Russia’s campaign in Russia is doubled by an information war, which among other things seeks to discourage Ukrainian resistance. Kyiv is trying to respond to this campaign, on the one hand to demoralize the enemy as well, while on the other hand to enliven Ukrainians’ fighting spirit. The protracted war, however, has prompted Ukrainian leaders to adapt their discourse.
Fluctuations in estimates about the outcome of the war, seen as a minor failure in Ukraine
In March, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich, known as a “military ideologist”, said that the war will be over by the end of May and Russia would be defeated. Ukrainians mobilized in an exemplary manner, they trusted the authorities’ estimates and fought valiantly. They liberated a number of towns and villages, yet the extension of martial law until the end of the summer and the ongoing war were perceived as failures for Kyiv.
In June, Oleksiy Arestovich acknowledged that not everything depends on Ukraine in this war, so he said that Ukrainians must endure until the end of the year to enjoy peace.
In July, Arestovich, who is the most quoted pro-Zelensky politician in the local media, said that within the next two and a half years, Ukraine will manage to emerge victorious from this war. Arestovich went on to say that, should the West send additional support, Russia’s defeat will be accelerated.
The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, told CNN that the war might be over by the end of the current year if Ukrainians stay united, if the West delivers modern weaponry and fortune smiles on Kyiv.
The constant adaptation of the outlook of the war, which included at times some form of political promise about a swift peace, has disheartened part of Ukrainian society.
Military uncertainty and the impossibility of giving a clear estimate of how such events will unfold, particularly from the political class, should have been made clear for the population from the very start. Kyiv’s decision to anticipate a swift conclusion of the war has triggered huge grassroots support for national resistance, but had negative effects on the medium-term – those who were expecting peace were left disoriented and demotivated.
Less statistics, more war heroes
To counteract the effects of war fatigue transparent at the level of Ukrainian society, the authorities, the press offices of military units and the central media have shifted the focus from information about the war, often containing statistics, to the so-called human stories – portrays of the military, life stories about the victims and examples of extraordinary civilian resistance. Kyiv is thus trying to boost the morale and the fighting spirit of the population, by proving that anyone can be affected by the military aggression.
For instance, the Facebook page of the 128th Separate Mountain Zakarpattia Brigade has over 56 thousand followers. Every day, the press office of this brigade publishes various war profiles – articles about soldiers, cooks, orderlies, drivers who all left their families behind in order to defend Ukraine.
The Zakarpattia military brigade also publishes brief statistics articles, under the heading “demilitarizing Russia”, where it reports the number of invaders who were killed, the number of Russian military equipment that got destroyed or captured. The Ukrainian army has taken the notion of demilitarization, launched by Russia to justify the invasion of Ukraine, and is now using it to report developments on the battlefront to the population.
In June, Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said that demilitarizing Russia is the primary prerequisite to achieving peace in Europe. The Ukrainian Minister said that the European part of Russia should be demilitarized so that this country should never pose a threat to EU states and Ukraine.
Ukraine’s representative to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said at the end of March that the Ukrainian army is successfully carrying out a process of demilitarization of the Russian Federation and will not stop until Russia withdraws to the position prior to February 24.
Whereas the Kremlin spokespersons have been using the term “denazification” less and less, after the “special operation” was not accomplished within a few days or weeks, the concept has been picked up by Kyiv, just like demilitarization.
The Ukrainian media has published a series of articles about denazifying Russia after the war, drawing a parallel with the process of democratization in Hitler’s Germany.
Ukrainian journalists claim Russia’s denazification should already be planned, in partnership with the EU, the United Kingdom and the USA, stating that not just Vladimir Putin is responsible for the war crimes committed on the territory of Ukraine, but also 80% of the Russians “who supported the führer and his bloody war”. Just as Hitler enjoyed the support of the Nazified population, so does Putin rely on the support of Russian society, which must urgently be denazified.
The narrative promoted by Kyiv authorities and the Ukrainian intellectual elites is designed to persuade the population that, once the war is over, the Russian threat to European society will be eliminated for good with the process of denazifying Russia, a country dominated by authoritarian and anti-democratic tendencies.
In fact, Kyiv’s narratives succeeded in debunking the main fake news Kremlin has been promoting about demilitarization and denazification in order to legitimize the invasion.
The president’s heartwarming speeches
While in the first months of the war president Volodymyr Zelensky described himself as a fighter, with the moral right of criticizing any politician on the globe for not supporting Ukraine enough, in the last 30 days the Ukrainian president has resorted to an increasing number of heartwarming speeches, addressing Ukrainian society.
Zelensky denounces the children killed by Russia, the occupation, the victims of the war and provides details about the killing of innocent people with the aim of keeping the people’s resistance alive.
“Up to 100 people die every day in the east of our country, where Russia has amassed all its troops… An ideological war is in full swing”, president Zelensky announced grimly in June.
At the same time, Ukraine’s president has been invoking unity and solidarity increasingly often, trying to minimize the effects of war fatigue, caused by the protracted hostilities.
The touching speeches of the Ukrainian president, who enjoys widespread popular support, supplement and amplify the other efforts of the authorities to boost Ukrainians’ fighting spirit and resistance. It is unclear, however, how efficient these communication strategies will prove if the war continues, and the situation on the battlefront does not unfold in Kyiv’s favor.
PhD Marin Gherman, director of Institute of Political Studies and Social Capital
Article made for Veridica in the project Fake News – Fake reality: Social resilience through critical thinking.