Ukrainian podcaster Volodymyr Anfimov has watched as war has changed podcasting in his country. He discusses how podcasters have responded to the crisis and how he approaches conversations on his own show.
As a child in Kyiv, Volodymyr Anfimov’s dream was to be a radio broadcaster. That dream came true and for almost 13 years, he worked as a radio journalist and program director before moving into the communications sector.
But the mics and headphones exerted a powerful pull, and three years ago Volodymyr started a podcast called Another Interview. In it, he conducts long-form interviews with people from the cultural sphere and beyond – from artists and musicians to psychologists and members of the military. His goal is to examine what’s happening in Ukraine right now from different perspectives and explore with his guests how the country’s post-war future might look.
In 2022, Volodymyr hosted a crisis podcast called Ukraine under Siege, a weekly look in English at developments in the country after the full-scale Russian invasion. He’s also a trainer with DW Akademie’s PodcasTraining project.
Kyle James: Why did you get into podcasting in the first place?
Volodymyr Anfimov: I knew how to work with audio, and I knew how to conduct interviews. So podcasting was pretty natural for me. Another motivation was the fact that when I started there were very few quality podcasts in the Ukrainian language. I wanted to make a good show and to show Ukrainians that a Ukrainian-language podcast can sound great. I think I succeeded. I’ve been told by some people that I motivated them to make their own shows in Ukrainian!
How has podcasting in Ukraine changed since the war began?
Ukrainian podcasts really started to bloom after the full-scale invasion. I’m not entirely sure of the reasons, but maybe the need for information and the convenience of podcasts helped this sector flourish. When I started doing my podcast, Another Interview, 30 percent or less of the top podcasts on Apple in Ukraine were actually in Ukrainian. The big majority were from Russia or other countries. But right now, the top podcasts are all Ukrainian. We’ve seen a big rise in the number of podcasts dealing with mental health, which is understandable because people are living with stress every day given the rockets, air raid sirens and buildings being destroyed by Russian air forces. People want some kind of psychological assistance, and mental health podcasts play an important role here. Another interesting genre that is emerging is podcasts about the history of Ukraine. These shows discuss the myths spread by Russia that, for example, Ukraine was invented by Vladimir Lenin. We have podcasts by professional historians, but also from amateurs, which can be interesting too because they give you a different perspective. But of course, we can’t forget about critical thinking and avoiding untrustworthy sources.
Right, since it’s relatively easy to create a podcast, it can be easy for information to get out that doesn’t meet traditional journalistic standards around accuracy.
Absolutely. We’ve had a podcasting scandal here. It involved a very popular show called The Therapy Podcast, which was hosted by two guys. One of them presented himself as a professional psychologist, answering questions and giving advice. It turned out after one year of production that the “professional” lied publicly about his university degree and used unethical methods with his clients. A lot of people, especially younger people, had trusted him and his expertise.
How can you protect against that?
We have to understand that these kinds of things can happen. With this show, there were small signs that something wasn’t quite right. Myself, I felt like something was wrong and I stopped listening. If you think that something’s not okay or legitimate, do some research about the person or the show.
What else did you notice happening with podcasts in Ukraine just after the full-scale invasion?
During the first several months, there was an atmosphere of total shock, and very few new media products emerged. It wasn’t the time to make something new, it was a time to be safe. Then producers started trying to make something useful. This was when the mental health podcasts emerged along with shows about critical thinking and disinformation because we see a lot of fake news out of Russia. Then we got podcasts about physical safety. Starting on February 24, 2022, the rules in the country changed, and these shows gave important advice: If there’s an air raid siren, go to the shelter. If you go outside, you need to have a tourniquet because no one knows when a rocket can fall and you can be injured. If you have a tourniquet, you can save your own life or someone else’s. And like I mentioned, historical podcasts started up. While this crisis has been so challenging, it has also opened new opportunities, like the opportunity to develop Ukraine’s podcast sector.
Let’s talk about the show you’ve been doing for three years, Another Interview. On it you talk to many people from the cultural sector but from other walks of life as well. Why did you want to make a show like this and have your goals changed since February 24?
My goal now is to talk to people who can see the broader picture of what is going on in Ukraine right now and what will happen after the war ends. Another motivation is to highlight people who are creating something unique. One of my last guests was Oksana Zabuzhko, one of Ukraine’s best-known and most popular writers. It was a long conversation, one hour and 26 minutes, but it was so inspiring to listen to her. And I got a lot of feedback from my audience. And some were like, your podcast and especially the interview with Oksana Zabuzhko, is better than ten motivational books. Because you listen to it and you want to live, you want to create, you want to do more to help your country. I really appreciate such feedback because it motivates me to create.
You talk to so many people on your podcast. How do you approach these interviews?
I really spend hours preparing for them. When I get a confirmation from a guest, I try to listen and read all the interviews with them that I can. I value my guests’ time and I don't want to ask questions that they’ve already answered hundreds of times. Then my natural curiosity plays a role. I ask questions that are interesting to me personally. I always have a list of questions, but sometimes, the very first answer takes the conversation in a completely different direction. The best way to do a good interview is just to follow that path and see where it goes. I should stress that I don’t conduct typical journalistic interviews where I put my guests up against a wall. I don’t say, OK, I’m going to ask you a very hard question and you have 30 seconds to answer it. I would describe them as more motivational, philosophical talks. Of course, if I feel that an answer doesn’t make sense, I’ll address it. And I will ask uncomfortable questions.
I know you have a journalistic background, but many podcasters don’t. How can they learn to conduct good interviews when they may not have the training you do?
The best way to conduct an interview is to simply listen. That’s really the best advice I can give. One of the motivations for me to start my show was that I didn't like the podcast interviews that I'd been listening to. In most cases, the host was trying to be the show's hero. It was like he was asking the question just to be able to tell his own story. You know, there aren’t that many people who really listen, but the key to a good interview is listening to the guest. And, by the way, this applies not only to interviews but to conversations in real life!
So close listening is essential to get a good conversation going. Do you have any other advice for podcasters starting out?
I think that people starting podcasts should really think about their strengths and play to them. If someone is a real estate expert, they should focus on that expertise. They don’t have to be a perfectionist regarding everything, like sound quality and audio production. All that stuff will come later. If you're a good storyteller, focus on storytelling, and audio design can come next. If you're great with audio design, start with that. My point is to not think at the very beginning that you have to be great at everything. And like with everything, don’t stop when your motivation fades, which it often does maybe two months after the launch. In the first episodes, you're super excited and then your motivation sags. Keep in mind that you do have an audience, people who are listening and waiting for new episodes. Maybe there are just a few of them, but you have an audience. If you keep doing this stuff your audience will grow. And one day, who knows, it could be a really cool show with millions and millions of downloads.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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The goal of the PodcasTraining project of DW Akademie is to support media organizations and media creators who want to strengthen their podcasting skills and knowledge, including how to develop, produce and distribute crisis podcasts. The project is supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).