Andrii Dikhtiarenko | Survive and Thrive: The Media Viability Podcast E03 Transcript | Survive and Thrive: The Media Viability Podcast | DW | 23.06.2023
  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages

Survive and Thrive

Andrii Dikhtiarenko | Survive and Thrive: The Media Viability Podcast E03 Transcript

For the third episode of "Survive and Thrive", we spoke to Andrii Dikhtiarenko, Ukrainian journalist, media expert and owner of Realnaya Gazeta, which focuses on the situation of the occupied Donbas region of Ukraine.

Welcome to Survive and Thrive. DW Akademie's dialogue with media managers on innovative and sustainable business models in a challenging global media landscape. 

For the third episode of "Survive and Thrive", we spoke to Andrii Dikhtiarenko, Ukrainian journalist, media expert and owner of Realnaya Gazeta, which focuses on the situation of the occupied Donbas region of Ukraine. 

Click here to listen, or read on for the complete transcript. 

Survive and Thrive: The Media Viability Podcast | EP03 with Andrii Dikhtiarenko

Janelle Dumalaon (host): Welcome, Andrii. 

Andrii Dikhtiarenko: Hi there. 

In a moment we'll talk about how you've been navigating, leading a media outlet at a time of war. But before anything else, a short questionnaire. Let's go! 

What's your business model in a catchphrase?  

Being an informational gateway to the occupied territories of Donbas for the world. 

Did you ever manage a moment where everything seemed lost? 

Yes, sure, a couple of times. 

What would you need to thrive in the future? 

I think I need to de-occupy my homeland and build a sustainable model for media. 

So unlike many other media outlets, Realnaya Gazeta has managed to continue operating and providing reliable news coverage to its audience since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

Do tell us a bit more about Realnaya Gazeta and its mission. Who are you trying to reach with what and how? 

Ukraine | Journalist Andrii Dikhtiarenko

Ukrainian journalist and media manager Andrii Dikhtiarenko

As I said previously, we are like an informational gateway to a territory that’s very untransparent. It’s very difficult to figure out what's happening there. I mean, Donbas was occupied in 2014. 

My home city is Luhansk, and we started there in 2013 as an independent newspaper outlet. We tried to understand what's going on.  

The occupation started because a lot of Ukrainians didn't understand what actually was going on. Between some people with Russian flags in [Independence Square] in Kyiv nobody knew what you needed to do as a journalist. And we decided there that we will continue our work as journalists, as people who want to understand and help other people to understand what's going on in different situations. 

I remember the day we met in our editorial office. It wasn't destroyed yet. It wasn't captured by Russian separatists yet. It was in the spring of 2014 and we decided to continue our work. 

But after that, it was really complicated because we were threatened and these hybrid, pro-Russian armed forces at that time didn’t want us to report on them as pro-Russian but only as “Donbas separatists”. 

It was such a tricky game where we were trying to figure out what was really going on and they started to threaten us. It became really dangerous to stay in our editorial offices and until the middle of summer 2014, we tried to work from Luhansk, from our homes. But it was really complicated and continued to escalate. So it was really hard to continue printing our newspaper. 

And we began to transform. We began to save our lives, to get away from this territory because some of our journalists were captured by these forces, the "rebels", and we need to save them and save our families. So we transformed into an online media outlet.  

But we continued to write about everything we found out about the situation in the occupied territories. We even shot videos and took photos. And because of how untransparent the situation is, [we] became one of maybe two main sources for Ukrainians trying to find out what's going on there. 

You've mentioned a lot of risks, the risk of capture, the risk of intimidation by occupying Russian forces. You mentioned your offices being destroyed. What motivates you to continue this work? 

Maybe the fact that we understand that a lot of our friends and relatives one day found themselves in this very bad situation and we try to help them. I might not be a good fighter and maybe I'm not a good soldier, but I'm a good journalist. 

So I can help people to figure out what's going on and you must understand why this job is really important. We are living not only in an untransparent informational field, as I mentioned before, we are also living in the field where propaganda escalates and propaganda – Russian propaganda – tries to persuade people that "everything's fine, you need to go back to the occupied territories, everything will be fine."

And if people don't know about the flip side of this – the repressions, all these arrests, the economic disaster – they could make a wrong decision. And this wrong decision may cost them their lives. That is why we need to explain what's happening in reality. 

Earlier you described your business model as an information gateway for the people, especially in the occupied territories. How well is that working at the moment, given all the challenges that you've described? 

I can't say that everything works perfectly. It's a really big challenge to find information. We do have a lot of sources in the occupied territories but these people are in big danger when they try to shoot videos or take photos for us to verify some information. 

It's really dangerous work. It's dangerous for them because Russian secret services are hunting for our informants, for our sources, all the time. 

And of course, sometimes there could be mistakes. Sometimes it could be a dangerous situation for these people. Sometimes we even deal with disinformation campaigns and we need to check it every time. 

I suppose what I want to ask you now is how you are surviving financially. How do you fund your operations, especially in these almost impossible times? 

That's a really tricky question because we ourselves constantly search for an answer to it. During the past nine years, our financial model has changed several times. 

First of all, after we escaped from Luhansk, we continued to work like volunteers. We didn't get any money from anybody, but we had a big, strong desire to continue our work, to explain to people what's going on.  

We even made our website into a big archive that we could use in the future when we will try to figure out what was going on this year. 

But everything worked great and our audience stayed.  

First of all, we took some grants. I went to work for a radio station and we started the "Donbas Realities" project. 

I began to pay my correspondent’s salary from my salary and after that, we used our sources in occupied territories to make video reports for "Donbas Realities". With that, Realnaya Gazeta became this gateway for big audiences to get some videos from occupied territories. And it helped – I hope – for people all over the world to know more about what's going on.  

After that, we covered a lot of different processes. We got some grants, short-term grants, but they helped us to find a new [business] model.  

Now, the main commercial model for us – the great success that we rebuilt our work on – is operating as a big major production studio for different organizations. The income helped us to stay viable as a media outlet.  

And also, frankly speaking, in the year before the escalation of the war in February of 2021, we got maybe 60% of our income from collaborations with other big, international media. This ensures that they have some coverage about internally displaced persons from the Donbas region. International media try to cover these problems but they don’t have media activities [on-site] and we as partners help them to make some informational materials, to investigate and so on. 

So it was maybe 60% of this commercial partnership income and 40% mini-grants. And of course, a year ago when Russia began this escalation when Russia tried to invade all the territory of Ukraine, all these projects were frozen and we started a new level of this survival race.  

And we not only survived, but we also helped other media outlets survive that came into similar situations as we did, nine years ago. We for example helped them to organize their editorial processes separately online, with only online communication with their staff who were now located in different cities and even in different countries, while still wanting to cover what's going on in their home cities. 

And yes, I'm really proud of this year because we survived and we helped a lot of media outlets from Eastern and Southern Ukraine to survive. 

A network of mutual support seems to have been built there. So if I understand correctly, in the last years you've looked at a mix of grants, a mix of self-financing, you even paying salaries out of your own pocket. 

What can you say about the sustainability of your financing? I can imagine that we're at a stage now where there is a big spotlight on Ukraine. It is very easy to make your case for financial support among international organizations around the world. Are you worried that might change? 

Of course I'm worried. I'm worried all the time. But you must understand that our horizon of planning became shorter than it would be in normal times. 

But yes, we are taking a lot of steps to build a more sustainable financial system.  

First of all, I'm pretty sure that this year we will be able to continue our previous business contacts with all these NGO's, with all these international media outlets. We understand that there’s a lot of interest in what's going on in these untransparent, occupied areas for big international audiences. So this year we will start English language services. We’re thinking about newsletters in English with summary reports that can be used by other media. We even have this idea of reprinting our newspaper, not like a physical paper, but in a pdf-format for these newsletters.  

Then we want to add not only Russian-speaking videos to our YouTube channel. It actually has grown a lot compared to the previous year. Our audience has grown four times over.  

So it is a difficult time for us – I mean, it’s wartime – but it is also very productive when you have power in your heart to continue. 

And so the last step that we want to take is maybe setting up patron campaigns for example on  “Patreon” for our online pages and our YouTube supporters. And actually, we have started monetization of our YouTube channel and we have some income from these sources also. 

So I hope that all these different sources of income will help us to build some sustainable model, even in this unpredictable, totally unpredictable situation. 

You said the horizon of planning, it has necessarily become shorter in this time of war. How short are we talking? Do you know what you're doing tomorrow? Do you know what you're doing next week? 

Yes, we understand that everything could change at any moment. But we are still planning, frankly speaking, for five years. 

I understand where I want to be in five years. And of course, we have middle-term planning like for the end of the year. 

We know what products we want to make. We have finances for these products that aren’t only grants. Even if everything will be occupied, we have plans how we can continue our work. And of course, we have the main optimistic plan. 

How are you able to meet this challenge of connecting with audiences at this time of war, especially as millions of Ukrainians leave their homes, leave the country? They're internally displaced perhaps within Ukraine. What can you say about addressing that particular challenge? 

That's a great challenge. It’s so much easier to make media when you live in a city and have your local audience. They have traditional outlets. They buy their newspaper and read it. They can switch on their TV and watch channels or go to a particular website. 

But it becomes more complicated when your audience is divided through different regions, even across different informational landscapes, when part of your audience – and your core audience at that – can't even get to your online media because it’s banned by local authorities as enemy media.  

So you try to find new channels to these audiences. You try to investigate where they get information about the situation around them. Maybe it's Telegram channels, or maybe YouTube channels, or maybe they use some tools like VPN to find sources online.  

And then you must decide how you want to produce your media activities. Maybe some of your audience is strictly pro-Ukrainian, they become refugees, maybe even in Germany. Or they become internally displaced living in other Ukrainian cities, like Lviv or Chornobyl in the west. So for them, you provide your coverage in the Ukrainian language. 

But if you want to get to audiences in occupied territories, you must understand that they can't visit your website, but they can watch your videos on YouTube. And it was a big discussion inside our team about what channel we need to use more for this audience, maybe Telegram channels. 

Telegram channels became really popular among Ukrainian audiences from the beginning of this war

But we understood that if people subscribe to our Telegram channel on their mobile phones and share our posts it could be really dangerous for them. 

So we decided that for our audiences in occupied territories, the easiest way to get information is our YouTube channel because there they can watch our reports without history and without any problems. 

But you must understand that we did an exploration of all these challenges. We even surveyed some people from occupied territories about the threats from the armed forces, and how they searched their mobile phones. That’s why we decided to develop our YouTube channel to provide more information on it.  

And I need to say that it was the right strategy and a lot of people now see, comment and even subscribe to our YouTube channels. But we always mention that if it could be dangerous, don’t subscribe to our pages. So for us, it's really tricky, interesting work to understand what's going on and what strategy will not only be best for us as a media outlet, but also for our audience.  

You've been doing all this important work during the war. What will you do when the war ends? 

Great question. As I said, we have a lot of strategy and planning, but our main vision for the future of our outlet is to get to the de-occupied Luhansk and Donetsk as fast as we can and continue our work there.  

We want to get back to becoming the main media outlet in these territories because we have a history of resistance, a history of informational covering of what was going on. 

I hope that we will be not only the main media but the main intellectual hub in these de-occupied territories of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. We need to help people around us to figure out what future we want to build together, how to deal with all the circumstances of war, and how to rebuild everything around us because as we can see now, the main part of Donbas now is ruined by Russian forces. 

How can we build a new, stable future together? I hope we will help to build huge democratic institutions there – maybe not only in the Donbas region but even in Russia, because I think when the war stops Russia must change also. They also need to build new, truly independent media. We have gathered a lot of expertise during all these years on how to survive and how to build media in hostile circumstances. And I think our experience is really helpful not only within Ukrainian borders but all over the world. 

So, drawing on that experience, what are the three best practice tips you would give to other media outlets looking to survive and thrive in these crisis times? 

And first of all, don't give up! If you have your mission, if you understand that your work is really important, try to find ways how to get to your audience and rebuild your media outlet. 

The second one is to try to work separately. Try to work online because your office could be ruined at any time. Your colleagues can be everywhere, and you need to have [safety] protocols: What must you do in a new situation? How? What processes have to start as fast as possible?   

And maybe the third one is, I really suggest to all of my colleagues to use their mobile phones as the main tool to produce everything. On your mobile phone, you can shoot reports, write articles, you can even edit. And I really recommend using tools that are adopted for mobile phones. 

And yes, maybe even a fourth tip: Always reflect on what you’re doing! Always rethink, always discuss inside your community, inside your editorial office: What are we doing? Is this effective? Is this true to what we are existing for?  

And even if you don’t have money this time, if you continue your work you will earn it. Money is not the main idea, the main purpose of media. Maybe the main purpose of media is to change the situation for the better. If you do this you will be successful. 

Andrii Dikhtiarenko, thank you very much for your time. 

Thank you.  


This transcript of episode three of "Survive and Thrive: The Media Viability Podcast" has been lightly edited for clarity. 


Get in touch!

For questions and suggestions write to 

Subscribe to Survive and ThriveOr find us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Youtube. 


This podcast is produced by DW Akademie and is supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

DW recommends

WWW links

Audios and videos on the topic