UKRAINE: Podcasts

There’s a LOT of podcasts on Ukraine available right now, mainly focused on the the Russian invasion and analysis about Ukraine’s future. As always, I’m trying to prioritize podcasts that by Ukrainians or feature Ukrainian voices, though there’s plenty of good material out there otherwise – understandably, Ukraine has been on everyone’s mind lately. Here’s what I’ve been listening to over the last few weeks:

BBC: Ukrainecast – A daily podcast that the BBC started when the Russian invasion happened, focusing just on stories, interviews, news, and analysis on Ukraine and the war.

Highlights from Ukraine – To bolster the previous podcast, Highlights from Ukraine is a short summary in English of what’s in Ukraine’s media that day. It’s run by Ukrainians, and gives even better coverage of internal politics that may not make it into foreign reporting.

UkrainianSpaces: Queer Pride – UkrainianSpaces is an English language podcast that gets into discussions on Ukrainian life, culture, and reality that may be missing from foreign narratives. This episode is both on and by Ukraine’s LGBTQ community. The hosts speak with one of the organizers of Kyiv Pride, who has been getting requests from foreign media to comment on how the war has affected them and the community. However, the media has been asking for stories of suffering, and ignoring the stories of Queer Ukrainians fighting the invasion, or how Ukraine had been making significant strides for the community before the war. Really interesting and introspective podcast.

Fighting For Ukraine – Short daily updates from Yuriy Matsarsky, an Ukrainian journalist who is actively fighting in a civilian militia. Warzone updates, what he’s seeing on the ground, and what he’s feeling as a Ukrainian fighting for his homeland. He also has a GoFundMe up to help support him and his family – they’ve left the country and like all fighting-age men, he is staying.

The Conversation: The history and evolution of Ukrainian national identity – A really interesting podcast with discussion on the creation of Ukrainian identity out of both the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, and how it waned during the Soviet years, and is now being recreated – pushed by opposition to Russia.

Deconstructed: The War Over Ukrainian History and Identity – An interview from the Intercept with an Ukrainian sociologist that takes a bit of a different spin from the above podcast. It’s a more non-nationalist interpretation of Ukrainian identity looking at how the Ukrainian government is structuring identity, and the problem of corruption and oligarchs in Ukraine that has rarely been spoken about since the invasion started.

UKRAINE: In Isolation: Dispatches from Occupied Donbas by Stanislav Aseyev

Stanislav Aseyev is a Ukrainian journalist and writer from Donetsk, who first gained notice for writing for Ukrainian papers about the reality on the ground in the Russian-backed breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic. He was jailed in 2017 by separatist militants, tortured, and was eventually released in 2019 as part of a prisoner exchange. In Isolation: Dispatches from Occupied Donbas is a collection of his writings from 2014 to 2017, the last piece “A Knack for Losing Things” written while being held captive. After his release, he wrote his memoirs about the ordeal in The Torture Camp on Paradise Street.

The translation and release of In Isolation into English last month is extremely timely, not just because the world’s attention is on Ukraine, but because this gives some well-needed nuance and complexity to the war. Aseyev himself is pro-Ukrainian, and watched how propaganda, economic desperation, and a nostalgia for the Soviet past turns his friends and neighbours from Russian-speaking Ukrainian nationals to ardent supporters of the DPR as a breakaway republic. It’s an incredible study of shifting identity and the re-establishment of the idea of “Novorossiya“, while showing the absurdity of war – little old ladies crossing monthly back into Ukraine to double up their pension, voting in in the DPR’s “primaries”, the merging of Orthodox Christianity with old Soviet holidays, and the lives of separatist militias shaking down cars at checkpoints for cash.

The ominous part of the book is that it lets you extrapolate what’s now happening in the Donbas, where the Ukrainian-Russian war is now centred. Repelling a Russian invasion from proudly Ukrainian locations is one thing, but fighting over parts of Ukraine that have felt cut off (and have cut themselves off) from “the mainland”, have been building a pro-Russian identity for almost a decade, and have been living in a state of war for just as long? Unfortunately, no matter how else things fall between Russia and Ukraine, things are going to stay ugly in Donetsk for a while.

UKRAINE: Tanks in Chernobyl

Chernobyl today – Source

We’re all pretty familiar with the Chernobyl disaster (I’d recommend Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy for a good book on it, or even the well-researched HBO drama from a few years ago), but it was back in the news recently for being caught up in the Russian invasion. Russian convoys kicked up nuclear dust in the Red Forest and there were rumours of Russian soldiers digging positions without even using protective equipment. The plant is now back in Ukrainian hands, and media has been allowed in:

However, there’s an interesting story that doesn’t frequently get told – that among the abandoned vehicles and buildings are several WWII Soviet tanks, rusting away and too radioactive to move. They were part of a plan to blow a hole into the plant to drain the water before a steam explosion happened – a plan that never went through, and instead divers, miners, and plant workers drained the tank manually.

For a longer, more comprehensive history of Chernobyl, Plainly Difficult did an excellent documentary into the disaster itself:

UKRAINE: Ukrainian Radio / Bayraktar

Inhulets River at dawn – Source: Culture Trip

Radio Garden is really wild when you’re looking at an active warzone – unsurprisingly, radio stations where the active fighting are tend to be down, and further out, you can see the “propaganda line” between Russian and Ukrainian broadcasting. You can get a sense of the direction stations are taking by translating their websites, but I wish I had some knowledge of either language, I’m sure there’s some really strong content.

Radio Bayraktar – Named after the Turkish Bayraktar drones that have been so effective, this online station in Kyiv is almost totally Ukranian patriotic and propaganda songs – all genres, and even if you don’t understand Ukrainian, between the “Slava Ukrainia”s and the different remixes of the Bayraktar song (see below), you’ll get it. Listen live here.

Papino Radio 107.6The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) is a Russian-backed breakaway state in the Donbas, and along with Luhansk and Crimea, form the parts of Ukraine that have been under Russian control since 2014. There’s about 2 million people living in the DPR, and of course, they have their own pro-Russian patriotic and propaganda radio. Most of it is the mirror of Radio Bayraktar – take a look at the Google translate of their social media. Listen live here.

Garmonia Mira – And now for something completely different! Based in Odesa, this quirky little station is a mix of jazz, classical, and easy listening, but with astrological reports built into its weather reports, scifi and poetry readings, and what I would call “granola Christian” programming – worship songs, “life-affirming” sermons, etc. It’s new to me to see it in an Eastern Orthodox content, but it’s 100% a thing. Good jazz selection too. Listen live here.

There’s also several stations that are just good dance/EDM mixes. In no particular order:

As for the Bayraktar, shortly after the Russian invasion stalled, a war song started circulating in Ukraine, celebrating the effectiveness of the Ukrainian military and Putin’s miscalculation in invading. It’s been remixed into a million different genres, including this really catchy dance mix by Andriy Muzob.

The full English translation is here, but a little example:

His own country wasn’t big enough / Now the invader has crossed our border / Their war machines have melted in the fields / Bayraktar

The senile old grandpa [Putin] is ranting / And the people believe everything / Now the Tsar has learned a new word / Bayraktar

Bayraktar English Translation

As far as war songs go, it’s a lot higher production value than “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball” that my grandpa taught me, but the sentiment is similar.


UKRAINE: Zelenskyy’s May 9th speech

I’m rarely topical, but President Zelenskyy’s speech today reclaiming May 9th as Victory Day for Ukraine is worth a listen. It’s extremely powerful counter-propaganda, as Russia and Ukraine are both trying to use USSR’s victory over Germany in WWII to frame the narrative on the current war.

Also, most world leaders age quickly when they get into office, but that prior footage is less than a year old! Though, in all fairness, most world leaders aren’t actively being shelled in their own capital by an invading army.

UKRAINE: Snacks

Understandably, with the active fighting, the refugee crisis, and the war economy, exports from Ukraine have dropped off very quickly in the last two months. I still wanted to try Ukrainian snacks (I try to get exported snacks from every country if possible), so I had to rely on things already exported to Canada when the invasion happened. I put in a big order from Ukreations, a Canadian supplier of Ukrainian snacks, apparel, and handicrafts, and then got a haul from Lakomka Deli, a really good Eastern European grocery here in Ottawa. I’ve got enough for several posts this month (and so much that I’ll be treating coworkers for weeks).

33 Cows sour cream cookies – The English and Ukrainian sides of the wrapper say sour cream, the French and import label just say cream flavoured cookies, so it’ll be a surprise! These are tasty little cookies with the consistency of arrowroot biscuits and a sweet, vanilla, condensed milk flavour – there’s a little bit of a citrusy tang to them too. Smetana it is!

Roshen Karolina Orange Cake – Roshen is a huge snack manufacturer in Ukraine, named after Petro Poroshenko, who came from a classic oligarch background of snapping up state snack companies in Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, that name may be more familiar for a different reason, as Poroshenko was President of Ukraine from 2014-2019. He helped solidify Ukraine’s turn away from Russia and towards NATO/Europe after the loss of Crimea, but also was implicated in huge corruption scandals – and was about to run head to head against Zelenskyy over possibly politically-motivated treason charges in January this year. However, Russia invaded shortly after, and Poroshenko was last seen commanding a military battalion in the Ukrainian defence forces. As for the cookies? They’re identical to Jaffa Cakes: soft cookie, chocolate, tangy orange filling. Very tasty.

Roshen Korivka – I really like the old school wrapper with the pretty flower and cow design. These are soft caramel bars, with an intensely sweet caramel sugary-texture outside and toffee fondant inside. I selling point is that the filling is supposed to stay liquid, but I think it solidified in the long trip to Canada. These are intensely sweet in the “eat a spoonful of sugar” kind of way.

Roshen Crazy Bee – Soft, chewy candies with a jelly filling. Really satisfying texture, and the flavours are all tasty, though it’s a surprise what each one will be, the wrapping is all identical. There’s orange, grapefruit, sour cherry, wild berry, lemon-lime, and strawberry. Too easy to eat the whole bag!

This month: UKRAINE

This month is the first month I’m choosing the country deliberately, instead of at random. This month, I’ll be learning more about Ukraine. With the Russian invasion in February and the war still ongoing, Ukraine is already very much in the news. I’m hoping to get beyond the headlines and learn more about the country’s culture and history this month.

So, what do I already know about Ukraine?

Of course, with Russian invasion, we’ve all had a major crash course in Ukraine’s relationships with Russia, Europe, and NATO. We’ve seen the awful bombing, fighting, and war crimes in cities like Kyiv, Mariupol, Kharkiv, the rise of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a war leader, the bravery and resistance of Ukrainians, and the larger geopolitical ramifications of Russia becoming an international pariah. Here’s a really good primer from early March:

Here in Canada, we are a deeply pro-Ukrainian country, and have been for decades across the political spectrum. Canada actually has the largest Ukrainian population in the world outside of Ukraine itself and Russia (at least before the displacement of millions of Ukrainian refugees into Europe this year).

The Ukrainian connection is most deeply felt in the Canadian prairies, with Ukrainian-Canadians making up 10% of Alberta, 13% of Saskatchewan, and 15% of Manitoba’s population. I grew up in Alberta, and Ukrainian culture is so ingrained there that pierogies are a basic staple food, as common in grocery stores as pasta or sandwiches, and my family in Saskatchewan learned Ukrainian because it helps with work and with community events.

We also have a giant pierogi! – Source

Canada is also one of the few countries that recognize the Holodomor as an official genocide, and our Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is Ukrainian. She was banned from both the Soviet Union and Russia for her pro-democracy work in Ukraine in the 80s and 90s and her investigations as a journalist into Russian oligarchs after the fall of the USSR. When Russia invaded Ukraine, sentiment ran high here – Canada has supplied weapons, funds, helped gather allies, and …changed the street sign in front of the Russian embassy.

That’ll show Putin!

However, while I’m not going to put the current war or Canada’s connection with Ukraine totally aside this month, I really want to focus on Ukraine as a country itself – I’m planning to lean more into art and culture from Ukraine, including popular culture, film, music, and literature. Pierogies, borscht, and cabbage rolls are already familiar staples, but I also really want to dig deeper into Ukrainian cuisine. And I know Easter has already passed, but I want to take a crack at making pysanky – I’ve always wanted to try.

My current knowledge of Ukrainian history is mainly about the tragedies of the 20th century – dekulakization and Stalin’s Holodomor, the Eastern Front and the Holocaust, and Chernobyl. This month I really want to learn more about the larger story of Ukraine as a nation and the rise of the concept of “Ukrainian” – something that is clearly still contested today.

Addendum: A note on spelling. I’m following the linguistic shift that has happened recently in the West. We now use the Ukrainian spelling and pronunciation for names, rather than the Russian. This is shift started around 2019 with a campaign by the Ukrainian government, but really solidified with the Russian invasion this year. While it is definitely political, it also reflects a larger shift of respecting what countries wish to be called – Czechia instead of Czech Republic, Eswatini instead of Swaziland, and Côte d’Ivoire instead of Ivory Coast.

So Kiev is now Kyiv, Lvov is now Lviv, and Zelenskyy is spelled with two Ys (though one Y is also common, but not the Russian ending of “-ski”). There’s a few names that I’m keeping the old Russian spelling, specifically Chernobyl (instead of Chornobyl), since it’s so well known by that name.

ECUADOR: The Ecuador Reader

When I covered Chile last year, I came across The Chile Reader – turns out there’s a whole series of these useful books on different Central and Southern American countries. The Ecuador Reader is a great big tome of short primary and secondary documents following through Ecuador’s history – historic letters, poems, academic texts, travel journals, and more, all with explanations giving historical context and tying it all together.

As a smaller country that’s been pulled into different neighbours’ orbits (especially Peru and Colombia) and one with three extremely different regions – the coast, the highlands, and the Amazon, Ecuador doesn’t really build up the same coherent national narrative that Chile does. Instead, those internal and external tensions make up so much of Ecuador’s story – and how politics, capitalism, labour and Indigenous movements try to bridge those gaps.

The influence of Indigenous people in Ecuador’s history is particularly interesting – about 25% of the modern population is of Indigenous origin, while another 50-60% are of mixed European and Indigenous background. However, like most other places in the Spanish Empire, Indigenous people were so thoroughly marginalized that for a while they were not even counted on the census or as citizens. That drove a lot of separation from identity and a process of “othering” that still is not undone.

ECUADOR: Real life on the Galapagos Islands

Lonesome George in 2006 – Source

The Galapagos Islands are famous for being an incredible untouched wilderness with some of the rarest and most endangered species in the world; species that gave Darwin the insight into developing his theory of evolution. These islands were uninhabited by humans initially and only visited by whalers and explorers until the 19th century, when it was annexed by Ecuador.

The human impact on the Galapagos’ ecosystem has been immense – the introduction of goats (leading to Project Isabela and the use of Judas goats), invasive species and diseases, consumption of tortoises and other wildlife for food, permanent human habitation, the massive tourism industry that has grown over past decades, climate change, and plastic pollution.

Radiolab made an incredible podcast on the reality of the Galapagos – asking how and if conservation can actually work, and if we can ever really return nature to a “primeval” state. They also touch on Lonesome George, goats, Darwin’ finches, but also the politics in Ecuador, including with voters permanently living and working on the Galapagos. Listen here.

For those living on Galapagos, the reality isn’t too rosy either – there’s deep poverty and a sense of being ignored by the central Ecuadorian government, while trying both to support a livelihood and not destroy the wilderness that provides this livelihood.

As for the rare and varied wildlife itself, there’s a lot of classic and current documentaries, with the BBC / David Attenborough ones clearly setting the gold standard for nature docs. However, I wanted to share a REALLY old school one from the 60s, narrated by Prince Phillip, of all people.