In November 2019, it was already our tenth mission to Ukraine. As part of the project “Improving data protection in the Luhansk region – Skills for locals, experience for V4 countries”, we have driven almost the entire front line and conducted information and cyber security courses for local administrations, police and the general public, supported by the Visegrad Fund www.visegradfund.org.
We see that the population in close proximity to the conflict zone and all the more in the occupied territories does not receive objective information from Kiev and independent sources, and therefore becomes an easy prey to the Russian information war and manipulation of local media dependent on the Ukrainian oligarchy.
Kiev is not fully aware that the war against Ukraine through hybrid methods is deepening, due to the systematic work of Russian disinformation media, Ukraine is losing its attractiveness not only in uncontrolled territories, but also in those it freed after 2014 at the cost of great blood and losses. Now, more than five years after these events, there are again risks losing them.
Even in the sixth year of the Russo-Ukrainian War, the area near the front line remains polluted by the Kremlin disinformation. At a distance of 60-100 kilometers from the occupied territories, the entire information space is infected with a Russian propaganda virus that affects the population, whether they want it or not. These are subconscious things. And the problem is getting worse.
Russia is increasing its influence – operating at several levels at the same time: on the front line, at national level, and on regional level too. There are many websites and other media platforms that present themselves as regional but are administered from occupied territories or from abroad. They impersonate themselves as pro-Ukrainian and have a patriotic, almost “nationalistic” look and are in the Ukrainian language. But it is through them that a huge percentage of propaganda is spread.
The situation in the rest of Ukrainian information space does not look much better. Russian hybrid fighters have managed to take control not only of the agenda of many national channels, which are dominated by oligarchs, but also assert their narrative in the media, which are considered independent.
Disinformation campaigns are more sophisticated, increasingly based on manipulation and concealment than on primitive lies. When propaganda uses a primitive lie it is easily recognizable. Manipulation is hardly detected. Only part of the information is presented, the emphasis is on a certain thing and something else is completely omitted. It is very difficult for layman undercover fake news in such a space. Special institutions on state level should work here to help understand this “disinformation cauldron” into which the Ukrainian information space has been transformed to.
Waiting tactics will not succeed. If other states can look and learn from the experience of Ukraine, then Ukraine is on the front line and “learning on the road” and by its own mistakes.
It is necessary to act as quickly as possible. But that is a very difficult thing. It is important to think about what to do immediately and what to do in the long term. The problem itself will not disappear. We need to realize that these problems will not be solved quickly. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed systematically. And systematic approach is exactly what Ukraine lacks.
The situation has deteriorated between 2019 and 2020 as a result of presidential elections and political scandals. So far, our conclusions rely solely on observation, not analysis, but we can see that even the very serious media and journalists have been abused in these presidential elections for various reasons. And even on independent respected media, infected information appeared, which, of course, seized in society. Now we see the results. It should not be overlooked that Ukraine is not in an ordinary situation and that the country has continued its sixth year in the war and war is not only on the front line.
-Maidan Monitoring Information Centre, https://maidan.org.ua, Ukraine
-Ukraine-Research Center of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, www.sfpa.sk/en/, Slovakia
-Slovakia-Poland-Ukraine Research Centre, http://www.polukr.net/en/, Poland