Tuesday, March 28

‘I love my job’: life as a Ukrainian TV news anchor and mother | Ukraine

Meet the face of the war for millions of Ukrainians hunkering down in their homes.

Marichka Padalko, 46, is among a small coterie of TV news anchors with a platform to guide the country through the daily and nightly war developments while teasing out psychological advice from studio experts and offering practical tips on everything from shelter etiquette to surviving a chemical weapons attack.

She became central to people’s lives when, two days after Vladimir Putin announced his “special military operation”, the four main channels on Ukrainian television decided to work together to create one 24/7 “marathon” news show.

With journalists and technicians – particularly those with young families – fleeing the shelling, leaving channels understaffed, and given the risk of a studio being hit by a Russian bomb, the peacetime professional rivals combined their efforts to guarantee the news would stay on air.

The result is that Padalko, a host on 1+1, which was one of Ukraine’s biggest channels in peacetime, and a further 11 anchors who appear during any given 24-hour period, have a captive audience.

“It is something like if BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 [came together]. Technically we’re not united. I mean, we are all in different locations, but all channels now have their own slot, six hours a day. Sometimes we are in the morning, sometimes at night,” she said.

For the viewers, she said, the broadcasting teams were “somehow a symbol of normality or some connection to their previous life where they used to see us and we were part of the routine of their life”.

Also Read  Sri Lanka facing imminent threat of starvation, senior politician warns | Sri Lanka

If they are not live on air, anchors and their reporting teams wait in reserve ready to broadcast from a back-up studio in a secret location, where Padalko is based, in case an air raid siren goes off or a bomb hits those reading the news in the capital, Kyiv, or elsewhere.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, last week signed a decree to make the arrangement mandatory, citing the need to avoid Russian misinformation. To the upset of some media moguls, with perhaps their own political interests to protect, the decree also mandated that smaller channels also use the content in place of their normal news slots.

Some have suggested that the News United initiative stifles freedom of speech. Padalko, who along with her co-host, Yehor Gordeev, 32, was the first and only news anchor on air in the period immediately after Putin launched his war by sending missiles into Kyiv and elsewhere, disagrees.

Yegor Gordeev was co-hosting with Padalko on 1+1 in the hours after Russia launched its invasion. Photography: Instagram

“Nobody’s sending us any instructions,” she said. “The only instructions I think we had at the very beginning is just to be more supportive for the audience who are going through difficult times.”

The only stipulation from Zelenskiy’s government is that they are mindful of the danger of rumor and misinformation, she says, and that they offer news for those watching from their front rooms, kitchens and beds.

“We have guests who can give practical advice, or volunteers who can talk about evacuations, or people who deal with chemical weapons dangers, advising people whether they should buy something to protect themselves from any possible chemical weapon attack,” she says.

“We do have psychologists at least once a week, advising [viewers] that they do not feel guilty that they left their home towns or not to hate people who left, or not to watch the news 24-hours a day. That it’s OK to relax sometimes and not to think about the war because some people, if they don’t feel sad or don’t cry, they feel guilty that somebody is now suffering.”

Lighter subjects touched upon by the combined news show have included ways to relax – including by having sex – the changing nature of stand-up comedy in wartime, and the proliferation of new songs telling the Russians to “fuck off”. A famous Ukrainian poet, Serhiy Zhadan, was also filmed reading his poems to people sheltering in a bunker.

Padalko and her family before the war, wearing Santa Claus hats at an ice rink.
Padalko with her family before the invasion. Photography: Instagram

She was advised that the role of the anchor was important as viewers would find reassurance in seeing a “real person that they’ve known for years talking about this and their reaction to this and how they behave themselves,” she said.

“Especially being a morning presenter, people write to me that they remember me in their morning routine, getting up, coffee, TV, getting the kids to school. First, they want to see the news and, second, a person they know talk about this news and the third thing is to know what to do.”

Padalko, who with her colleagues has also been given advice by a psychologist on how to cope, said journalists who did not usually anchor shows had been drafted in.

“Some top anchors are gone because they are women and they had to – and I understand – to take care of the kids and to take them away,” she said. “Mostly, at least in Ukraine, we have more women anchors than men… they had to make a choice – will they stay, or go to take care of the children? – especially if they are single mothers.”

Padalko had his own dilemma. Her husband, Yegor Sobolev, 45, a former Ukrainian MP, joined the army on the first day of the war. With schools closed, she was faced with working and caring alone for her three children, Mykhailo, 15, Maria, 13 and Katia, 11.

Padalko's children Katia, 11, Mykhailo, 15, and Maria, 13, sitting on a bench hugging.
Padalko’s children Katia, 11, Mykhailo, 15, and Maria, 13. Photograph: handout

“I was saying that my job is not less important than your desire to go into the army. We had a lot of fights. The day before the war, he said: ‘I think we should already take our kids to western Ukraine.’ And I said: ‘No, I have a morning shift tomorrow and a morning shift on Friday and I can go after Friday,’ because my next week was going to be open. And he said: ‘No, I’m taking the kids.’”

Today, Padalko, whose husband is fighting on the northern outskirts of Kyiv, says she is relieved. Her children of her are in a hotel with their grandparents in the west of the country. She visits them once a week. “I’m very lucky for the decision my husband took that on that day. I did my best to work as long as I could, not to be thinking about where my kids are. In this sense, I was lucky, unlike many female journalists who had to care for their children.”

Padalko added: “I love my job. I have huge response from people on social media who are writing that they are happy to see us, that they feel united because we didn’t go away from Ukraine.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *