Ukraine’s win against Russia’s information war
Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been marked by the Kremlin deploying various propaganda narratives, ranging from claims of "liberation" to accusations of "Nazis," disseminated through traditional media and the vast digital space. Despite the onslaught of false narratives, Ukrainian media and its people have steadfastly resisted the tide of Russian government propaganda.
In response to the challenges presented by the propaganda, Ukrainian media professionals have risen to the occasion, sometimes even onto the front lines to confront the Russian government's efforts. Their mission is rooted in the profound journalistic commitment to illuminate truth for Ukrainians and the global audience, recognizing that Ukraine's very sovereignty hangs in the balance.
Manipulative information spread by the Russian government is a formidable opponent and has multiplied since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Social media networks, a main source of official Russian propaganda, are also the primary source of news for 70 percent of Ukrainians. Kremlin propaganda aims not only to demoralize Ukrainians, but also to undermine their trust in Ukraine’s government.
The toll of the war on Ukrainian journalists has also been staggering. The Institute of Mass Information in Ukraine has reported that "Russia has killed 66 journalists since February 24, 2022. Ten lost their lives while actively reporting, while 56 perished as combatants or fell victim to Russian shelling and torture." Despite this environment, Ukrainian journalists put their lives on the line to shed light on Russian armed forces’ war crimes.
Ukrainian journalists face numerous obstacles, from electricity blackouts to the complicated task of verifying information. Telegram channels have emerged as pathways of misleading narratives, and countless cyberattacks have only heightened their difficulties.
In 2022 alone, the Institute of Mass Information documented a staggering 567 violations of press freedom within Ukraine, with 470 of these attributed to Russian soldiers. These actions included the killing, kidnapping, and targeting of journalists, the destruction of TV towers, attacks on newsrooms, the commission of cybercrimes, the disruption of Ukrainian broadcasting, and the appropriation of media brands to propagate Russian propaganda.
Among the Ukrainian populace, those equipped with internet access and smartphones have emerged as essential documentarians. They've been capturing protests in occupied cities, exposing war crimes committed by the occupiers, and offering glimpses of Russian weaponry being transported away by tractors.
VIBE 2023 shows Ukraine's resiliency
IREX’s annual VIBE 2023 publication, funded by USAID, reveals that Ukraine’s media literacy efforts have also increased, and citizen knowledge of media literacy has skyrocketed. Multiple initiatives from the government, media outlets, and civil society have contributed to a more resilient information-consuming public.
VIBE 2023 also shows that civil society in Ukraine are taking a key part in strengthening Ukrainians’ knowledge of information consumption. Programs that inoculate the public against manipulative information like IREX’s Learn to Discern initiatives are critical in continuing information resilience. Fact-checking networks, including StopFake and VoxCheck, are well-known among Ukrainians: a third indicated they have used a fact-checking resource.
These programs are key not only to public resilience, but to broader security in the region. The ability to recognize manipulative information serves to delegitimize it as a tactic, and to strengthen Ukrainian trust in both local journalists and government.
Despite formidable challenges, Ukrainian media has played a pivotal role in the ongoing battles. The awareness of Kremlin propaganda's narratives and methods has surged, making it one of the most extensively covered topics by Ukrainian media. In this continuing struggle, Ukrainian journalists remain unwavering, their commitment to truth and the defense of their nation showcasing the resilience of a people fighting to protect their sovereignty.