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The tiny Bay Area newspaper 'Hromada' links the West Coast and Ukraine

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

A tiny monthly Ukrainian-language newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area has become an important resource for Ukrainian immigrants there. It covers news from the home country and raises money for victims of the war. Chloe Veltman of member station KQED reports.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: Copies of the monthly newspaper Hromada can be found at around a dozen locations in Northern California. There's a pile on a small wooden table as you step into the Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic Church in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Ukrainian).

VELTMAN: Orest Balytsky moved to the U.S. from Ukraine in the early 1990s. Over coffee and pizza in the church basement after a recent Sunday service, the regular Hromada reader tells me the mainstream U.S. media has been too focused on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

OREST BALYTSKY: It's quite shocking and quite depressing, too.

VELTMAN: In contrast, he says, Hromada offers clear-eyed political analysis from trusted sources on the ground in Ukraine, like nationally renowned journalist and regular Hromada contributor Vitaly Plotnikov.

BALYTSKY: Like, when you listen to Portnikov, he analyzes a little bit different, so it's much more sober.

VELTMAN: Also attending this church is Lydia Stoykovych. She uses Hromada to keep up with news and local events through its monthly print run of a thousand copies, as well as its more frequently updated online and social media channels.

LYDIA STOYKOVYCH: Hromada helps unite, spread the message and give a voice to a lot of the people who are here.

VELTMAN: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California has around 60,000 Ukrainian immigrants, the second-largest population in the country after New York. Yet there are far fewer Ukrainian media outlets on the West Coast than there are on the East. Hromada not only covers the news, but it also promotes fundraisers and protests against Russian aggression.

Stoykovych says this effort has been crucial.

STOYKOVYCH: Having local activities, local events be publicized is critical and what people in California want - on the West Coast - want to hear because this is where we are. This is where we can take action. This is where we can help.

LESYA CASTILLO: Our priority is to unite community and to serve community.

VELTMAN: That's Lesya Castillo. Hromada’s co-founder and editor-in-chief, says she got the idea to start a Ukrainian-language newspaper not long after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and things started to destabilize in her home country.

CASTILLO: Our newspaper is something that I dreamed of starting because there was a need.

VELTMAN: It took Castillo a couple of years to pull together the necessary resources to start her publication with an all-volunteer team. Hromada has closely followed and reported on the events unfolding in Ukraine ever since. It has also sent several hundred thousand dollars in aid back home since launching in 2017. Yet Castillo says the Russian invasion in late February still shocked her.

CASTILLO: I couldn't imagine that Russia would start bombing Ukrainian citizens on such a large scale.

VELTMAN: The editor says she had just a few days to totally rethink the March edition.

Correspondent Karyna Nikitishyna quickly filed a brand-new story from her hometown of Kyiv.

KARYNA NIKITISHYNA: (Reading in Ukrainian).

VELTMAN: Here she is reading an excerpt from her March column in which she describes what it felt like when the windows of her home first started to shake as bombs exploded nearby.

NIKITISHYNA: (Reading in Ukrainian).

VELTMAN: Nikitishyna just turned 21. She tells me she spent hours trying to buy a birthday cake for herself in Kyiv's empty grocery stores. In the face of this turmoil, she says the work she does for her Hromada feels important.

NIKITISHYNA: To provide information for Ukrainian people overseas who are far away from their ancestral home and who need to know real news about what is going on in here.

VELTMAN: The newspaper's name, Hromada, means community, and it provides a way for people over here to stay connected during this difficult time.

For NPR News, I'm Chloe Veltman in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.