How Russia is using Telegram channels to prepare occupied territories for a “reunification”
As soon as the Russian troops launched their offensive on February 24, another offensive took place in the media. Within a few days after the full-scale invasion, Russian propagandists created dozens of information channels on Telegram – one of the most popular messaging services in Ukraine – to prepare the population of southern Ukraine for Russian occupation. Using the already available pro-Russian media resources, they broadcasted a message of hatred for Ukraine and gratitude to Russia. In cooperation with the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security, we launched a research series studying the use of Telegram channels in the newly occupied territories of Ukraine.
Translated by Dmitry Lytov and Mike Lytov
One of the features of these Telegram channels is that their content is focused on narrowly local issues. Reposts from Russian news media and other sources of official propaganda make up less than 5% of the channels’ content. Additionally, instead of creating a single massive official channel, the occupiers created a network of small ones. They have only a few thousand subscribers each, but they repost content from each other and create the illusion of diversity of opinion, the popularity of pro-Russian views, and thus promote pro-Russian messages even more effectively.
Ideological basis for joining the Russian Federation
In general, the occupying “authorities” have not yet actively promoted the ideological basis for the annexation of Southern Ukraine. Although an occasional intensification of this message is evident.
Most propaganda channels on Telegram do not produce their own messages about the need to create "new republics”, nor do they raise the issue of referendums or annexation to Russia, but rather broadcast messages from people who talk about those issues. For example, they may quote words of representatives of collaborating authorities or Russian politicians and propagandists: "The Kherson region plans to become a part of Russia, rather than becoming a separate independent republic",
"it makes no sense to hold a referendum yet",
"Head of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov sees the future of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions together with Crimea within the borders of one state",
"Mikhail Sheremet, State Duma deputy from the Crimean region, proposed to restore the Taurida Province within its historical borders. According to him, in the past, the Taurida Province with the center in Simferopol included the territories of the present Kherson and Azov parts of the Zaporizhzhia regions",
"The future of the Zaporizhzhia region lies within our friendly Russian family - Russia will restore all the liberated territories of Ukraine",
"Russia is here forever,” says Andriy Turchak.
The small number of existing publications about the need to hold a referendum or join the Russian Federation does not mean that the occupying forces shy away from the idea of fake referendums. Obviously, they do not receive widespread support in the temporarily occupied territories, so the propaganda to join Russia takes place with the help of different messages and ideologues.
The annexation basis is created through indirect messages rather than direct appeals. Those messages include:
1. Ukraine renounces its southern regions "Kyiv gave up not only on food supplies to Kherson, but also on mobile communications",
"Lifecell, Vodafone and Kyivstar cut off communications in Kherson. Ukraine abandoned Kherson when it was shelled. Now Ukrainian telecom operators have confirmed this by stopping their work on the territory of the entire region",
" Ukrainian authorities have not paid pensions for the second month, people have nothing to live on",
"Ukrainian authorities call on residents of coastal areas to pay utility bills, hinting at a debt to the state, while Kyiv itself does not fulfill its obligations to citizens, does not pay funds to state employees”.
2. Everything is bad in Ukraine
Russian disinformation agents regularly spread reports that our country cannot cope with the challenges of war, Europe is gradually refusing to support Ukraine, the economy is collapsing, instability is growing, money for payments is running out, and so on.
3. Historical and ideological component
The issue of common history and idealization of the Soviet past is a topic of separate importance in the Telegram channels of the newly occupied territories of Ukraine. It was most aggressively broadcast in early May (culminating on "Victory Day"). "Melitopol is recovering after the so-called de-communization by the Kyiv regime",
"The heart of another city in Zaporizhzhia region is beating again - the Eternal Flame has been lit",
"Our common duty is to keep the memory of the exploits of the heroes of that war, who selflessly fought against Nazism and defeated it".
4. Nazi Ukraine
Instead of justifying the occupation, the Telegram channels of the occupied territories prefer messages about “bad” Ukraine that is shelling its own people, using Nazi methods, killing civilians, and so on. "Somewhere in Ukraine, the Nazis attacked Orthodox Christians who were going to pray in a church",
"A girl said that a rocket flew out of Kyiv and hit... Kyiv",
"The Ukrainian military fired three Tochka-U missiles at Melitopol",
“Residential areas of Donetsk under artillery strikes of the Armed Forces of Ukraine",
"National Guard officers detained two nationalists in Kherson. Look at these people who do not want our city to live a quiet, peaceful life."
5. Humanitarian aid from the Russian Federation
A great emphasis was placed on the promotion of reports of humanitarian and other aid from Russia. This topic has been constantly discussed throughout the entire period (except May 9) and has been promoted by a large number of publications. "On the border of the Kherson Region with Crimea, the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation opened a water boiling station",
"The Russian Armed Forces help to restore infrastructure, bring food and medicine, so the locals fully trust the Russian armed forces and cooperate",
"Humanitarian aid went to Melitopol and Tokmak for mothers with children. In Zaporizhzhia, there is still a shortage of necessities,
such as diapers, children’s linens or personal hygiene products for women",
"Today in Kherson, the Russian military again distributed humanitarian aid. Life's difficulties force Kherson residents to look at life sensibly and not rely on promises of the authorities. Thank you for the help. Kherson,
"Residents of Ukraine received 26 million rubles in lump sum payments from Russia. In total, almost 3 thousand applications were submitted for lump sum payments in the amount of 10 thousand rubles, which are addressed to pensioners, state employees and socially unprotected segments of the population",
"Ukrainian authorities struggle to prevent the establishment of peaceful life in Kherson, while Russia delivers humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of the Kherson region and helps fight the devastation.
Promises from the occupiers
Arguments about unification with Russia are quite primitive and cynical – the propagandists promise to restore what they themselves destroyed: "All roads will be put in order. The restoration of the region's industry and agriculture is an important landmark,"
"Russia will restore all of the liberated territories of Ukraine and finance them." Along with promises of issuing personal IDs and providing jobs ("Crimea offered to start issuing Russian passports to residents of southern Ukraine", "Russian Interior Ministry announces that Ukrainian citizens, as well as people with LDNR passports will be able to work in Russia without licensing"), they promise close cooperation with Crimea and economic prosperity "as in Crimea": "Crimea is very closely and fruitfully restoring cooperation with the southern regions of Ukraine, which have always been drawn to us and have always helped Crimea as a tourist territory to supply a large number of tourists with food",
"Therefore, the Crimeans are ready to help, in this case, integrate, compensate for those inconveniences, that discomfort, which was inflicted on the residents of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. I am sure that all these actions will yield fruitful results. Using Crimea as an example, you can understand how events will develop further. We personally have no doubt about this."
The channels we analyzed:
Administration of the city of Melitopol,
Top Stories of Melitopol,
Top Stories of Polohy,
Kherson and Zaporizhzhia 24 | News,
Kherson 24 | News of Kherson,
Mykolaiv is the navel of the Earth,
Nikolaev 🇷🇺 🇺🇦,
Top Stories of New Kakhovka,
Top Stories of Kherson,
Top Stories of Chornobaivka,
News of Kherson Region,
Kherson People's Republic,
Odessa Public Television Z,