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Hot topics of Russian disinfo: ROC in Ukraine bakes “Easter bread for orphans” and spreads the virus. Issue #33

  • Due to the dust storm in Kyiv and large-scale wildfires, disinformers drew parallels with biblical plots and compared residents of the Crimea and Donbass with the Jewish people.
  • They “bleached” the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which neglected quarantine restrictions, and they called quarantine "repression against the Orthodox people" and mocked "God online."
  • They predicted protests and a change of power in Ukraine because of the post-quarantine crisis.
  • They reinforced the rhetoric aimed at eliminating Ukraine as a state: "Will Ukraine continue its existence after the end of the coronavirus pandemic?"
  • They called for limiting the level of salaries for officials, trying to undermine the Ukrainian state's ability to hire professionals.
  • Disinformers also heroized Oles Buzyna, ridiculed Vyatrovich, and complained about “Russophobia” while disseminating chauvinistic texts about “Khokhols”.

April 13—19, 2020

Topics of disinformation, April 13—19, 2020
Topics of disinformation, April 13—19, 2020

Ukrainian wildfire pandemic

“Ukraine has been living in the ‘no day without a catastrophe’ mode lately”. That's how Ukrainian manipulative publications responded to the dust storm in Kyiv and large-scale wildfires near the Chernobyl zone. The theme was continued by the classic theses that all the problems of modern Ukraine are the result of the "destructive experiments that the past and the present regime have conducted over the state", that is, reforms and optimization of Soviet bureaucratic structures. “After the liquidation of the sanitary and epidemiological service, there was no one to prevent the epidemic. After the "reforms" of the State Emergency Service, conducted in 2014-2017, it is impossible to cope with fires".

Both manipulators and Russian sites targeting Ukrainian topics often mentioned biblical plots and drew parallels with Ukraine: “blood punishment (war), invasion of frogs (2019 elections), invasion of blood-sucking insects (Crimea), punishment by dog flies, and we are already passing through cattle pest (fires)." And Russian sites have added the "Egyptian darkness", the legendary punishment that has brought upon the Pharaoh of Egypt for refusing to release the Jewish people from captivity", where "the Jewish people" were the inhabitants of the annexed Crimea and the occupied territories of the Donbas.

Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues wrote about “raised radioactivity”, citing an Australian (!) website (although many sources, relying on measurements and constant monitoring of the situation, noted that the radioactivity in Kyiv and surrounding cities did not exceed the normal level). The actions of the Ukrainian authorities were compared to those of the Soviet regime during the Chernobyl disaster: "The Communists then were burying the truth that people learned from Western radio voices." They fantasized that fires and the dust storm were the result of "poaching, both hunting and fishing", illegal deforestation, unregulated tourism, terrorist acts, sabotage, and even decommunization. Andriy Biletsky was quoted on the deforestation (however, in the same news he was called a "neo-Nazi").

Russian mainstream websites have been actively proposing an "effective way - help from Russian firefighters." But then they ridiculed Ukraine which was unlikely to agree to this: "obviously, the logic of "let it burn" will play here, rather than asking for the help of an "aggressor".

The authorities of impotent men have come to replace the regime of bloodsuckers. Monkeys from the Maidan, if you can't handle it yourself, ask Russia. They have excellent firefighting aviation”.

Coronacapitalist quarantine

The coronavirus pandemic continues to be used as a perfect context to illustrate "the helplessness of the authorities in the fight against the pandemic and the carelessness of Ukrainians." Although this topic gradually ceases to occupy the first place on the agenda of manipulators.

Last week, Ukrainian manipulative media continued to emphasize that Ukraine "missed the beginning of the pandemic", that quarantine measures did not work, and that Ukrainians simply ignored the quarantine (in fact, severe restrictions were imposed when only 14 patients were registered). Increasingly, they wrote that "the current crisis may lead to early presidential elections" and "a change of power in Ukraine." And that "the authorities will extend the restrictive measures not only because of the epidemiological danger but also for political reasons, because the rather inconvenient May dates are ahead", referring to May 9, that is, the Victory Day which Russia celebrates very loudly and trying to impose the same discourse on Ukraine which creates a political incongruity with Zelensky, who seeks to demonstrate peacefulness toward Russia.

I do not urge anyone to be imprisoned or subjected to medieval torture, God forbid. But just imagine what would happen to Liashko and other members of the Ukrainian government if he did something similar under Genghis Khan, Stalin, or Lukashenko

Russian sites targeting Ukrainian topics continued to discredit quarantine measures, calling them "quarantine state propaganda". It should be noted that in Russia, quarantine measures have also been introduced and are much more stringent, and the epidemic has reached a larger population (at the date of this publication the numbers stood at 62,773 patients in Russia and 7,170 in Ukraine). The economic situation in Ukraine has been described as an "abrupt transition to coronavirus capitalism", which has "plunged many people into a state of shock and anguish". Once again, attempts were made to strengthen regional federalist sentiment, pushing for "the realization by the regional elite of the stubborn fact that the central government not only pulls them into the financial abyss, but also puts them at deathly risk of destruction."

Russian websites included in our monitoring program have significantly increased the rhetoric that casts doubt on the existence of the Ukrainian state. Last week, they reiterated the thesis of Anna Herman (ex-member of parliament, a speaker of the Yanukovych era Party of Regions) and doubted, “will Ukraine continue to exist after the end of the coronavirus pandemic?" answering the question with the hypothesis that Ukraine “will find itself under the control of those who do not disdain it”. Explaining their judgment, they speculated: "no neighbor wants to take responsibility for a completely unbalanced society and its crazy quasi-elite, which even in the midst of a deadly epidemic throws billions into the void, as usual." They ended with the exaltation of Moscow, which "in the future negotiations and processes related to the post-crisis recarving of the world, will be ready to take responsibility for this weird, constantly crisis-ridden Ukraine, which is prone to revolutions, embezzlement, etc."

Ukraine: Calls to cut officials' salaries and a "permanent default"

This week, clickbait sites called for a cap on officials' salaries so that "money can be redirected to the fight against the coronavirus". Some Ukrainian parties and pro-Russian disinformers have been pushing for the decrease in wages for civil servants and employees of state-owned companies. The social justice slogans mask the attempts to undermine the ability of the Ukrainian state to hire professionals.

Another target of disinformers was the National Bank of Ukraine, as well as financial institutions in general. Disinformers take advantage of the fact that the economy is a complex and incomprehensible topic for the majority of citizens, in order to sow distrust in the financial system: "After the Easter weekend, bankers will try to rock the dollar in order to earn some money."

Russian websites targeting Ukrainian topics have been writing about a "permanent default" since 2015. They define the default very interestingly, as Ukraine’s "not being able to service external debts without new external borrowings." In fact, most countries in the world have debts. With loans, countries are struggling with crises, creating infrastructure, and developing. There is a debt management strategy in Ukraine that rules how much the country can and should borrow and how much money it will repay at a time. The purpose of Ukraine's debt policy is to smoothen out debt repayments so as to avoid large short-term payments and to find "cheap" money to cover old liabilities.

Another major topic for Russian sites was "unemployment". They claim that an 18% unemployment rate in the near future for Ukraine. Now, there are about 9%, which is slightly more than last year when the unemployment rate was 8%. "In addition, the wage earners returned to Ukraine from abroad, their money transfers to The Motherland ceased to flow, and those were about $10 to 12 billion annually to the country's budget."

To combat the crisis, Russian sites are proposing to "sell the country entirely to the PRC." We mentioned earlier that disinfectants like to set China and other authoritarian countries as an example, promoting their model of power for Ukraine. Read more about this in the previous issue.

ROC in Ukraine "bakes Easter bread for orphans" and protests against "God online"

Clickbait sites disseminate glorious news about how the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine (self-titled as Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchy) is “helping the poor”: “We were pleased to accept the offer to bake a thousand loaves of Easter bread for children and nursing homes for the elderly”. They justify the religious fundamentalism of the ROC in Ukraine: “Our God is a living God, not God online. Therefore, one cannot ever substitute communion or confession with an online broadcast”, which leads to neglecting the quarantine. Due to the neglect of parishioners, a coronavirus outbreak has already occurred both in the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra and in the Pochayiv Lavra, two of the largest church and monastery compounds of the ROC in Ukraine.

It should be noted that Patriarch Kirill of the ROC urged his faithful in Russia itself to stay home and not go to the service, in order to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

In order to whiten the ROC in Ukraine, clickbaiters write that other denominations also violate the prohibitions: “In the video, you can see that the participants of the procession, ignoring the ban on mass events...The religious procession is followed by boys in camouflage pants and embroiders shirts who try to march like soldiers at a parade."

This is a real fact, but it was a single incident, while the policy of ROC in Ukraine, according to the statements of the head of the church Metropolitan Archbishop Onufri, was aimed at bringing as many faithful as possible to the Easter service.

Leading Russian newspapers wrote in a scathing tone about a priest of a Greek Catholic church who "served online in a nearly empty temple" wearing a mask and protective goggles. The disinformers called his clothing a "klobuk of biosecurity" and wrote: "he decided to intimidate believers with his attire so that they did not come to the temple for Easter, for sure."

Russian websites targeting Ukraine have pumped up fake news that "persecution of believers has begun” in Ukraine. As an example, they cited the mayor of Konotop of the Freedom Party. The mayor allegedly "initiated repression against the Orthodox" for publishing "leaflets where (ROC in Ukraine - TEXTY.org.ua) invited believers to consecrate Easter cakes."

Russian websites also disseminated a story about journalists of “Channel 1+1” who, according to them, "staged a provocation near the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, offering believers money for kissing icons on the camera." In the meantime, as reported by leading Ukrainian media,, the “1+1” journalists were attacked in the Lavra.

Making a hero out of Ukrainophobe Buzyna; chauvinism. Anti-Ukrainian ramble of Russian disinfo

This week, both clickbait sites and Russian websites targeting Ukraine have heroized the publicist with radical pro-Russian views of Oles Buzyna. He was murdered in Kyiv on April 16, 2015. He was not spared compliments, disinformers called him "a most talented writer", "the exponent of myths of Ukrainian propaganda" and almost a "Ukrainian patriot". The manipulators tried to persuade their reader that Oles Buzyna's "uncompromising stance on Euromaidan, on Ukraine's Bandera-zation" made him an "enemy" of the Ukrainian authorities and oligarchs. Therefore, his murder was a “capital punishment of an objectionable person”, not a crime of a few far-right radicals.

Russian sites targeting Ukrainian issues disseminated some absurd accusations by deputy Buzhansky against Volodymyr Vyatrovych. The deputy accuses the former chairman of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance of embezzling money in order to hold the Holodomor famine victims memory forum. To give this accusation at least some weight, he resorts to the petty manipulation on emotions: "Don't you think it's cynical to devour pastry and pancakes with red fish at a Holodomor event?"

Disinformers write a lot about "Russophobes", for example in the Verkhovna Rada: "any initiatives aimed at supporting the Russian language, be it in education, be it in the media, be it in the humanities, will all be blocked by the member of parliament of the Russophobic mono majority." At the same time, frankly chauvinistic texts about the "definition of Khokhol" are being disseminated. This term, for disinformers, refers to "the lively image servants, village women who brought milk, vegetables, etc." For years, manipulators have been spreading stereotypes about Ukraine that are characteristic of an imperial state in its attitude towards the natives. At the same time, Ukrainians are being accused of "Russophobia" and "Nazism".

Also this week:

On the exchange of captives: “So whom do we exchange under the ALWAYS unfavorable conditions with the wording “they are Ukrainians”? (...) Russia will never run short of people for exchange, as long as the Lovely One needs some good PR."

On the arrest of SSU General Shaitanov who worked for the FSB, general Moskal and journalist Gordon were quoted most often. The former fantasized that “the forest industry, Ukrainian Railways, all branches were full of FSB agents”, the latter supported this theory with “his own sources” and added that “if ordinary people found out who of their leaders and who of their idols are agents of special services, they would go down crazy”. And Russian sites targeting Ukrainian themes came to the conclusion that the arrest of Shaitanov was an infight for power within the SSU: "It’s either that Putin's agents are ubiquitous superpersons (which is unlikely), or there is a merciless war within the deep state, Poroshenko’s people and Ze team, well, obviously, with the support of the Minister of Interior, "Don Quarantino" Arsen?"

The "Deep State" is a new fashionable concept of Russian disinformation that tries to push the idea that democracy, elections, freedom of speech and other freedoms are all a coverup, hiding other powerful powers that govern the states in the West. In Russia itself, according to the concept, this coverup is absent and the “deep state” operates openly (Putin’s aide Surkov wrote about it).

A bit more about journalist Gordon, who whitewashed Kuchma's reputation by saying that "one person, the same person is responsible for the murder of journalist Gongadze and the murder of journalist Sheremet" and it’s not Kuchma.

On the chance of the emergence of a cult of the President of Belarus: “in case Minsk can avoid collapse [in connection with the pandemic]. If it works out, Alexander Lukashenko will become for many something like a living god, who has managed to preserve the Soviet heritage and use it against one of the greatest dangers to humanity over the last 30 years.

Summary

The Russian disinformation machine provided every support to the clergy of the ROC in Ukraine (self-titled UOC) in their efforts to attract as many believers as possible to the Easter services. At the time of writing the report, Ukraine has an outbreak of coronavirus, and officials have linked it to mass gatherings for Easter, most of which happened in the ROC’s temples. Russia has also disseminated messages aimed at curtailing efforts by the Ukrainian authorities to organize the quarantine. Such actions by Russia can be regarded as another act of its hybrid war against Ukraine.

It is noteworthy that a lengthy theoretical article appeared detailing the "definition of Khokhol". It can be classified as one of the materials that shape the narratives of Russian disinformation. It is possible to estimate a future increase in the number of “memes”, bright quotes, and flashy headlines that will spread the theses of Ukrainians as people of the second class, the theses elaborated in the article.

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

Ukrainian wildfire pandemic

What’s this local Ukrainian wildfire pandemic? | ua24ua.net

Terrorist attack: Wildfire in Chernobyl moves towards Belarus | politnavigator.net

Yatseniul and Shkiriak are to blame. This is how Ukrainian firefighting system collapsed | ukraina.ru

“The Kyiv darkness”. Why it’s impossible to breath in Ukrainian capital city | ukraina.ru

Kyiv experts advise Zelensky to ask Russia to help fight the fires in Chernobyl | riafan.ru

Moscow declares readiness to help Kyiv with the fires in the Chernobyl zone | vz.ru

Quarantine

Ukraine is a country of collective irresponsibility | ua24ua.net

Quarantine in Ukraine: The tops cannot, the bottoms don’t want | xn--j1aidcn.org

“They will die of hunger not the virus”. Pensioners may not survive the pandemic | finoboz.net

People in Ukraine doubt the country’s further existence | sevastopol.su

Second-hand Ukraine worn with pandemic will be taken by Russia - expert from Kyiv | politnavigator.net

Barbarity and bigotry. Specifics of coronavirus in Western Ukraine | naspravdi.info

Harmful delusion. Kyiv still believes itself Europe on quarantine | naspravdi.info

Ukraine: calls to cut officials' salaries and a "permanent default"

People in Ukraine became even poorer because of quarantine - Oleg Voloshin | zik.ua

The house of cards of Ukrainian economics | zik.ua

Colossal unemployment becomes Ukraine’s main problem | politnavigator.net

Selling out Crimea, Donbas, and GTS. Ukraine prepares for radical measures to “save” the country | rusdnepr.ru

ROC in Ukraine "bakes Easter bread for orphans" and protests against "God online"

Marching step, wearing camouflage but no masks. New video of the Greek Catholic procession. Criminal case started against the priest | strana.ua

UOC gives a thousand Easter cakes for orphans and elderly in care facilities | korr.com.ua

Kolomoisky’s TV channel stages provocation near the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra | politnavigator.net

Bandera regime attacks Orthodox believers | naspravdi.info

Ukrainian priest in “alien” suit scared believers | riafan.ru

Making a hero out of Buzyna and “the definition of khokhol”. Anti-Ukrainian ramble of Russian disinfo

Buzhansky on Viatrivych: Thief speculating on Holodomor tragedy is worse than a simple thief | korr.com.ua

“It will be a reunion of the peoples”. Soloviev threatens Ukraine with new territorial losses | politeka.net

Azarov: Oles Buzyna is a patriot who gave his life to free his land of Nazism | ukraina.ru

Showcase execution covered up by special services. Five years since Buzyna murder | ukraina.ru

Anniversary of the murder of writer Buzyna. Euromaidan was bloodful from the beginning | regnum.ru

Methodology

We searched for topics in 12395 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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