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The Russian independent media about war crimes and how the regime’s lies are spread in international courts, history books and schools of journalism

Armed pro-Russian militants pass next to the wreckage of a Boeing 777 plane of Malaysia Arilines flight MH17 which crashed the day before while flying over the eastern Ukraine region near Donetsk, Ukraine, 18 July 2014.
©EPA-EFE/ANASTASIA VLASOVA  |   Armed pro-Russian militants pass next to the wreckage of a Boeing 777 plane of Malaysia Arilines flight MH17 which crashed the day before while flying over the eastern Ukraine region near Donetsk, Ukraine, 18 July 2014.

Russia's independent media continues to report on the war in Ukraine, even though authorities’ pressure grows harder by the day, as we can see from the recent arrest of the well-known journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who faces up to 10 years in prison. Novaya Gazeta journalists who were forced to leave Russia have established a new publication: Novaya Gazeta Evropa. This week, Veridica has selected stories about how war lies are fabricated, how the words Ukraine and Kyiv have been removed from textbooks, and what journalism students are learning in the country's new political context.

INSIDER: “They were ordered to shoot at anything that moves”.  Irpen refugees recount how Russian soldiers fired at their car convoy

Mass executions of civilians in the suburbs of Kiev are gradually being revealed and documented for the ensuing investigations and prosecution of the guilty. One of the episodes of the tragedy: the attack on a convoy of twelve cars that were trying to get out of Irpen.  The INSIDER  spoke to the survivors.

“On March 6, at eight o'clock in the morning, my family and I, eight people in total, were trying to leave the city of Irpen via Stoyanca (a village on the outskirts of the city on the way to Kyiv) and Russian soldiers fired at us”,  said 29 year-old Ludmila Kunitskaia, a math teacher at a technical college. “There were twelve cars carrying us and our neighbors. Our family was driving in three cars. The first five vehicles were completely destroyed. We didn’t know there was a Russian post there”.

“It was terrible in Irpen. They were bombarding all the time”, Ludmila went on saying. “Until March 6, we found refuge in an underground parking lot. But it became unbearable, so, together with our neighbors, we decided to leave. I thought we would be safer”. The convoy of cars was moving slowly toward Kyiv, Ludmila was in the fourth car with her husband Alexei, her  mother and her husband’s relatives Elena Dovjenko, aged 20, and Veaceslav Gudimov, 22. In the third car was neighbor Iulia Poleaniciko, 34, neighbor Dmitri Mironenko, 35, in the back Ludmila's husband's brother, Artiom Ogloblea, 28, and his wife Tatiana, 32. The second car was driven by neighbor Sergei Poleaniciko, and next to him was Ludmila's mother-in-law, Olga Ceaika, 58, and in the back were Sergei's daughter and her girlfriend, both 10 years old. Neighbor  Artiom Potkopaev, 32, along with Artiom's wife, Cristina, with a one-and-a-half- Alexandr Zarea, 30, was driving the first car, where there were also 32 year old Artiom Potkipaev, his wife Cristina and their one and a half year-old child.  In the village of Stoyanka, where there had been no Russians the day before, they ran into a Russian post.

“The Russians started firing without any warning, and threw a grenade under the first car”, Liudmila recalls. “Artiom’s mom died immediately. The bullet hit her straight in the heart. Artiom, who was in the third car, was wounded in the hand, and another bullet hit him in the eye. Then they fired a grenade launcher at the third car, killing Julia, who was behind the wheel.  I was in the fourth car with my husband, my mother was behind me, the bullet hit her in the neck. My mother died in two seconds. Streams of blood were flowing from her throat. The bullet had ruptured an artery. I was trying to get her scarf to cover the wound, but it was too late. She was dying, and I was watching her and there was nothing I could do. Then the Russians shouted: Get out of the car, lie down! Hand over your phones!”

Alexander and Artiom, who were in the first car, died instantly. Ludmila's mother-in-law died in the second car. Iulia died in the third car. Due to the explosion, she got hit by shrapnel. Sitting next to her, Dmitri was seriously injured in the head, chest, abdomen and hand. Ludmila Alexei's husband broke his ribs against the steering wheel…

Sergei Poleaniciko could not believe that his wife Julia was dead. The soldiers allowed him to examine the body, and Sergei became hysterical. He and his family had come to Irpen from the Lugansk region in 2014 when the war began. He shouted at the soldiers: “Stop saving us. We ran away from home once. And you have come to save us again1”. The soldiers aimed their machine guns at him…

“I asked the soldiers why they’d fired at us”, says Tatiana. One replied that they were ordered to shoot at everything that moved and was a danger. But we were going very slowly. KIDS signs were on all cars.”


To hide the crimes committed in the war in Ukraine Russia uses the same methods it used 8 years ago. NOVAYA GAZETA explains this phenomenon using the example of the downing of the Malaysian Boeing.

In the middle of the war, the Hague tribunal has continued the trial in the case of flight MH17 with stoic scrupulousness, respecting the procedures. The Boeing was shot down on July 17, 2014 in Donbass, killing 298 people. During the March 7-30 hearings, the defense tried to challenge the investigators' and prosecutors’ findings. On May 16, prosecutors will restart responding to appeals. In retrospect, this is merely about refuting the endless lies coming from the Russian authorities.

Resorting to lies is not even what in their environment is called a “military ploy”, because it is not directed against a potential adversary, but against their own people, which have no other sources of information. Also to discipline their own camp, to make sure they do not interpret things on their own, that they just learn what they are taught, and repeat the strictly approved clichés, and all the right “labels”. Lying is a code to differentiate between “our people” and “strangers”.    

In this context, labels such as “Nazis”, “fascists”, “genocide” have been systematically introduced into the minds of the people, as another component of the official state lie. A cultured person would just check Wikipedia and see what these concepts are about and decide which socio-political system they refer to.

“They are lying, we know they are lying, and they know we know they are lying”, said in the Russian-speaking court Ria van der Stein, who lost her father and stepmother in the disaster, referring to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. She added that “lying and fake information are common tactics in this game of cat and mouse in which we want to reveal the truth.” […]


After the catastrophe, several versions were released from Moscow that excluded “our people” from the list of suspects. Ukraine was to blame for all the evil.

The materials made public in the courts show clearly that, although the high-ranking officials in Moscow know why the Boeing crashed, they chose to vehemently deny Russia’s involvement. What did they count on? Maybe they were hoping that the truth would be lost in the flow of fake versions, and foreign investigators would not reach it. Or they just didn’t care what the outside world would say about it”.  

As soon as the fake became obvious, they would amend the false version, and when that didn't help either, the TV presenters would pretend to have forgotten about it, as if it didn't even exist, and would launch another, equally fake one. Unscrupulously. They used not only government-endorsed propaganda media, but also established research institutes and consortiums.

How things stand in terms of lying at state level is shown by the very profile of those under trial, which an international investigation would later identify as direct participants and organizers of the delivery of Russian BUK to Donetsk and then back to Russia. Three out of four are Russian professional military, citizens of Russia. So, what about the “internal conflict and “the people’s militias” in DPR and LPR that we were told insistently about for eight years, until the start of the “special operation”? […]

MEDIAZONA: “We have a task to make it look as if Ukraine didn’t exist” References to Kyiv and Ukraine are removed from the textbooks published by Prosveshcheniye.

On February 24, Vladimir Putin announced the start of the “special operation” and the Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Immediately afterwards, the staff of Prosveshcheniye, one of the biggest and oldest publishers of textbooks and pedagogical literature in the country, were urged to remove the “incorrect” references about Ukraine and Kyiv from all textbooks.

MEDIAZONA talked to the editors of the publishing house about “cleansing” history, geography. […]

There is no Kievan Rus’

On the very first day of the war, February 24, the Prosveshcheniye editors were orally instructed to reduce to the minimum the use of the words Ukraine and Kyiv. But the “cleansing” of textbooks from references to Ukraine and Kiev had been going on for some quite time already, according to those interviewed by MEDIAZONA. After 2014, the authors of the textbooks and the editors tried to mention Ukraine as little and as carefully as possible. Even so, after the cleansing that had been going on for years, starting February 24 they had to “correct 15% of the texts”.

So, in the paragraphs where there were examples of heraldry from various states, including flags, a few years ago they were told to remove the Ukrainian flag and replace it with the flag of any other state. If in one chapter there is an example of capital, Kyiv must be eplaced by another name. “A few times I took out the US flag, but it was easier, the curricula program does not reflect much of world history”, says one of the employees of the publishing house. Currently, editors must remove references to Ukraine from wherever possible.

“We have the task to make it look as if Ukraine didn’t exist”, his colleague says. It is much worse when a textbook does not talk about a particular country at all. Thus, people with no basic knowledge about a state believe more easily what they are told on television.

The most difficult thing for those who write history textbooks is that removing the terms Ukraine and Kyiv without prejudicing the content is practically impossible. One needs to change the wording with a “safer” one.

“If possible, it is better not to mention Ukraine at all. Kyiv is now presented in the chapter in which it was the capital of Kievan Rus’ and where it says that we liberated it”, the editor says. According to him, the context is important: “We can mention that we liberated Kyiv, but talking about Ukraine’s independence as a country is no longer allowed.”

“We only say once that Kievan Rus’ was established, and then we just call it Rus’, there is no Kievan Rus’; and Kyiv, its capital”, one of the editors explains. “Strange as it may seem, we have to replace the phrase “Vladimir Christianized Kiev” with “he Christianized the capital”.  […]

A textbook is updated every five years, according to the publishing house's business plan, but after 2014 controls have been carried out much more often. “It is understandable that history textbooks and social sciences are most affected by political opportunism in terms of censorship, the pendulum has shifted and textbooks have been immediately corrected”, says one the MEDIAZONA sources. “After the annexation of Crimea, information about Crimea was also urgently introduced everywhere”, said a former employee of the publishing house, who remained anonymous. […]

ISTORIES: Who and what teaches students at Russia's top three journalism faculties

Journalism students told  ISTORIES how independent media teachers have been replaced by pro-power journalists. Currently, students are sent to do their internship in the state media - RT, TASS, the State Television and Broadcasting Company, or are urged to leave the field of journalism. During classes, teachers are afraid to talk about war, and those who do support the Russian aggression. They don't talk about censorship or the massive silencing of independent publications and advise students not to write their graduation theses about “foreign agents” or the “extremist” Facebook and Instagram. Students bitterly say they came to college to do honest journalism and learn from professionals, not propagandists.

A fourth-year student at St. Petersburg State University School of Journalism: “After the start of the war, the professor of investigative journalism told students to identify and combat myths in Ukrainian history. He did not overtly express his position on the war, but, for example, regarding the closure of Novaya Gazeta, he said “it had to be done”.  He seemed to enjoy it a little.

Another teacher, a former military man, is now unleashed. He advises us to watch “Besogon” (Nikita Mikhalkov's propaganda program), to listen to Putin and Lavrov's speeches. He says directly that there is a war and truly believes that there are Nazis in Ukraine”.

A 4th year student at the Higher School of Economics: “In recent years, the membership of the teaching staff has changed a lot in favor of the pro-power ones. When I came, in 2018, it was a completely different faculty. […] There are also propagandists among professors. For example, the course “New media production” is now taught by an editorialist from RT and Komsomolskaya Pravda. The word “war” in class is replaced by “the current situation” and he tells us to carry out projects that ridicule the sanctions or show how the West is trying to make us miserable and make our lives bad. He invites journalists from Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Presidential Grants Fund, who also tell us how they want to destroy us through sanctions. Some professors write editorials or collaborate with RT. For example, political journalism is taught by Alexei Nicolov (CEO of RT), and his lessons are just propaganda rubbish like “if they wanted to poison Navalny, they would have”.

With the exception of one professor, no one has spoken to us about the professional code of conduct. We’ve had no discussion about what is going on in the media and what we are going to do next. Since the beginning of the war, with the destruction of the Russian media and the introduction of censorship, professors have not changed their attitude and say that they do not want to discuss it now, that we understand anyway, and they will not say anything because they want to keep living their lives”. […]

A 2nd year student at the ESS Media Communication Faculty: “In the first year, a rather strange woman taught us history: she claimed that Ukraine was Russia, and Stalin was not so bad. But such rhetoric is an exception for ESS. The rector has recently been replaced, but I cannot say that this has affected the professors.

The problem is fear.  Teachers can't joke or express their opinion because they are afraid. They tell us: “You understand what is going on”.  And we do understand. I guess they're afraid of being reported. Sometimes, however, they allow themselves to talk, make jokes or roll their eyes”.


Tags: Ukraine , Russia , War in Ukraine , propaganda
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