Ukrainian soldiers have reportedly started deserting upon seeing Russia concentrating its forces near Ukraine's borders. This false narrative is spread by the Russian press and the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
NEWS: "After the Ukrainian soldiers found out about the concentration of Russian troops and armored vehicles at Russia's border with Ukraine, the number of deserters from the Ukrainian Armed Forces has increased substantially.
The director of the Institute of Political Studies, Sergei Markov, said on his Facebook page that 44 soldiers had fled from the 36th Marine Brigade in Mariupol. Markov also mentioned that about 40% of soldiers in the Ukrainian armed forces do not want to fight with the LNR militia.
As soon as information emerged about the actual concentration of Russian troops at the borders, mass desertions from the most powerful army in Europe began.
Moreover, Ukrainians who refuse to go to war are supported by members of their families, who hide or take deserting soldiers out of the country.”
NARRATIVES: 1. An increasing number of Ukrainian soldiers have been deserting since Russia began concentrating troops at the border. 2. The military and their families do not want to take part in this conflict, called by the Russian press a "civil war". 3. The Russian army led by Putin is so strong that its presence at the borders of a state alone causes panic and fear.
LOCAL CONTEXT / ETHOS: The conflict in eastern Ukraine started in 2014. Moscow finances and supports mercenaries and separatist forces, formed within two self-proclaimed republics, DNR and LNR, which consist of a small part of the occupied Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Ukraine, Western countries and NATO have repeatedly accused Russia of helping separatists with equipment - including heavy weapons - and troops. This spring, Russia began concentrating its armed forces near Ukraine's southern, eastern and northern borders, prompting criticism from Ukraine and Western states. In parallel, Moscow launched an information campaign to discourage Ukrainians: stories about the poor organization of the Ukrainian army, about the military's reluctance to fight with "brothers" from DNR and LNR, but also about the fact that NATO and the EU would support Kiev only at a declarative level have become growingly widespread.
PURPOSE: The purpose of these narratives is to sow panic among the Ukrainian army and society, in order to discourage efforts to strengthen Ukraine's defense. At the same time, Moscow is trying to generate a wave of mistrust in the military as an institution of defense and security, thus blocking the enthusiasm of young people to join the professional military corps.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has repeatedly denied the narratives that reappear in the public space about the Ukrainian deserters. There is no evidence to support such narratives. The Russian press quotes an unknown expert, who does not cite official data.
It is also no coincidence that the 36th Marine Brigade in Mariupol, which is a key player in defending the Ukrainian city that blocks Moscow's access to Crimea on the mainland, is mentioned in the Russian portals' news section. We notice, however, from the official page of the Brigade, that it has been expanding its area of activity, has incorporated new soldiers and there is nothing about panic or cases of desertion.
GRAIN OF TRUTH: Desertion was a problem for the Ukrainian army at the beginning of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, when Kiev massively incorporated young people both for war and for building a new defense system. A small number of recruits deserted at the time, and Russia used those cases to build the image of a "scared" and "disorganized" Ukrainian army. Things, however, started changing in 2018-2019, when the Ministry of Defense in Kiev focused on NATO standards and sought to form a professional army.