“How Do You Live There?” was a question Nika Perepelitsa, a native of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk, heard again and again when traveling abroad and even in other parts of her own country. Misconceptions about small cities in eastern Ukraine are common, she found. Most people not from the region imagine it as a place scarred by war, marked by stagnation and devoid of opportunities for young people. But Nika knew there is much more to her region than its reputation suggests, so she set out to document the reality of life in the small cities of eastern Ukraine in her podcast, aptly named “How Do You Live There?"
A graduate of the Prague Civil Society Centre’s Vsyo Slyshno Tbilisi Podcasting School held in February this year, Nika launched her podcast last spring. Each of the seven episodes she’s published so far feature a conversation in Russian or Ukrainian with one person from one city in her region, usually an activist, volunteer, or someone working in arts or culture. She also interviews people who have come from other countries and made these cities their homes. All of her interview subjects bring a new perspective on the dynamism bubbling just below the surface in these communities.
“In post-Soviet countries, they think that people from this region are inert people, without motivation, just waiting for some big boss to come tell us what to do, and this is not true,” says Nika. “We know we need to develop our cities, change our environment and improve our lives with our own hands.”
Podcast guests also discuss the ways life has changed before and after Russian occupation and their hopes and aspirations for the future of their communities.
Nika is the Communications Specialist for Drukarnia, a civil society centre in in Sloviansk, which is focused on projects related to the environment, political participation and international exchange. She uses her podcast as a platform not only to dispel stereotypes about the region, but also to highlight creative initiatives from artists, designers, ecologists, and others that make life in these cities more interesting and fulfilling as a way to encourage young people to stay and build their small cities rather than leaving for Kyiv or Lviv after finishing school.
“It’s true that much of our population is over the age of 50,” Nika admits. “Lots of young people leave and don’t turn back, and we want to change that.”
Nika chose the medium of podcasts because she has always been interested in radio and the power of audio storytelling to form a more intimate connection with one’s audience. Podcasts surged in popularity in the U.S. and Europe beginning in 2018, and are set to follow this trend in the Russian language sphere. Russian language podcasts had an average monthly audience of 5.1 million in 2019, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a New York-based marketing research company, and that number is set to double in 2020.
“I met so many kindred spirits at the Tbilisi Podcasting School and the workshops were so inspiring, I knew it was finally time for me to create my own podcast,” Nika says. The school brought hosts and creators of hit Russian and Eastern European podcasts together to share the art of podcasting with civil society activists and journalists. The programme continues online due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Though her target audience is listeners from other parts of Ukraine, when she dug into the listener analytics, Nika was surprised to learn that she has followers from across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as well as Central Europe and Germany. She says her audience was expanded in part by a bonus episode she recorded with her fellow podcasting school graduates from Minsk, Tashkent and Tbilisi.
“I see great potential among young people in eastern Ukraine,” Nika says. “And through my podcast I want to show what’s possible both to people in other parts of the country and our locals.”
The Prague Civil Society Centre brought hosts and creators of hit Russian and Eastern European podcasts to Tbilisi in February to share the art of podcasting.