see if something bad has happened. We just hope that one day we can return.”
When Russia invaded on February 24, Yevgeniya immediately set to work on various initiatives to help with the influx of refugees to Berlin. She travelled to the Polish-Ukrainian border to assist the aid efforts there. Her focus now is on supporting the people who are still in Ukraine. “I think supporting the army is the most important thing to do at the moment. We’re providing medication and protective vests. We’re also collecting clothes,” she explains, “and are very thankful to the people in Germany for helping. My suggestion is that people communicate with Ukrainian people directly and find out how best to help. The Ukrainian community is very open, we are happy to speak to people. We are stronger when we cooperate.”
Events on the ground have moved fast and the tremBEATS.fm team has had to adapt to the reality of nationwide war. In the weeks prior to the invasion, an expert was brought in to discuss the media’s Ukraine reporting and help orientate non-Ukrainians about the situation. In the latest edition, a lawyer explains the legal rights of Ukrainian refugees in Germany.
“I’m not a political scientist and I don’t feel qualified to make any prognoses but I personally don’t see a quick end in sight – though I hope that I’m wrong,” Yevgeniya says. “The attitude of Ukrainians is that any dialogue or agreements made with Russia must be in Ukraine’s interest. If not people will continue to fight. The government knows that. It’s all about winning for us now.”
tremBEATS.fm has been broadcasting on the community radio station ALEX Berlin 91.0 and online since 2018. Episodes of the programme and more information can be found at trembeatsfm.de and alex-berlin.de/radio.