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War in Ukraine: how Kyiv is turning messages and symbols of Russian propaganda against Moscow. Where do Ukrainians get their information?

A member of the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine stands inside the damaged Kharkiv regional administration building in the aftermath of a shelling in downtown Kharkiv, Ukraine, 01 March 2022.
©EPA-EFE/SERGEY KOZLOV  |   A member of the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine stands inside the damaged Kharkiv regional administration building in the aftermath of a shelling in downtown Kharkiv, Ukraine, 01 March 2022.
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The media and social media users in Ukraine have mobilized in order to encourage the population to resist and spread information about the war from Kyiv’s perspective as much as possible, including in Russia. It is interesting to note how Ukrainians have intercepted messages and symbols used by the Kremlin’s propaganda, including in the information war against Ukraine.

The Great Patriotic War v.2

Some media outlets in Kyiv have started naming Ukraine’s defensive actions the Great Patriotic War. The narrative seems to be rather an independent initiative of the media, and for the time being was not used in any official statements. The “Obozrevatel” agency in Kyiv is monitoring Russia’s losses  in the Great Patriotic War of Ukraine against the Russian Federation on a daily basis. The publication replaced the Soviet concept of the “Great Patriotic War” (The Eastern front in World War II, from June 1941 until May 1945) with a different meaning – Ukrainians’ resistance to Russia’s acts of aggression. In fact, a few years ago, Kyiv stopped referring to the Second World War as a one where people rallied to defend the Russian motherland, which greatly irked Moscow. The Russian Federation has repeatedly accused Ukraine of disseminating “Nazi” rhetoric.

In the collective mindset, particularly in eastern and southern Ukraine, emotional connections to historical memory about the anti-Nazi war that killed millions of people are very much alive. Some news agencies in Ukraine have tries to channel these historical feelings into a favorable political direction for Kyiv, turning them into symbols of resistance (in defense of Ukraine, not the USSR) against the enemy (Russia, not Nazi Germany).

The Great Patriotic War played an extremely important role in Soviet historiography and collective consciousness. The War also holds pride of place in Putin’s Russia, which is using it in its efforts to embellish history, including, among other things, denying the USSR’s role as an aggressor during World War II, when it invaded Poland alongside Nazi Germany, annexed Romanian territories and the Baltic states and attacked Finland. All that happened before Hitler violated the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and invaded the USSR, the moment that marks the start of the Great Patriotic War, another idealized milestone in Russian historiography.

Historical comparisons – Russia-Germany, Kyiv-London

The day Russia launched the invasion in Ukraine, president Volodymyr Zelensky compared the Russian Federation with Nazi Germany, and Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine was compared to Berlin’s aggression against Poland in 1939. Zelensky said “Russia attacked us in a brutal and suicidal manner at dawn, just like fascist Germany did in the Second World War”. The official narrative was “borrowed” by a number of media outlets and TV stations in Ukraine, including local newspapers, some headlines reading “fascist Russia said it would attack SBU technology objectives”. By means of such narratives, Kyiv is trying to redirect towards Russia the anti-Nazi and anti-German sentiment in the east and the south. Moreover, the Ukrainian media has compared the defense of Kyiv with the defense of London during World War II. Kyiv is compared to a citadel under siege just as London was raided and bombed during World War II. These rhetorical transformations serve a defensive purpose, representing a strong response to Russia’s widespread information attack against Ukraine and to the wave of disinformation regarding Kyiv’s “neonazism” and the need to “denazify” Ukrainian society.

The media landscape in Ukraine during the war

In the first days of the war, Ukrainians were urged to follow the official websites of the authorities in order not to be misled by Russian propaganda. By the time the invasion started the website of the “Ukrinform” national press agency was attacked, as well as other official websites. For a number of years now Ukraine has banned Russian government news agencies and Moscow-linked TV stations. For this reason, the national media sector has been secured for a while, but during the war access to reliable information became a problem. Large news agencies such as “Ukrainska Pravda” (The Ukrainian Truth), “Unian”, “Censor.net” and others continued their activity as usual. The Public Audiovisual Authority (UA:Suspilne) continued to inform citizens regarding the situation on the ground, a useful and simple means of information being the radio.

It was no accident that Russia bombed a radio and TV tower in Kyiv in order to prevent Ukrainians from accessing official information. An action of support for Ukraine’s efforts to extend public access to information came from Bucharest, where Radio Romania aired live a broadcast of the Ukrainian public radio with a view to informing Ukrainians abroad about Russia’s acts of aggression, but also to convey information to Ukrainian speakers on Romanian territory.

Social media – a platform for breaking Russia’s information blockade

An important source of information is the Ukrainian president’s Facebook account, but also the page of the Ministry of Defense in Kyiv. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Telegram accounts enjoy great popularity in Ukraine, broadcasting information to the population using mobile devices. One such account is “Tvoia Bukovyna” (Your Bukovina), coordinated by the Chernivsti Oblast. Some 40,000 followers of this Telegram account are being sent every day information about developments in the region, on the frontline, but also in the city of Chernivsti. This account is also used to keep citizens informed about air raids and the need to retreat to bomb shelters. A mobile app was also launched in Ukraine in order to inform the population when the air raid sirens go off. Kyiv has also taken a series of measures to maintain contact with the citizens, from the conventional radio to applications designed for mobile devices.

Social media in Ukraine is flooded with anti-Putin and anti-Russia messages. One of the objectives that numerous citizens have rallied to is to spread Ukraine’s messages about the war as much as possible, including in Russia, where the authorities have restricted access to information, delivering an embellished reality to the public, claiming Russia is merely carrying out a special operation in Donbas, not a large-scale invasion of another country. These efforts also target famous Ukrainians settled in Russia, such as athletes, artists and journalists. Their followers in Ukraine have called on them to deliver messages to their fans and followers on Instagram to let them know Putin is responsible for the genocide targeting the Ukrainian people. Anyone refraining to comment becomes the target of vehement and even offensive criticism.

Tags: Ukraine , Russia , Ukraine crisis , War in Ukraine
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  • Some media outlets in Kyiv have started naming Ukraine’s defensive actions the Great Patriotic War. The narrative seems to be rather an independent initiative of the media, and for the time being was not used in any official statements. In the collective mindset, particularly in eastern and southern Ukraine, emotional connections to historical memory about the anti-Nazi war that killed millions of people are very much alive. Some news agencies in Ukraine have tries to channel these historical feelings into a favorable political direction for Kyiv, turning them into symbols of resistance (in defense of Ukraine, not the USSR) against the enemy (Russia, not Nazi Germany).
  • The day Russia launched the invasion in Ukraine, president Volodymyr Zelensky compared the Russian Federation with Nazi Germany, and Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine was compared to Berlin’s aggression against Poland in 1939. Zelensky said “Russia attacked us in a brutal and suicidal manner at dawn, just like fascist Germany did in the Second World War”.
  • Social media in Ukraine is flooded with anti-Putin and anti-Russia messages. One of the objectives that numerous citizens have rallied to is to spread Ukraine’s messages about the war as much as possible, including in Russia, where the authorities have restricted access to information, delivering an embellished reality to the public, claiming Russia is merely carrying out a special operation in Donbas, not a large-scale invasion of another country. These efforts also target famous Ukrainians settled in Russia, such as athletes, artists and journalists. Their followers in Ukraine have called on them to deliver messages to their fans and followers on Instagram to let them know Putin is responsible for the genocide targeting the Ukrainian people.
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