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Hot topics of Russian disinfo: “Dying wards for the people”. Issue #32

  • Frightening coronavirus predictions: Ukraine will become a “hotbed of COVID-19” and “may be swept by riots” through total crisis, impoverishment, marginalization, and criminalization.
  • Comparisons of Ukraine and Russia, glorifying the latter.
  • Trying to discredit Ukrainian volunteers, doubting the integrity of activists.
  • Discrediting presidents, the former and the current
  • Promoting a “strong arm” in economics, food panic, degrading Ukrainian culture

Period: April 6—12, 2020

Topics of disinformation, April 6—12, 2020
Topics of disinformation, April 6—12, 2020

"World screwed with coronavirus", Ukraine specifically

Ukrainian manipulative media continue to escalate the complex coronavirus situation. Last week, they accused the authorities of inaction in the regions and the underestimation of the number of patients, they predicted mass emigration from Ukraine after the epidemic, and they compared Ukraine with Belarus: "in both cases, the state is virtually dodging responsibility for extremely ineffective counteraction to the epidemic"

Russian media targeting Ukrainian topics suggested that "Ukrainians are used to believing nothing, but, on the other hand, are ready to believe in anything under the influence of propaganda." Therefore, they continued their efforts to increase the panic around the coronavirus, accompanying it with the constant thesis of "failed state" Ukraine that had "exhausted the resource of its statehood". They, like clickbait sites, have accused the government of Ukraine of “conscious underestimating the number of coronavirus patients. The country will become a hotbed for COVID-19, and when it does, it will be a "post-Chernobyl saga."

They often compared Ukraine to Russia, ridiculing the former and glorifying the latter. “It is in wild Russia, which is now struggling under sanctions and low oil prices, that they can build hospitals not needed by anyone, perform tests and prepare doctors. Our strength lies in the strict identity of the nation. Murals, a consistent fight against the hybrid invasion of the Russian Federation, NATO membership, and the IMF tranche. This is the Ukrainian recipe for survival in the current circumstances."

They tried to discredit the Ukrainian volunteer movement, calling activists “children of Soros” and questioning their integrity. “Volunteer is the profession. A volunteer. How does he earn money? How does he feed the family? He went through a village, collecting potatoes, canning? Well, he did survive, he did have money to refuel, didn’t he? So, he was given money. So, he lived by volunteering. " Let us add that most volunteers have jobs to feed them.

As I understand it, Putin’s is to blame for the coronavirus, too. Whatever happens, Putin is to blame. Well, seriously, now coronavirus is in the first place because the country is not protected, we are unprotected

“The world screwed with coronavirus, plus Ukraine permanently screwed after the Maidan, results in a globally screwed Ukraine”

Quarantine: Ukrainians get poorer and prepare for protests

Since April 6, new restrictions have been introduced in Ukraine in relation to the epidemic situation, including the need to wear a mask and ID. This expectedдн resonated with the Ukrainian media. Сlickbait sites called quarantine "a circus with able-bodied young workforce sitting home", they offered the impoverished Ukrainians "to pack suitcases: Europe is dying from a shortage of workers", and they predicted "an economic tsunami, after which the coronavirus will seem like a holiday". They also provided expert advice on the economy: "the government needs to distribute money and provide the population, otherwise consequences can be dire."

Ukrainian manipulative media continued to discuss open pawnshops and the working Epicenter hypermarket chain. “Pawnshops and Epicenter work, people don’t. Behind the toilet, legal. Going to a park, illegal... No assistance from the state, double standards, and prohibitions that don’t make sense."

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian issues also discussed quarantine measures. However, quarantine in the occupied territories was described as "rather humane restrictions", while they once again quoted Dubinsky to describe the situation in Ukraine saying that quarantine "is evidence of the immorality and stupidity of the government" and “genocide against the Ukrainian people”. They predicted that "rising unemployment will lead to an increase in crime, as well as an increase in general marginalization" and that "Ukraine may be overwhelmed by riots in the wake of quarantine, impoverishment, and unemployment."

Anything can be done to us. We are invincible. For we agree on everything. A perfect country for a slave owner

The crowd can swarm to smash the elite clinics or overthrow the government. Depends on who the people find more guilty of the fact that, in hospitals for the common people, there is nothing but toe tags

Ukrainian healthcare system: "Dying wards for the people and VIP wards for the elite"

Reflecting on Ukrainian healthcare system, Ukrainian manipulative media aped the disinformers from Russia, and compared Ukraine to Russian Federation: “We have freedom, we have democracy, we have chosen a young president, our allies are the USA and the EU, but a new mobile infectious hospital for 500 beds is being finished in Russia”. They ridiculed Ukrainian doctors: "And if just 5 years ago, local doctors were real specialists, now they are more like natives who call on the gods to defeat a disease."

And they tried to provoke hatred by writing that "the residents of the elite Koncha-Zaspa village near Kyiv have acquired their own ventilators in connection with the pandemic of the COVID-19 coronavirus", without backing it with any facts or names but ending with a manipulative suggestion to "legally prohibit them from being treated abroad or in Ukrainian VIP clinics, obliged them to go to their regional hospitals, to the general wards!”. This will be the case, as air traffic with other countries in Ukraine is completely closed.

Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues have written nothing new about Ukrainian healthcare system. They mentioned, again, the "children of Soros", who "have no need to restore the medical system, which the Maidan has been destroyed all previous years - according to the assignment of the West." They came up with horror stories about the horrible state of Ukrainian healthcare system:

“Roughly speaking, there are no affordable drugs. There are no masks, no gloves, no antiseptics either. Those there are, they cost 80 hryvnias.” As usual, no facts or specific incidents were cited. And they even managed to mention Suprun when writing about Kyrgyzstan: “A particularly unfavorable situation has developed in Kyrgyzstan, where healthcare system was weakened by reforms during the years of independence, similar to those carried out by the former head of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine Uliana Suprun

Ukraine needs a "strong arm" in economics to avoid "hunger"

Clickbait sites have paid a lot of attention to the economic program of the OPFL faction. They, in turn, played to the sympathies of their constituencies from the industrial cities of Eastern Ukraine: "they spoke of the need to strengthen the industrial sector." Both clickbait sites and Russian sites targeting Ukraine are often persistently speaking about the “care” of Ukrainian industry. According to polls in January, 65% of people in Ukraine believe that economic policy should first and foremost be aimed at “reviving the industry”. Also, 54% of those surveyed said they would feel "an improvement in the economic situation in the country" if new plants were opened there. In reality, over the last 20 years, the industry has reduced its share of GDP in the world, and the service sector has grown, which is a global trend.

Clickbait disinformers are at war with the myths which they themselves came up with. Allegedly, a rough neoliberal economic policy is being implemented in Ukraine: "liberal ‘deregulation’ and the holy belief in the infallibility of the ‘invisible hand of the market’ have created a fertile ground for all kinds of parasites in the face of a crisis". Instead, they propose to look at authoritarian countries with high levels of economic intervention, such as China and Belarus.

“Nobody succeeded in mobilizing the forces, resources, administrative capacities of the state ... for the rapid victory over the virus, except for the Celestial Empire”. As for Belarus, disinformers often praise its medical system: “The high level of coordination of various government bodies and the still Soviet-style healthcare system of the good old Semashko type... became the key to a very successful response to the pandemic

Also, on the clickbait sites, Medvedchuk is spreading food panic: “the message [of Ministry of the economy - TEXTY.org.ua] about food stocks in retail chains became literally shocking for the country”. As a result, he proposes: “restrictions on food exports would become not only a mechanism for the formation of necessary stocks but also a way to expand supply in the domestic market”. Food products make up a major part of Ukrainian exports, if we ban them from export, we will have more negative consequences for the economy. For the fifth week of quarantine, there are enough foods in supermarkets, without any restrictive measures.

Clickbait sites, along with Russian sites targeting Ukraine, continue to fuel hatred of the IMF. As an excuse, they used the news that the Fund "is going to impose a moratorium on repayment of the body and loans to poor countries." In reality, the IMF has provided a grant to the world's poorest countries to cover their debt for the next 6 months, which would allow them to divert all resources to combat the epidemic. Among the countries supported by the IMF is Afghanistan, where the war has been going on for decades, as well as Niger, Mali, Nepal, and the poorest countries of the world. The absence of Ukraine in this list is a compliment to the country and its economic policy over the past 6 years.

Finally, clickbaits attacked changes to the budget, where the Rada (parliament) saved spending on "cultural and patriotic activities". That’s how disinformers called the expenses for the Ukrainian Cultural Fund, State Film Agency, and other cultural institutions of the country that have arisen in recent years. They are trying to convince readers that the expenses have been saved: "at the request of Poroshenko's party because these funds are appropriated by structures ideologically related to the party".

Zelensky turns from a "weakling" into a Poroshenko

Disinformers have a special attitude toward Ukrainian presidents: they always incite hatred and disdain for them. They are twisting and inflating scandals, seeking ways to discredit the head of the state. Zelensky has not become an exception. The most popular accusation for him is that he’s supposedly a "weakling". He is accused of not controlling his faction in the parliament, which depends on the environment and situational allies, on the oligarch Kolomoisky, IMF, and Russia (depending on the occasion, audience, and political purpose of the manipulative material).

According to the latest poll by Rating Group, Zelensky remains popular, as 55% of respondents are satisfied with his response to the coronavirus crisis. In order to deprive him of some of his support and thus to weaken the President as an institution, disinformers are convincing their reader that Zelensky may be a good person, but in fact, he is in no control. For the last few weeks, both Ukrainian clickbait sites and Russian websites targeting Ukraine have written extensively about the "putsch" allegedly being prepared by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. This week also did not go without speculation on the influence of the "country's chief law enforcer".

Arsen Borisovich [Avakov] continues to lead everything and everyone. He announced unilaterally that in Kyiv public transport will only carry doctors, emergency workers, pharmacy workers, and grocery stores employees”.

Крім Авакова, клікбейтери також пишуть про “бывших” Зеленського — його колишніх соратників, які вибули з владної команди. “Сейчас “бывшие Зеленского” “сотрудничают в части атаки на Ермака”. Вони стверджують, що це не лише інтриги оточення, але і пряме “іноземне втручання”. “И вот вся «соросовская рать» ополчилась против Ермака. Схемы американцев не меняются десятилетиями. Опять «кассетный скандал»”.

Another direction of d​misinformation about the President is accusations of his similarity with the previous head of state. "Zelensky is being turned, step by step, into a version of Poroshenko." Most of Zelensky’s actions not favored by Moscow are cited as his transformation into a Poroshenko. Insistence on a gas transmission agreement, refusal to execute the "Minsk arrangements" in the Russian way, voting for the land market, and more. As for the former president himself, "Poroshenko, instead of testifying and learning his prisoner songs, feels better again and begins to run from one television show to another."

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian topics also mention the issues of "peace": "Now it is extremely unprofitable for Zelensky to end the war in Donbas and to move towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict." It is as if war can justify failures of the authorities, though the war obviously brings many problems and troubles.

Summary

Destroying the Ukrainian state

The calls for riots and pogroms, the active and very emotional opposition of the "elite" and the people all show that Russia is trying to maximize the use of the epidemic to destroy the Ukrainian state. It should be noted that Onufri, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, stated that Easter services will continue in their churches jurisdiction (at least 604 temples, according to their website), and therefore there is a high risk of a new rise in the epidemic in Ukraine. At the same time, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, patriarch Kirill, called on his faithful in Russia to stay at home. The words of Onufri were heard by believers in Ukraine, and the words of Kirill, by those in Russia.

Such actions correlate with Russian disinformers' predictions that Ukraine will "become a hotbed of COVID-19" and statements about the ineffectiveness of measures taken by the Ukrainian authorities.

Revolution of Dignity, a catastrophe

Disinformers wrote about the critical condition of Ukrainian healthcare system, which allegedly started after the Revolution of Dignity, that is, from the moment when Ukraine decided to start a movement towards Western values. In today's Russian discourse, the refusal of Ukrainians to identify as part of the Russian people is presented as the beginning of a total collapse. Because an epidemic rages now, healthcare becomes the epitome of collapse, although the state of medicine has improved significantly over the last six years.

Calls for authoritarianism

It is also worth noting the recommendations to follow Belarus, Russia, and China in the economy. In fact, this is not about the economy, but about an authoritarian political system different from Western democracy. Appeals to the economy are needed to find the "point of agreement" for most Ukrainians and further increase the discourse on the need to return under the wing of authoritarian Russia.

Controlling Zelensky

We assume that the disinformers begin to compare Zelensky with Poroshenko when they want to get the steps they need. For the last 6 years, disinformers have been targeting and massively destroying Poroshenko's voter support and reputation. And now they are using it to deter Zelensky from actions that are in line with Ukraine's national interests. To do this, they start a wave of publications comparing Zelensky to "toxic" Poroshenko.

Limitations of the study:

In this study, we only regarded the topics which are in line with Russian disinformation campaigns. Most of them are based on real events, as disinformation works more effectively this way. Topic names reflect manipulations used in the topic. Accordingly, news stories on Ukrainian mainstream sites on the same topic may have completely different content from that of manipulative materials.

We take the topics of Russian propaganda in Ukraine from the following groups of materials:

In the first and second groups of news, the materials were selected by the AI classifier of manipulative news.

Examples of headlines

"World screwed with coronavirus", Ukraine specifically

“They lie to us, we have 10 thousand new cases every day”. The government is playing, Palchevsky can’t contain himself | politeka.net

The power should not suffer. Why the fight against coronavirus reminds of the model of Belarus | ukrrudprom.ua

Quarantine chronicles. A shop owner beats and drags by the hair inspector in Cherkasy region | e-news.su

“They did what Suprun did”. Grozin explains why Kyrgyz healthcare is unprepared for coronavirus | pravdanews.info

“People stuffed with ideology”. Composer Bystriakov on the influence of propaganda on Ukrainians | ukraina.ru

Quarantine: Ukrainians get poorer and prepare for protests

Tightening the screws. A second police force, curfew, “stop and fear” | spichka.news

“Distribute the money”. Economist explains how to avoid crisis in Ukraine | dialog.ua

“All animals are equal but some are more equal” in Ukraine | ua24ua.net

“Before they remove truckloads”. Ukrainians resist the quarantine rules | crisis.in.ua

Ukraine on lockdown. Food money will end before the lockdown ends | naspravdi.info

Lockdown prompts Ukrainians to pogroms and riots | politnavigator.net

Ukrainian healthcare system: "Dying wards for the people and VIP wards for the elite"

Justice Zelensky style: how deputies shared the express tests among themselves - ex MP | antikor.com.ua

COVID-19 pandemic in Ukraine. Psychiatrist tells about the panic among Kyiv’s elite | antikor.com.ua

“It’s insulting”. Nurse from Kryvyi Rih asks Vilkul to stop disgracing himself with cheap gibs | dialog.ua

Death wards for the people and VIP ward for the elite. Who will survive the epidemic? | spichka.news

Ventilator plant in Ukraine stopped at the height of coronavirus epidemic | e-news.su

Ukraine needs a "strong arm" in economics to avoid "hunger"

Under lockdown, Ukrainians need not only food but the money to buy it - Medvedchuk | ukrainianwall.com

Film a movie instead of supporting the economy. How the Cabinet recarves the budget once again | strana.ua

State support for industry will keep jobs for Ukrainians after the lockdown - Levochkin | zik.ua

Ukrainian political scientist explained how the IMF loans damage the country’s economy | riafan.ru

They raped and bustled people for eight months - Atamaniuk shows the dire state of economy | znaj.ua

Zelensky turns from a "weakling" into a Poroshenko

Poroshenko outgames the cocksure Zelensky | censoru.net

Is Zelensly made into a meek and tongue-tied proxy? | antifashist.com

Ukraine’s diarchy: Avakov threatens Zelensky | rusdnepr.ru

How the IMF can break down Zelensky and Ukrainians | life.ru

Alexander Zubchenko claims that Zelensky turned into a “Poroshenko’s bot” because of the land vote | politeka.net

Methodology

We searched for topics in 10 910 materials in the Russian language from:

Manipulation in news was singled out by our improved AI classifier developed in the project We’ve got bad news. In the monitoring, we only regarded materials about social and political life which are about Ukraine.

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