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Connecting cultures: Slavic Family media group bridges Russian, American communities

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Slavic Family's messages are shared via radio, newspapers and websites


OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Slavic Family broadcaster Andrey Nekrasov and his Russian-language radio program reach tens of thousands of east Multnomah County residents. Prior to emigrating to the United States, Nekrasov was a popular radio figure in his native Moscow. Six years ago, Businessman Nick Pechenik decided to undertake a venture to help immigrants from the Slavic community — comprising people from the former Soviet Union who share common languages and cultures — transition into living in the United States.

It is a difficult process he experienced firsthand after, as a 16-year-old, moving to the country from Kazakhstan.

“A few years ago there was a huge gap between the Russian speaking and American communities,” Pechenik said. “I wanted to pass the message that there are so many opportunities here.”

So he started Slavic Family, a nonprofit media group that connects the Slavic community across Oregon and Washington. His first move was purchasing a magazine in 2010. At the time the publication was paper and low quality, but it helped bring local news and resources to a group that at times is isolated because of the language and cultural barrier.

Since those early days Slavic Family has expanded, adding a newspaper, multiple websites, radio station and YouTube channel. It is still growing, with a second radio station coming and plans to establish a television channel. Despite the growth, the mission remains the same — to get people involved in the community, share stories and solve problems.

“We have had a very good success rate showing the community we don’t have to be separated or isolated,” Pechenik said. “With all the tools we have, there is a good platform for sharing values and showing everything we have in common with each other.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Slavic Family founder Nick Pechenik started the Russian-language media outlet six years ago with a magazine. It has since expanded to include a newspaper, radio broadcasts, television shows and more. More than a news outlet

A survey conducted in 2010 showed there were 75,000 Russian speakers living within the Portland area, and Slavic Family said those numbers have grown considerably, perhaps numbering 150,000 now. Because many who immigrate to the country were from small towns and didn’t speak English, it was difficult for them to find jobs. The idea was to connect them with services and employment opportunities through the various media at Slavic Family’s disposal.

The newspapers and magazines are distributed in grocery stores and libraries, filled with articles written by local journalists and freelancers. The focus is on sharing stories that will interest their readers. So far, the most effective outlet for fostering support has been radio station KXET AM 1130, with programs recorded, edited, and produced out of its studio at 17235 S.E. Division St. People will call in and share their skills and work experience. Employers then either reach out and offer them a job, or the station will help connect callers with potential opportunities.

“We are different from other groups because we don’t wait for people to come to us,” said Timur Holove, general manager. “We produce programs so people can see them and better their lives.”

Slavic Family goes beyond a normal news outlet, forming a cultural center within the Slavic community where people can come together and find support. The organization is always helping at community events, and every year it gathers toys to distribute to low income families during the holidays.

“We don’t want people to forget their roots,” Holove said.

While teaching English is a focus, it works both ways. They hope generations born in the U.S., or others looking to pick up a new language, will learn Russian or Ukrainian while watching and reading their content. They publish articles and videos in several languages so everyone can access them.

“We don’t talk about what divides us,” said journalist Taras Omelchenko. “We talk about humans.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Slavic Family Creative Director Timur Holove and broadcaster Andrey Nekrasov discuss an upcoming program. Reach beyond the region

Slavic Family’s media goes beyond just Oregon and Washington. On its radio shows, which are filmed and distributed online via YouTube, it is common to have interactions with consumers from across the country and around the world. That is how Olga Sherbakova, marketing coordinator, first learned about the organization while living and working in public relations in Moscow, Russia. She discovered the videos and started watching.

After moving to the United States a year ago, she sought out the group, and through her persistence was able to convince them to let her host several programs — first as a volunteer and finally as a fulltime employee.

One of her most popular shows is one where she learns English alongside her listeners.

“I love working here,” Sherbakova said via a translator. “We are here to unite the community and give opportunities to assimilate, grow and be good citizens.”

Another big get for Slavic Family was Russian Language Broadcaster Andrey Nekrasov, who had an extensive radio career back in Russia. He worked for the No. 1 radio station, Echo of Moscow, which reaches about 1.8 million listeners. It was the first independent radio station in Russia, first airing in 1990.

“He is huge on news — local and national,” Pechenik said. “He was very sought after.”

Many special guests are invited for interviews through the various outlets Slavic Family has. Yelena Girich with DALY Communications, teaches basic English skills; Polina Perju, with Mercy Crop, runs business programs; Ramzan Magamedov talks about financial stability and Tatyana Bondarchuk has a crime victim advocacy program. Representatives from the city of Gresham, Gresham Police Department and other local businesses and groups also regularly appear — with translators helping the audience understand.

“Sometimes we have guests from Ukraine and Russia talk on our shows,” Sherbakova said.

The most recent project was to get more members of the Slavic community to vote in the election. With support from Multnomah County Elections Division, they showed people how to register and fill out ballots. Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler even stopped by for an interview.

“Maybe we had an impact on the election and helped him win,” Holove said.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Slavic Family radio broadcaster Andrey Nekrasov formerly was a popular radio figure in Russia, where he worked for Echo of Moscow, the country's first independent radio station following the fall of communist rule. Project of passion

With the success of their AM station, the finishing touches are being put on a second radio station. The fledgling station, set for 100.7 FM, will be low powered for a small coverage area while still serving as a dynamic community focal point.

“I call it neighborhood radio,” Holove said.

In addition, plans are in place to add a dedicated television station. The equipment and ability is there, but Slavic Family still has to work out the details.

Being a nonprofit means keeping things going financially can be difficult, and a lot of support comes from sponsors and advertising. But without the investment and backing of Pechenik, none of it would be possible.

“Nick is a great man,” Holove said. “He supports all of this out of passion. He sees there is a need, and he makes sure it is there for everybody.”

While the focus will always be on the Slavic community, the group also wants to reach out to other communities. It has been seeing more interest from the English speakers and tries to make everything accessible to everyone.

“Our community is divided by many different things,” Pechenik said. “We try to be in the middle and create good content.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Marketing coordinator Olga Sherbakova learned about the Slavic Family through YouTube while still living in Russia. She moved to the United States a year ago and volunteered for the company before being hired full-time.

Meet the staff

The full-time employees of Slavic Family are able to relate to their audience because they too dealt with immigrating to a new country. The staff represents a diverse mix of individuals from different cities and countries.

• Nick Pechenik, owner, from Kazakhstan

• Timur Holove, general manager, from Tajikistan

• Andrey Nekrasov, Russian language broadcaster, from Moscow, Russia

• Olga Sherbakova, marketing coordinator, from Krasnodar, Russia

• Taras Omelchenko, journalist, from Kiev, Ukraine