The last decade saw an explosion in independent digital native media organisations in Ukraine, due to several factors. The Euromaidan uprisings in 2013 created opportunities for greater media independence from the government and oligarchs. Other factors included public demand for clear, unbiased information and the decolonisation of Ukrainian culture, as well as funding opportunities from international media support and development organisations.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, funding models have shifted to predominantly depend on donations from individual donors, while content has moved towards providing acutely needed information on airstrikes, opportunities for internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees, as well as uncovering war crimes and dismissing propaganda claims. Social media channels such as Telegram, Instagram and Facebook have played major roles in meeting the public’s need for information in a time of war, hybrid warfare and blackouts.
in the Directory
“Editorial independence of leading news outlets is evaded by their influential private owners, and it is not always possible to trace the funding,” says press freedom organisation Free Press Unlimited. It also notes restrictions on access to public meetings, with the Covid-19 pandemic being used as an excuse.
The danger that the ongoing war poses to journalists is also a key issue. The situation has become even more dire during the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, as journalists navigate a way to keep the public informed without revealing any strategically important information that could strengthen the position of the enemy on the frontlines and beyond.
Market structure and dominance
“Media conglomerates are the most common form of media ownership in Ukraine. Trust in news media is therefore low,” says Free Press Unlimited. “In 2020, only 48% of Ukrainians would trust digital news channels, 41% TV and 21% radio. High social polarisation has negatively affected these scores in recent years.” The role of the state in the Ukrainian media landscape is limited.
How media is funded
Sources of revenue have been affected by the Russian invasion in 2022. The predominant source of revenue for media organisations used to be advertising and grants. However since the invasion, this has shifted towards individual donations, followed by grants and finally advertising. Advertising revenue had initially dropped to 20% of its pre-war volume, but has recently bounced back to 60%, according to some respondents. USAID, the American Embassy, the National Endowment for Democracy and Open Society remain the leading donor foundations in Ukraine.
Twenty-four profiles of digital native media organisations from Ukraine are included in the directory. This includes seven profiles based on interviews and seventeen profiles based on desk research.
Many digital native organisations were created to fill a gap in the market, or to respond to current challenges. For example, Divoche Media fills a niche as an online magazine supporting women and telling real-life stories of Ukrainian women. Or, as its founder Oksana Pavlenko, puts it: “We tell the stories that are usually just discussed in the kitchen among friends, or in a breakout room with colleagues or girlfriends in a cafe or on a walk. Those everyday stories.”
Another example is Chytomo, which positions itself as a tool for self-education about literature, especially contemporary Ukrainian literature and book publishing. “We are popular among those Ukrainian Russian speakers who consciously chose to switch to Ukrainian in their everyday life,” say founders Ira Baturevich and Oksana Khmelyovska, reflecting on their contribution to the cultural shift in Ukraine.
In response to the Russian occupation of Donbas, Svoi.City offers information for IDPs, refugees and those who stayed on the occupied territory. Hayane Avakyan, journalist and coordinator of the organisation, says: “We helped our audience to navigate the ever-changing ‘rules and regulations’ of everyday life and regarding possibilities to leave the area. As our team had to move to safer places, our mission became to help the audience to move as well.”
Websites and social media platforms such as Telegram, Facebook and Instagram are the most popular ways for media organisations to keep their audiences informed. A popular way to build a dedicated audience and a supportive community is via private Telegram channels, access to which requires a subscription. This model of participatory content creation and innovative way to achieve financial sustainability in a time of war has been introduced by Slidstvo.info (through its Slidstvo Club) and Chytomo (through its Chytomo Club).
The main source of revenue for independent digital native organisations had been grants, followed by revenue from advertising and individual donations. But since the war began in February 2022, advertising revenue dropped drastically by 80% compared to the previous year, to only reach up to 60% of 2021 volumes towards the end of 2022. Individual donations and audience financial support, together with grant funding from previous years, became the most prominent revenue source in 2022.
The war has also affected the topics that media organisations cover, with many opting for coverage of war crimes, war-related news, dismantling Russian propaganda as well as creating programmes or podcasts with the aim of decolonising Ukrainian culture from Russian appropriation, such as the Cultural Tribunal podcast by The Ukrainians.
The digital native media landscape in Ukraine is vibrant, covering various topics from news to culture and everything in between. In light of the ongoing war in Ukraine, media organisations are challenged on many fronts, especially their editorial independence and financial sustainability. With revenue from advertising dropping drastically, organisations rely on the support of their audience’s donations. To keep working independently, many would be interested in joining various funding schemes, as well as looking into innovative business models.
Last updated: January 2023