Donetsk: If you`re channel hopping in the restive eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk these days you can still tune in to the usual soft rock and Russian ballads. Just keep an ear out for tank driver recruitment calls.
Welcome to Radio Republic -- the only official station of the self-proclaimed rebel Donetsk People`s Republic, coming at the war-torn region with a blend of patriotic jingles and political diatribes to keep listeners tuned in.
Run from a makeshift studio inside the rebel`s heavily-fortified headquarters, the station -- along with a TV channel seized by the pro-Moscow insurgents -- is used by separatist leaders to promote their views and recruit fighters.
The rebels` black, blue and red flag hangs on the studio wall as the main presenter Georgy recites the latest advice and exhortations to listeners.
Next up is a recruitment ad: "Miners, take up arms and defend your land -- tomorrow will be too late," it says to rousing music.
Georgy asked that his surname not be reported and his face not to be photographed due to the illegal nature of the operation.
Bespectacled and bedecked in jeans and sneakers, his outfit is a change from the gun-toting, camouflage-clad rebel fighters roaming the region.
"I`ve made my choice. I don`t stand at checkpoints with a gun but I don`t rule it out. I am better at this than I am at shooting," Georgy said. A former DJ on a commercial music station, Georgy joined the newly-formed outlet in April after manning barricades outside rebel headquarters.
The station airs on two FM frequencies and also streams online.
The pirate station uses a satellite link to rebroadcast a Russian state talk channel Vesti FM, which it then interrupts with its own jingles, news and discussion shows.
"We`re just terrorists and separatists and I don`t know how many criminal charges there are for our activities," Georgy said.
He was referring to Kiev`s view of the separatist rebels, who held self-rule referendums in May in the restive eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions that were denounced by the West and Ukraine`s new leadership as illegal.
Fighting between the two sides since early April has killed at least 365 civilians and fighters, prompting fears of civil war on the EU`s doorstep.
Georgy said the pirate radio does not have permission to use Vesti FM`s content, though it is hard to see why Russia would object to a station broadcasting its message in eastern Ukraine.
In Donetsk the rebels have systematically taken over or closed down independent and pro-Kiev outlets. The handful of stations still on air mostly play inoffensive pop music.
Radio Republic`s urgent tone is in marked contrast, but Georgy denied it was scaremongering.
"It`s my voice, I wrote the text. It`s the truth. I`m not lying to my listeners," he said.
Next to the studio`s door are two iron bars for protection and a glass-fronted cupboard containing five gas masks.
All 10 staff working in the rudimentary soundproof studio are unpaid volunteers, Georgy said. The station is not the rebel republic`s only media mouthpiece.
Downstairs in the headquarters, supporters pull up chairs around a television showing the Kremlin`s Rossiya 24 rolling news channel -- with the addition of the Donetsk republic`s logo in the top left corner.
The channel -- once Ukrainian public TV -- broadcasts around 30 minutes of its own content each hour, with the rest coming from Rossiya 24, said the producer, who gave his name only as Alexei.
While it doesn`t have official permission to use Rossiya 24 content, the Donetsk rebel channel has "unspoken agreements" on sharing information and footage with Russian TV correspondents in the region, Alexei said.
"In an unrecognised republic, it`s a matter of shared trust and mutual help," he added.
The channel is based at the city`s TV centre, which doubles as a barracks and training centre for rebel fighters.
A much larger operation than its radio counterpart, the channel has around 75 staff -- most former Ukrainian TV employees.
The rebel leadership "asked us to form a new channel," Alexei said.
"At the moment, the main thing is to tell people the truth and show them that their opinion, their choice is very important. This is war, real war."
Rolling text along the bottom of the screen tells viewers to call a helpline to report "looting, kidnappings, terrorism and provocations".
Another ad simply states: "Urgently needed: drivers of light and medium tanks."
The screen then switches to a slick, emotive promotion for the separatist movement.
"Your country is dying... are you an ungrateful brute or someone who can change the world?" it asks.