Volodymyr Biriukov is an expert in journalism, television and radio, a lecturer, a volunteer, and the author of the book ‘The Story of an (Un)known Journalist.’
Volodymyr became the winner of the ‘Talents for Ukraine’ grant program by the KSE Foundation. This unique grant program recognizes the transformative power of individuals and their impact on society.
In his interview, he discusses the impact of war on journalism, fixers, charitable projects in Latvia, and his second book ‘The Story of an (Un)known Volunteer.’
About Journalism and Inspiration
I’ve been in journalism since I was 15. Thanks to the fact that my sister was a producer on the radio, I had the opportunity to observe her, and over time, I realized that journalism is my calling.
However, my parents were completely against my preferences. My mom completed a musical educational institution, and my dad was in the military. In their eyes, children should engage in something serious, very important. I remember my dad’s phrase: “You’ll go into journalism – you’ll be wagging your tail for the dogs.” But against the convictions of my family, both my sister and I chose this profession.
My first publication was in the magazine “TeenAger.” It was an article about the well-known, at that time, competition “Chance.” It turned out that my neighbor was the singer Natalia Valevska, and Kuzma Skryabin babysat me. They shared information with me, and I compiled it into a coherent story. Then I handwrote the article, sent it to the “TeenAger” editorial office, and won! My prize at that time was 50 hryvnias. In 2005, when a bun cost 0,5 hryvnias, it was a decent amount for a school student. After this competition, I signed a contract with the magazine and became a full-fledged member of their team. We collaborated for a year. Later, I started working at the radio station “Sharmanka” (now Power FM).
In journalism, people inspire me. New experiences.
In relationships, we initially feel “butterflies in the stomach,” and then routine sets in. But in journalism, it’s a constant honeymoon period. I don’t have time for relaxation and am constantly integrated into the process – for me, this is a plus, not a minus.
About the Onset of Russia’s Full-Scale Invasion of Ukraine
On February 23, 2022, I returned to Ukraine from Vilnius, from a shoot, and on February 24, shelling began. Initially, I went to sign up with the Territorial Defense. I remember there were a lot of us, and everyone wanted to join the defense. However, since I didn’t serve in the army and had no military training, they didn’t take me.
In the first days, there were many calls from abroad. Some asked how to help, while others informed me that my contract was terminated, and I was unemployed. Honestly, everything came to a standstill for me during that period. I didn’t know what to do next. I walked the streets, distributing cigarettes and food to the defenders.
After a while, as foreign journalists knew me, requests to comment on various situations started coming in from editorial offices.
One day, someone from Israel called me: “Something is happening in Chernobyl. Can you comment?” I wasn’t there, but I had information, so I went on air. In Israel, there is a large Ukrainian community, and after the broadcast, many of them wrote words of support and thanks for covering the event. At that moment, I realized that I could convey information to many people.
I took a laptop and started writing to all my familiar colleagues abroad, telling them that I was in Kyiv, ready to be useful, and willing to share information!
The German company Katapult (a German magazine) immediately reached out to me. They offered cooperation and financial assistance for the initial period. When they sent a bulletproof vest, I understood that the intensity of my work would be high.
Later, I got acquainted with Deutsche Welle. They said that when the Kyiv region is liberated, they will come, and I will be needed as a fixer. This word was new to me. At that time, I thought it would be something related to repairs. (laughs)
During that time, I began actively giving interviews to journalists from different countries, and their number kept growing. There was a moment when I was talking to BBC presenters, and then I said, “Excuse me. I need to go on CNN now” (our meeting was scheduled for one and a half weeks earlier). I remember that the BBC presenter was quite upset – we had very little time to talk.
Everyone who was interested in the events in Kyiv contacted me. I went live for a record number of reports in a day – 120! I sat in one place and constantly talked. I worked without rest.
On April 1st, representatives of “Deutsche Welle,” Katapult, and I went to Irpin and Bucha. We were the first journalists to be granted access to the shootings.
In Bucha, we saw a large pile of bags. I thought it was garbage, but it was a pile of burned bodies.
We filmed everything, spoke with people affected by Russian military actions, and listened to stories of sexual violence perpetrated by the Russian attackers. All videos and photos were handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. I hope they will play an important role. After seeing everything, I couldn’t eat, didn’t answer calls, and spent the whole day watching the cartoon “Tom and Jerry.”
On April 16, 2022, during a live broadcast on a Latvian television channel, a rocket hit near my house. The shockwave reached the room where I was, and vinyl records fell. The TV presenters didn’t understand what had happened and were very frightened. Miraculously, the internet connection remained. I grabbed my laptop, sat in the bathtub, and informed them that they were witnessing a shelling happening right now. The broadcast was watched by Egils Levits – the President of Latvia, Artis Pabriks – the Minister of Defense of Latvia, Ukrainian Ambassador Oleksandr Mischenko, and many Latvians who already knew me well.
After the broadcast, literally 20 minutes later, I was contacted by the Administration of the President of Latvia and asked to come to Latvia as soon as possible. However, I was able to leave only four months later.
About Latvia and Raising 4.4 Million Euros for Ukrainian Defenders
Arriving in Latvia, I thought there would be interviews. However, I was informed that the main goal was to build a pro-Ukrainian image and raise funds to support Ukrainian defenders.
After a month of active work on Latvian TV and radio channels, I knew, probably, everyone. I even greeted people on the streets. In Latvia, they call me Valdis, which is the Latvian version of Volodymyr.
To raise funds, we released a video where my friend, Latvian singer Ralfs Eilands, and I were on the stage of the Latvian Opera House. For any Latvian, this is a historic place, as it is where Latvia declared independence and exited the Soviet Union. In this video, Ralfs said, “We gained independence here, and my friend is now fighting to preserve the independence of his country!”
These words strongly influenced Latvians, and in one day, we raised more than 1 million euros. I realized that symbolic conversations are crucial, and we stuck to this strategy in all interviews and meetings. Within 5 months, we collected 4.4 million euros.
About the Charitable Project “STOPIFY”
During my time in Latvia, I realized that my task here was to secure support that would yield results the next day.
With friends, we started creating small volunteer projects to raise funds for various needs for Ukrainians. One of them is the “STOPIFY” project.
This project was created by my Latvian friends. It has a simple online platform to which every Latvian can link their card, from which a chosen amount of money is deducted every month. The charitable contribution varies – it’s 6.99, 10.99, or 14.99 euros. The website features the phrase: “Either have two cups of coffee or help Ukraine.” And another crucial point – this platform will close on the day of Ukraine’s victory.
In other words, Latvians clearly understand where a certain amount of money is deducted from their accounts each month and when it will end. The guys also provide regular reports on how much money has been collected and how it has been allocated.
In the first month, the platform collected approximately 200 thousand euros. Then I spoke on all radio stations, TV channels, and the next month the amount was already 500 thousand euros. Currently, the platform collects approximately 1 million euros each month.
There are several such projects. By the way, Latvia was one of the first countries to create a song marathon to raise funds for our defenders. All Latvian singers gathered in front of the Russian embassy and sang until they were tired. On that day, about 1.5 million euros were collected.
About Winning “Talents for Ukraine” from KSE Foundation
I learned about the project from my friend Kateryna Skurydina when we were in Riga and preparing to return to Ukraine. I remember that day well. We were sitting in a cafe near the opera house, and she said to me, “Look, there’s a great program – supporting talents in Ukraine. You’re going back to Kyiv now. Tell them about yourself!”
Honestly, I didn’t believe it. Not because I doubted myself, no. I thought there would be applications from all over the country, and mine would just get lost. Why waste time?! But Kateryna had already started working on the application: she reviewed my entire biography, projects. After five days, she approached me, told me what and where to fill out, and the application was submitted.
After returning to Ukraine, I had many meetings, everything was scheduled by the hour. I completely forgot about participating in the competition. Natalia Kravchenko, the head of the talent development and community direction at KSE Foundation, called, probably for a week, but I didn’t have the opportunity to pick up the phone. And then came an SMS message: “You won Talents for Ukraine! Please get in touch.” At that moment, I was both happy and very embarrassed.
After meeting Natalia and receiving the award, I made a post on social media announcing the release of my second book. Now, I had the necessary funds for publication. To publish my first book, ‘The Story of an (Un)known Journalist,’ I had to work additionally on the radio.
About Plans and Teaching Experience
As of now, I have decided to step away from all journalistic projects and am actively working on my own. It will be entirely online, based on music, and will have volunteer goals. The project’s aim is to support Ukrainian culture and assist the defenders.
Regarding volunteering, this topic is very close to my heart. I often participate in various fundraising projects.
One such project is ‘Musical Dream’ — collecting and delivering musical instruments to the de-occupied communities in the Kyiv region. For example, the occupiers completely destroyed all musical instruments in the Hostomel territorial community. Together with well-known actors and singers, we managed to gather a sufficient number of various instruments and hand them over to the village head.
Education is an important part of my life. I have been teaching for about three years. Initially, these were master classes at various universities, and now I officially work at the Aviation University, at the Department of International Journalism.
I recently conducted a master class at the Kyiv School of Economics, where the majority of students study business economics, law, and artificial intelligence. But regardless of the specialization, journalism is about communication, and one needs to understand this field as well. We don’t know who today’s student will become tomorrow: a founder or CEO of a company, a team lead, or a specialist in a narrow profile. However, this person must understand how to acquire truthful information and use it effectively.
About ‘Stories of the (Un)known Volunteer’
Currently, Ukrainian literature is actively developing. My first book, ‘Stories of the (Un)known Journalist,’ which featured 16 journalistic stories, was a great success.
In a time when Ukrainian culture has the attention of global media, we have a unique opportunity to spread our Ukrainian identity not only within Ukraine but also beyond its borders.
The second book will be titled ‘Stories of the (Un)known Volunteer.’ It begins with my journey to the front not as a soldier but as a journalist, passing through all the dangerous points. The book will include stories about encounters with my father near Horlivka, trips with artists to the military (the ‘Musical Front’ project), overseas travels, and the return to the normal life of a journalist and TV personality. The book will also present case studies on building a personal brand.
Natalia Kravchenko, Head of Talent Development and Community at KSE Foundation:
“For a year now, KSE Foundation has been implementing the ‘Talents for Ukraine’ grant program to recognize those who change the world every day. By selecting talents in various fields, from scientific and high-tech to traditional manufacturing and personal creativity, we have chosen more than 100 people.
Vladimir Biryukov – a journalist, fixer, volunteer, host, and educator. The stories of his life would be enough for several books, and his charisma is enough for the love and trust of people around the world!
You can get acquainted with other winners of the ‘Talents for Ukraine’ grant program here: All winners – KSE Charitable Foundation. Each of them is an expert who does more than expected, and in a way you wouldn’t expect, where others rarely dare. Each such person is worth your attention, and our task is to find and show them to you.