NARRATIVE: Extremist nationalists that make up Ukraine’s territorial defense forces will massacre civilians in Donbas.
BACKGROUND: After Russian rallied over 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, also deploying equipment and technology, Kiev decided to set up a new territorial defense structure, which will assist its traditional army forces. The Russian media reacted to the news of these forces being fitted with ordnance, spreading various false narratives about Ukraine’s war-mongering and carrying over older narratives according to which Kiev allegedly organized a genocide targeting the Russian-speaking population in Donbas, an action supported by the West.
Over the course of 2021, but also earlier this year, the pro-Kremlin media wrote about Ukraine’s plans to attack Donbass or Russia, making repeated accusations regarding the alleged Russophobia of Kiev and the West.
Veridica has examined a number of false narratives related to this topic. The Russian state media and the pro-Russian media in the self-proclaimed republics of DNR and LNR describe the developments in Donbass not as a conflict that is artificially fueled by Moscow in order to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence, but as a genocide organized by Ukraine and the West.
In order to spread fear towards Kiev in Eastern Ukraine, the pro-Kremlin media disseminated news about Ukrainian Nazism, which is a threat to Russia. The narratives in question have been recently debunked by Veridica.
PURPOSE: The purpose of these narratives is to describe the process of preparing the territorial defense of Ukraine not as a defensive action and a response to Russia’s threats, but as an initiative aimed at attacking the Russian-speaking population in Donbas.
WHY THE NARRATIVE IS FALSE: In fact, Ukraine’s territorial defense is a new element of national security which serves no offensive purpose. The territorial defense forces represent a reserve force of the Ukrainian army. A total of 25 such units were created, comprising 100,000 reservists and civilians. According to the Ukrainian Army, the purpose of these territorial defense units is to save precious time in case of an attack on a certain region or town until the professional military is sent to the area.
According to representatives of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, territorial defense is traditionally the remit of the Ministry of Defense, which makes the confessional or ideological beliefs of its members (nationalists, socialists, etc.) irrelevant. Considering their mission to push back the enemy attack until the professional army arrives, the arming of these troops poses no danger whatsoever to the Russian-speaking population of Donbas.
Semyon Pegov, the journalist who wrote about Ukraine’s planned “massacre” and who is quoted by pro-Kremlin media, runs a Telegram account with over 140 thousand subscribers. He is a close associate of leaders of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and is known to have spread numerous fake news in recent years. For instance, in April 2021, he wrote in the Russian media that Ukraine has hired mercenaries from Syria to organize a genocide against the population of Donbas. In August 2009, the Ukrainian state media wrote that one of the leaders of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, described Semyon Pegov as “a friend, colleague and brother.” Pegov was awarded the “Merit of the Fatherland” distinction from Russia for his accurate reporting on the 2014 events in Crimea. Pegov also did fieldwork in Belarus during the 2020 protests, writing about protesters who are purportedly on the West’s payroll.