Opinionated articles and furious reader comments – the propaganda machinery around the Ukraine-Russia conflict is immense and never stands still. Opposing views are not only published in Ukrainian and Russian media but also have their respective advocates in the European press. For most readers it has long become impossible to see the big picture and decide whose story to believe. Both sides create narratives of heroes and enemies, of good and bad, and each story seems to make sense looked at in isolation.
Part One: Maidan in May. On the Eve of Elections
After coming back from my journey across Ukraine with all experiences still fresh in my memory, I returned to the world wide web and its coverage of Ukraine.
In the English speaking press, British columnist John Pilger stands for one extreme and could not position himself more clearly behind Putin’s back. He blames the US for pushing the world into a third world war and at the same time praises the Russian president for being the only one to identify a new wave of fascism arising in the West of Ukraine. With a mixture of disbelief and disgust I was reading his article, as my personal impression while visiting Ukraine has been a completely different one.
Nationalism in a different context
On Maidan in Kyiv, I have seen slogans that promote nationalism, which in the case of Ukraine is a synonym for unity and independence of the Ukrainian state from Russia, but clearly reject any acceptance of fascism. Nationalism has thus as a different meaning in Ukraine compared to a European context.
Anne Applebaum: Nationalism Is Exactly What Ukraine Needs
In Dnipropetrovsk, I have had a long conversation with a professor from Kramatorsk who had fled his home town before the referendum on 11 May. Kramatorsk is a town located in Donetsk region only a few kilometres from Sloviansk, which has frequently been on the news during the last weeks. The man explained to me that he left his home because he was scared of separatists with machine guns, who might come to his flat and force him to vote in the referendum. He was convinced that this people are foreigners, paid by Russia to stage the scenario that the world can observe at the moment. He reported that about half of his city’s population have escaped before the referendum to other oblasts, which are still under Ukrainian control. Does it sound like people that celebrate separatism and fear western fascists?
Is it propaganda?
The city of Dnipropetrovsk is still free from separatist movements and the support for the Ukrainian state seems uncontested with numerous yellow blue flags on cars and buildings, and no sign of Russian worship. What if it will be the next Ukrainian oblast in which apparently ‘’the majority of the population wants to return to the Russian homeland’’? At least for me it will be easier to differentiate between propaganda and reality in case this scenario will become reality.
My personal experience and conversations with people in Ukraine make me want to write a letter to Pilger to at least ask him where he got his information from and – maybe even more provocative – if he is part of Putin’s social media army.
Since when however is a gut feeling, created by a limited number of talks, taken seriously enough as justification for one’s stance?
My perception as a part of a bigger picture
Just in the right moment, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for human rights released a report on 15 May, covering the time period from 2 April to 6 May 2014, which backs up my perception of the situation.
The limited number of talks and meeting I had in Ukraine become part of a bigger picture.
The HRMMU monitors collected and analysed information, and conducted on-site visits and interviews in Kyiv, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lviv and Odessa. The document states that the leaders and members of separatist groups, who occupy cities and towns in the eastern regions, commit an increasing number of human rights abuses, such as abductions, harassment, unlawful detentions – in particular of journalists. ”This is leading to a breakdown in law and order and a climate of intimidation and harassment,” the report finds. People disappear or flee, pro-Ukrainian activists fear for their lives. The UN news centre states that there are at least 10 000 displaced people. Some of them even had to flee twice, first from Crimea, now from the eastern parts of the country.
The real issue here
Of course, causalities and atrocities are happening on both sides. Certainly, people are suffering and dying as a consequence of the Ukrainian army’s anti-terrorist operation too. Yes, the boundary between good and evil, freedom fighters and terrorists, is blurry. It seems to me that constructing a world conspiracy like Pilger camouflages the real issue.
Let’s rather talk about the social reality of people in the east of Ukraine.