How Ukraine is winning the propaganda war

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It was in the middle of March when two advertising executives joined a Zoom meeting, ready to pitch an idea to the Ukrainian government in the midst of a war.

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They wanted to launch a campaign based on the idea that courage is a national stereotype, a characteristic associated with being Ukrainian. Yegor Petrov, creative director of Kyiv-based advertising agency Banda, said the courage Ukrainians showed in the face of the Russian invasion was touching. Little things hit him, he says: one friend spent months on the road transporting army helmets around the country, and another fed the cats and dogs abandoned as the Russian army advanced.

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When the meeting took place, almost a month of war had passed, and the leadership of the gang felt that the Ukrainians needed support. “I think we need it right now,” Petrov recalls, addressing the government. This presentation was listened to by the Minister of Ukraine for Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov. He signed the agreement with the approval of the Office of the President, and the agreement was subsequently made. According to Petrov, the agency will donate its time, and the ministry will bear all the costs.

The idea born from this meeting has now spread across the Ukrainian internet. “Courage has no recipe, except for acetone, polystyrene, gasoline and a rag,” says Ukrainian voice-over one promotional video circulates on social media before moving to a shot of a man throwing a Molotov cocktail. Another Banda video posted on President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Instagram account in May has already been viewed. 1.2 million times.

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Opening a wallet on his iPhone, Dima Adabir, Managing Director of Banda, shows how his Monobank digital card is emblazoned with the campaign logo; Courage or “courage”. Everything from bottles juice to website sale household appliances and even 500 billboards 21 Ukrainian cities had similar brands, although some of those billboards have since been torn down to provide anti-tank defenses, Adabir says.

As the conflict in Ukraine drags on, the country’s communications strategy has become smoother and more professional, say scientists who study information warfare. Ukraine has also shifted its strategy from fanning exaggerated myths to focusing on the courage of ordinary people who accomplish small, achievable feats in the face of a Russian invasion.

Like any country at war, Ukraine is working to shape the information that its people see. Military not allowed publish data on losses, photographs of dead Ukrainian soldiers rareand photos of Zelensky in a suit superman officials shared. Fedorov describes the campaign as a sort of moral uplift. “We wanted [Ukrainians] know that their efforts will not go unnoticed, so they continue to resist,” he says.

But there is a fine line between messages that can boost morale at home and propaganda that can damage a country’s reputation abroad. The meeting between Banda leaders and the digital ministry came as Ukraine faced scrutiny for communication errors early in the conflict. Immediately after the invasion, a story circulated on the Internet about how one unknown pilot shot down Russian fighters over Kyiv. Official Twitter account of Ukraine reposted his own version of the “Ghost of Kyiv” story from February 27, with a video showing one fighter jet shooting down another. But those shots, fact checkers confirmedwasn’t real – it was ripped out of a video game.

It took Ukrainian officials two months to recognize this story as a myth. “The Ghost of Kyiv is a legendary superhero whose image was created by the Ukrainians,” the Ukrainian Air Force command said. facebook April 30. “Please do not fill the information space with fakes!”

The “ghost of Kyiv” was the first lesson for Ukrainian officials, says Laura Edelson, a computer scientist at New York University who specializes in political communication. “I think they’ve given up on stuff like that. When you talk to Western Europe and North America, you need to be perceived as a person who is trustworthy,” she says. “There was a twist from telling the story of this mythical fighter pilot to telling the stories of ordinary Ukrainians.”

Ukrainian propaganda should appeal to several audiences: the Ukrainians themselves, the English-speaking world, as well as people in Russia. Domestically, morale is critical to a country’s success in a brutal war. People need to feel like they’re protecting more than just their patch of land, Edelson says. “You have to protect your common identity. You have to protect your self-respect,” she adds.

Encouraging resistance will become more important if Russia tries to hold referendums in the occupied territories, says Paul Baines, professor of political marketing at the University of Leicester’s School of Business. “This is a way to ensure that people in these areas don’t vote in fake referenda,” he says of Ukraine’s communications strategy. In late April, Fedorov posted a video on Telegram that combined Banda’s campaign branding with footage showing the city of Kherson, then occupied by Russia. “In Kherson, residents once again go to a rally to explain to the occupiers that there will be no “referendums,” Fedorov wrote. “Thank you for your courage.”

But internal communication must also align with international messages: if Ukraine had better weapons, it could defeat Russia, and that democracy in Europe depends on the country’s success. “Funding depends on [the information war]sanctions depend on that,” says John Rosenbeck, a disinformation researcher at the University of Cambridge.

That’s why the Gang’s Courage Campaign went around the world, and why the word Courage was replaced with the word Courage in English advertisements. The word bravery, written in Gang script and circled in blue and yellow on the sides, was displayed in Times Square in New York and was background British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech in May.

Ever since the Banda campaign was launched, the idea of ​​everyday heroism as a means of boosting morale has become commonplace in Ukraine. deputies and civil society groups supporting this message. “Each volunteer project has its own mission and goal, but they all tell stories about how Ukrainians fight, which gives others examples and inspires them to join the fight or keep fighting,” says Natalia Mykolska, co-founder of Data Battalion, an open source database. source code, which contains photos and videos of Russian aggression.

“I don’t think Ukraine will win this war solely on a brave campaign, far from it,” says Baines. “But this is part of the puzzle of how they ensure that the West continues to supply them with weapons and ensure that their own people resist Russian attempts to seize their sovereignty.”

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