Almost two years after the beginning of Russian aggression in Ukraine, the world is facing the complex challenges of disinformation and propaganda. In an interview with The Geopost, co-founder of the Ukrainian project “Stop Fake”, Ruslan Deynychenko, spoke about the Russian disinformation campaign and propaganda.
Sometimes it seems, as Deynychenko said, that the people behind Russian propaganda use the same “old methods” that they used in earlier conflicts in the Balkans, Kosovo, Serbia and other regions, and that sensitive topics such as organ trafficking become targets of the Russian disinformation campaign.
Geopost: Almost two years from Russian aggression in Ukraine, how do you see that from a perspective of the journalist?
Deynychenko: I would say that Russian aggression started not two years ago but in 2014 when Russia seized Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and started its operation in Donbas. We have been in a state of war with Russia for almost 10 years as I said, so we created our project exactly in march of 2014 when we saw the flood of Russian disinformation on Russian TV networks, most of them belong to Russian government or controlled by Russian government. So, a group of professors, alumni’s and students of Kyiv-Mohyla University, they created their fact checking project, we call it “Stop Fake”. As of now, we have hundreds of thousands of examples of Russian disinformation, propaganda or lies about Ukraine.
The full-scale aggression that started in February of 2022, of course, it was something new for us and now some of our team members we had to relocate them to safer places in Ukraine or even abroad. In this winter we had periods without electricity, without heating for several days because Russia sends its rockets to Ukrainian electricity stations, generation and distribution of electricity.
And now almost every other night I have to bring my family during the night to the nearest bomb shelter because Russia continues to shell Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv with rockets, with bombs, so, now it is dangerous but we prepared for that situation and of course we know that Russia bombs and attacks Ukraine not only with bombs but also with disinformation and propaganda, and sometimes we think that it is even more dangerous for the country for the security of the country because bombs can destroy buildings or kill some people but with disinformation and propaganda Russia wants to demotivate our people, to feel desperate, to lose trust in our victory and to weaken the support that whole world provides Ukraine with military assistance and financial assistance and all other means of assistance.
Geopost: Which is the biggest Russian narrative against Ukraine and how are you fighting that?
Deynychenko: People who create and who are in charge of Russian disinformation propaganda, they are smart enough, when they started full scale invasion two years ago, they started and supported it with pro-Russian disinformation. They explained to Russians and Ukrainians that Russia just wants to liberate Ukraine from so-called Nazis, they created a myth that Ukraine is controlled by Nazi government and they just want to remove this government from the power. Of course, it was lie and we debunked lot of fakes dedicated to promote this lie.
Now, they use different types of narratives because now Ukrainians don’t trust Russian narratives about the Russian world and Russia who wants to liberate Ukraine from Nazis, because as I said, almost every night and day they bombed our houses, our buildings with their rockets.
So, they tried to split our society, to fuel existing conflicts in this society and to create new conflicts, for example, they tried to fuel conflicts between our military commanders and our political commanders between the president and the people who are in charge of military operations. They want to split people based on different languages they speak, on the base of different churches they go, so they do their best to create these conflicts and to weaken our society, to weaken our resistance and of course they do a lot to target foreign governments and foreign people with different sets of messages.
They created an image of Ukraine as a corrupt country and they try to persuade people in the United States and in European Countries that why should you provide this military and financial assistance to Ukraine because they steal everything, they are corrupted and there is no need to support Ukraine anymore. They tried to use propaganda to persuade people in the United States and European Countries that the precise weapons that western countries provide to Ukraine, they just distribute them to terrorist groups in different countries, of course, we debunked these fakes and they failed. So, that is what they are focused right now, and of course they try to make us enemies with Poland, with Hungary, with other European countries so they create a lot of propaganda content to fuel conflicts between us.
Geopost: Russia is using same propaganda narratives in Ukraine as they have used it in Kosovo about human organ trafficking, have you done any research on this propaganda topic?
Deynychenko: Sometimes I think that people in Russia who create propaganda narratives, they use old text books, so they used it in Balkan states, in Kosovo, in Serbia and other places, probably they decided it was successful operation so they reuse all these cases in Ukraine with a new purpose.
They very often use very sensitive topics like selling organs or topics that are connected with their children. The very famous case was the so called the crucified boy. They created this fake in 2014 and they tried to persuade people that Ukrainian army soldiers crucified a little boy in front of the crowd in city of Slovyansk. Of course, it was a lie, but this lie helped Russian television to persuade their own population, their own people, Russians in Russia that this is true and a lot of people in Russia, they left their homes, their families, their jobs, they took machine guns and went to Ukraine, they wanted to protect children in Russian speaking regions of Ukraine from so-called Ukraine Nazis who crucified Russian speaking children, who kill Russian speaking population, so, they do it a lot, they use a lot of sensitive topics like children, like organ trafficking to create a very sensational information because people who read it on Facebook or other social platforms, they usually share this kind of information, this sensational information on Facebook or other platforms with their friends, with their friends on messenger, so, it helps them to promote nonsense.
Geopost: A message from you to Balkan media, how to protect from Russian disinformation and propaganda?
Deynychenko: We think and we see that Russian propaganda and disinformation works not just in Ukraine, they target people in other countries because they think it is effective. Russian government spends billions of dollars to create propaganda machine and it is not just RT (Russia Today) or Sputnik or other media that we can see. They spend a lot of money on so-called troll farms, they spend a lot of money on Telegram channels and it’s not always easy to see them, to monitor them, to track them, so, my recommendation, not just for Balkan states but for all other countries would be, do not ignore these problems, because one day you can wake up and see through window that people kill each other with machine guns because someone persuaded them to hate each other because of different race, faith or language they speak. So, there is no universal solution for all the countries, solutions might be different.
We do fact checking, we understand that this is not enough to fight disinformation and propaganda, but we do a lot of other things to fight Russian disinformation, to make them weaker, to make them look funny stupid and now the world knows that Russia uses its media as a disinformation platform as a tool of producing and disseminating fakes and lies.
We have the awareness about the problem and my recommendation would be, do not ignore, we have no rights to leave it on their own because we see it in Ukraine that Russian disinformation and propaganda is very dangerous and it might create problems and we don’t want Russia to be as effective player in using disinformation and propaganda in other countries. /Geopost/