I’m tired of hearing Russian propaganda repeated in the West
Vladyslav Golovin is a Ukrainian journalist and the former deputy chief editor for Forbes Ukraine in Kyiv.
With regular shelling and constant threats, my work as a journalist in Ukraine seems to involve never-ending stress. There is little good news, with the exception of the strong resistance of our army and support from abroad. But the latter is not as strong as it seemed to be during the beginning of the Russian invasion.
From time to time, readers in the EU and other countries supporting Ukraine repeat Russian propaganda. I got used to ignoring such messages from my contacts in Russia, but to hear them from the West feels like a knife in the back. So here is my attempt to clarify what is media manipulation and what is true.
Russia has justified its invasion by saying the Ukraine army includes neo-Nazis and radical nationalism is a very strong sentiment in Ukraine. This idea was first pushed by Russian media during the 2014 Maidan uprising, when a small far-right party Right Sector was active for some time. Russian TV depicted members of that party as some of the main drivers of street protests and the political movement, with large support among Ukrainians.
But that large support really only existed in the minds of editors of Russian media. Except for party leader Dmytro Yarosh, who once held a parliamentary seat, the Right Sector party hasn’t had much electoral success. Mr. Yarosh, who was extremely high profile in Russian media, only got 0.7 per cent of the vote in the 2014 presidential campaign. There are far-right extremists in Ukraine, as there are in other democracies, but they are very few. And, of course, Ukraine elected a Jewish President, Volodymyr Zelensky, which would be unlikely to happen were the country dominated by neo-Nazis.
Russia claims that Ukraine heavily bombed the Donetsk region over the past eight years. But surprisingly, Donetsk remained a normal city with a stable life after years of so-called “bombing.” Mariupol and Kharkiv, on the other hand, were nearly destroyed just days after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The 2014 separatist movement in Donbas was inspired and organized by citizens of Russia and its FSB agents, who started taking control of police departments and city councils. Russians tortured and killed Ukrainians in Donbas. The separatist movement would never have turned violent without support from Russia.
If Russia was serious about its accusations of ethnic cleansing in Donbas, it could have asked the UN Security Council for an independent investigation. Ukraine asked the UN several times to assign peacekeeping forces to Donbas, but Russia was against bringing them in beyond a very limited role.
Russia has also claimed that Ukraine violates the rights of its Russian-speaking population. Since the country’s independence in 1991, Kyiv has promoted the primacy of the Ukrainian language. That was an absolutely normal response to the policy of Russification of Ukraine under the Soviet Union. I was born in Kyiv in 1977, and for a long time it remained a predominantly Russian-speaking city. Only after Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014 did the Ukrainian language start to become more popular. Nobody was attacking Russian-speaking minorities — my own kids attended Russian school in Kyiv.
The problem was that Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine decreased the number of pro-Russian voters and the speaking of the Russian language. A survey, conducted in December, 2018, by Rating Group Ukraine, showed that only 2 per cent of Ukrainians consider that status of the Russian language to be an important issue. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his so-called attempt to protect Ukraine’s Russian-speaking people, ordered his army to bomb cities with a majority of Russian speakers, such as Kharkiv and Mariupol.
In recent weeks, after the world became aware of the horrible killings in Bucha, the Russians claimed their army did not kill any civilians there. Instead, they said that dead bodies were brought there by Ukrainians after the liberation of the city. The truth is that dead bodies appeared on the streets of Bucha long before Ukrainian troops arrived to liberate it. The analysis of Maxar Technologies video by The New York Times showed that killings took place on March 11, when Russian troops were in the city.
I used to live in Bucha, only moving to Kyiv in 2020. I have many friends left in Bucha and in Irpin, two cities that are actually like one. Many of them said they were in constant contact with residents under the occupation, who told them about executions and torture. They gave some of the same examples that subsequently appeared in the media.
Another dangerous belief is the idea that military support of Kyiv means participating in this war and exacerbating the threat for Europe and the whole world. The leaders of several European countries like to occasionally repeat this point. But it is also an idea being promoted by Russian media.
The main aim of such media manipulation is to stop any kind of new help for the Ukrainian army, which remains the only force fighting to protect Europe from Russian autocracy. We must see beyond this twisted logic and act now, before Mr. Putin makes other European countries his next victims.
Originally written for The Globe and Mail