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Euphoria to excuses: Russian Telegram channels imagining a purpose for the Kharkiv offensive

21.05.2024, 13:44
Illustration by the IMI
Illustration by the IMI

Russian propaganda has been given fresh fuel and is merrily juggling the names of some newly attacked municipalities in Kharkiv oblast in front of Putin's electorate. However, behind this pointed euphoria lies confusion and a lack of clear understanding of the purpose of the new offensive in Ukraine's North.

Instead of conveying to their audience the Kremlin's strategic goals, most Russian propaganda bloggers are making up whatever theories they can imagine. Some cite the "long-suffering" Belgorod residents to promote Putin's idea of ​​creating a "buffer zone", while others openly call for conquering Kharkiv. Their Telegram channels are filled with reports on the invaders' "success", but these stories often contradict one another, which suggests a lack of a cohesive information policy. The only thing that unites these wannabe propaganditsts on Telegram is their hatred of Ukrainians, an overt thirst for blood and destruction, and a love for questionable reports by Russia's Ministry of Defense.

The Z-propagandists' confusion and lack of knowledge was described by one of the Telegram channels analyzed below – "Two Majors":

"Most domestic Telegram channels are divided into three categories:

  • some are already approaching Kharkiv;
  • others are shushing everyone to keep quiet;
  • some have not been instructed by the Ministry of Defense to post anything yet and are pretending that nothing is happening," the Telegram channel said in a post.

This post not only confirms the lack of a single line in Russian propaganda, but also hints that even the propagandists themselves are unaware of the Kremlin's real goals and are simply guessing at what exactly is expected of them. Instead of providing specific information about the course of combat, Russian propaganda focuses on inciting hatred and aggression. This may indicate that the Kremlin seeks to mobilize the public.


Perhaps Russia's most prolific Telegram propagandist is Yuriy Podolyaka, a former citizen of Ukraine. His channel contains quite detailed reports on Russia's attacks in the north of Kherson oblast: what was targeted, how far the troops have advanced, where they were entrenched. At present, ascertaining to what extent these reports are true is impossible. An analysis of his channel's content shows that some of his statements are contradictory. He claims that the Ukrainian army has no means to resist all while saying that the offensive slowed down precisely due to the tenacity of Ukraine's counterattacks.

For instance, Podolyaka writes:

"That is, the territorial defense forces near Kharkiv either don't have the system drawing on NATO's intelligence and coordination capabilities or don't know how to use those properly. Which results in the enemy's actions being uncoordinated and... again, in our rapid advance."

IMI's screenshot from the Telegram channel "World Today with 'Yuriy Podolyaka'"

However, in another post he says:

"We resumed pressure everywhere and, despite the enemy's fierce resistance, continued to press the enemy further back into the Vovchansk region, where (and this was already confirmed today on that side) urban battles continue."

Evidently, Podolyaka has to scurry between definitions such as "rapid advance" and "pressure" due to his own faulty predictions. Most of his posts on Telegram contain promises of the offensive's imminent success. However. the fulfillment of these expectations is pushed further and further into the future with every post:

  • "If this continues, the enemy will be unable to hold out in the northern part for long. And we can expect good news as soon as today."
  • "Today or tomorrow will largely decide the further fate of the battle on the border, with the front line expanding literally every day."
  • "The climax of these battles, which will determine the further development of the situation, will come tomorrow or the day after."
  • "The most important question here so far is still whether our units will be able to quickly cross the Vovcha River and create a bridgehead on its southern bank or not."

Podolyaka provides no evidence to substantiate his claims and ignores the facts that go against the Kremlin's narrative. He actively uses emotionally charged vocabulary ("fierce resistance", "rapid advance") and promises quick victories to keep up the morale among his target adience in Russia.


Noteworthily, the dynamics of the Russian advance confused other Z-propaganda channels on Telegram as well. For example, the channel "SWAT Archangel" switched from reporting on the invaders' lightning-speed successes to attempts to explain the absence of such.

IMI's screenshot from the Telegram channel "SWAT Archangel"

  • "The RF AF quickly passed the Vovchansk airfield and set up positions on the city's outskirts near the meat processing plant."
  • "Units of the Russian Armed Forces control the Vovchansk–Vovchansky Khutor intersection and have been making preparations to enter Vovchansk all day."
  • "No significant changes in the situation. Our assault units are fighting on the northern outskirts of Vovchansk."
  • "The fighting continues, the enemy is biting back."
  • "The assault units are going in deeper, but the enemy has built defense echelons. Now combat is underway."
  • "There is no hurry, don't try to rush things, our boys in artillery, aviation, and MLRS are doing their job expertly."

There were Russian propaganda channels on Telegram which did not fall into euphoria and started explaining to their readers right away why they should not expect any significant success from the offensive. For instance, WarGonzo justifies such lack of quick triumph by the fact that the Ukrainian army (what a surprise) is defending their land:

"Yes, we are trying to keep quiet about our successes now so as to give the boys a chance to gain a real foothold without us rishing them with our assumptions, and also not to tip off the enemy. But, of course, one must realize that since the first breakthrough the neo-Nazis have had time to come to their senses and build a defense line."

Meanwhile, the channel "Kitten the War Reporter" tried to cover up the lack of real successes by promising groundbreaking conquests in the uncertain future:

"So far this has all been a local matter, a forerunner of the events to come in the Kharkiv area when the Russian Army starts cleaving off entire areas."

To sprinkle some optimism into the outpour of propaganda around the attempts to attack Kharkiv from the north, most dedicated pro-aggression Telegram channels made posts quoting the Russian Ministry of Defense:

  • "Units of the 'North' group have advanced deep into the enemy's defense line and liberated Hatyshche, Chervone, Morokhovets and Oliynykove of Kharkiv oblast, says the Ministry of Defense of Russia."
  • "The active efforts by the group of troops 'North' have resulted in the liberation of Buhrovatka in Kharkiv oblast and advance into the depth of the enemy's defense line, says the Ministry of Defense of Russia."

To further immerse their audience in the expectation of great victories in some unspecified future, propagandists post unreliable reports from unnamed sources about taking Ukrainian soldiers prisoner.

  • "There are many videos online of POW groups, whole strongholds surrendering at once," claims "World Today with 'Yuriy Podolyaka'".
  • "First prisoners have been captured at the border, one and a half dozen soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces surrendered to 'North', unable to withstand the blow," declares "Elder than Edda".

At the same time, "Elder than Edda's" another claim regarding the capture of Ukrainian soldiers seems to be symptomatic. Just the word "even" in one post clearly reveals that Russian propagandists, like the Russian army, are especially afraid of the soldiers of some Ukrainian units:

"Day two since the start of the offensive by the 'North' group of troops. The number of captured khokhols is already over 50, there is even one POW from the Kraken unit."

IMI's screenshot from the Telegram channel "Elder than Edda"

IMI experts believe that Russian propaganda's rapid switch from reports on successes to excuses and promises of future victories shows that Russian propaganda was faced with unexpected resistance from Ukrainian troops and has had to adjust the narratives.


Overall, the propagandists only reported on the course of the offensive to promote messages of greater import to them. Aware that the Z-channels' audience includes a subset of Ukrainians, the posters tried to create a stressful climate for them. Claiming that Ukrainians are fleeing Kharkiv oblast en masse, they tried to sow panic among the civilians. Here, the propagandists let their imagination run as wild as they could.

For instance, the channel "World Today with 'Yuriy Podolyaka'" falsely claimed that people were fleeing Vovchansk en masse and that there was panic in Kharkiv:

"And Vovchansk itself, where people have been leaving their homes en masse yesterday and today, since we took the hills north of the city, is essentially in the palm of our hand, awaiting its fate.

"Right, I almost forgot: people in Kharkiv are panicking. Distrustful of official reports and having accurate information about the Russian army's breakthrough from relatives in the occupied villages, people are starting to flee the city."

"SWAT Archangel" has been spreading disinformation about the "abendonment of Kharkiv and the oblast" and claiming that Vovchansk was "being prepared for surrender":

  • "Ukraine is being prepared for the abendonment of Kharkiv and the oblast";
  • "The police have evacuated people from Vovchansk, the city is being prepared for surrender, combat is ongoing on the city's outskirts, the enemy is retreating to the south of the city, a lot of civilians left yesterday."

"Two Majors" employs misinformation through emotional maniuplation, advising people to "get their shelters ready" because "battles may soon be unfolding by your windows":

  • "We advise residents of Kharkiv oblast to get their shelters ready if they have no means to leave."
  • "Here's why you need to leave the city / district / settlement if you understand that soon battles may soon be unfolding under by windows and you are a civilian."

IMI's screenshot from the Telegram channel "Two Majors"

  • "Chats say that the situation in Kharkiv and the oblast is extremely nervous."

"Kitten the War Reporter" spreads misinformation about panic and tries to escalate the emotions:

  • "The Ukrainian social media groups are concerned. They're increasingly discussing evacuation from some settlements. Earlier, the Russian army liberated Strilecha village."
  • "The nationalist gay pride in Kharkiv, both the armed persons, the supporting personnel, and the sympathizers, are close to panicking."

"Sladkov+" also spreads claims about the panic:

  • "There is panic in Kharkiv, the traffic to Kyiv has increased tenfold."

In some places, such posts were supplemented with addresses to civilians urging them to leave their homes and flee from Kharkiv oblast. The Russian propagandists are trying to instigate fear and insecurity among Ukrainians. Creating the impression of mass panic and flight aims to demoralize Ukrainians and cast doubt on their ability to resist the aggression.

It is obvious, though, that the propagandists are not at all motivated by their concern for the people, but are merely trying to justify the murder of civilians. This is a hint that "whoever doesn't flee will have had it coming, we warned you." This is confirmed by made-up stories about Ukrainian sabotage groups consisting of women and teenagers, as in the posts on the channel "Two Majors".

"The GUR and the SBU have spent months creating an underground resistance from women who lost their relatives in battles with the Russian Armed Forces. Nationalist and terrorist formations have also been training teenagers, namely as FPV drone pilots. Underground laboratories manufacturing them have been created in some border regions. The saboteurs' task is to carry out subversive activities in the rear behind the Russian troops' backs, without revealing their attitude towards the Russian Armed Forces.

"The enemy's special services were preparing for the approach of our group of troops 'North'. The counter-intelligence and anti-sabotage actions must be tough."

"Reports on the Ukrainian special services creating an underground movement, all-female squads and a kind of Hitler Youth have been confirmed by our sources among the locals, not only in Kharkiv oblast."

Making up myths about Ukrainian sabotage groups consisting of women and teenagers aims to discredit the Ukrainian side and justify Russian terror against civilians. Such lies may also be intended to instigate fear among the Telegram channels' Russian audience.

The attempts to justify the killings of Ukrainian were made especially obvious after the Telegram channel "Sladkov+" confessed that the invaders in the north of Kharkiv oblast were trying to raze any building to the ground regardless of whether it is a military facility or a residential house. Same as in Donetsk oblast.

"Using 'the Avdiivka tactic' involving widespread use of air bombs and artillery has been effective," one of the posts says.

"Two Majors" also speaks of these tactics but for some reason calls it American:

"The Russian army is erasing Vovchansk from the face of the earth. First they raze the territory in front of them, and then the infantry goes forth. All by the American playbook. It is unclear what the Ukrainian side is so upset with."

Meanwhile, the Telegram channel "Kotsnews" does not describe Russia's scorched earth technique, but simply shows it on a video with the caption: "Bird's eye view of Vovchansk. 'North' is coming."

IMI's screenshot from the Telegram channel "Kotsnews"

The reports talking about "Avdiivka tactics" such as mass-bombing and shelling prove that the destruction of infrastructure and civilians of Ukraine has been deliberate. This not only violates international law, but also shows the brutality and ruthlessness of Russia's military strategy.


The propagandists came up with yet another way to justify the bloodthirstiness of the invading army, which also aims to appease and somewhat calm down the Russian followers of Z-channels on Telegram. Flipping the cause-and-effect relationship on its head, they claimed that Russia was forced into an offensive in the north of Kharkiv oblast due to shelling of Belgorod, as if the strikes on this Russian city were in no way connected with the big war on Ukraine that Russia started.

Here are some examples of propagandists lying to “justify” the Russian army's actions:

  • "Poddubny |Z|О|V| edition”:

"What is happening in Kharkiv oblast right now is very simple: the Russian Army is doing everything in its power to save the lives of people in Belgorod region."

  • "War-craZy":

"The revenge for the children killed at a party before the New Year's has begun."

  • "Elder than Edda":

"The enemy is taking out all their failures on the Belgorod civilians, shelling residential neighborhoods. This is the problem that the steel soldiers from 'North' are resolving right now, wearing the enemy down."

  • "SWAT Archangel":

"'North' gunners do not target the civilians in Belgorod, instead firing full 'Grad' rounds at the Ukrainian fascists in the border areas."

"The UAF are attacking civilian objects in Belgorod. It was expected, unfortunately."

  • "Two Majors":

"The morning also saw the resumption of heavy fighting in Vovchansk. Meanwhile, Kyiv is terrorizing the civilians of Belgorod."

The shelling in Belgorod is reported in a way that justifies further aggression on Ukraine. These reports are crafted to create an impression that the Russian troops are only acting in defense.

It does not bother the propagandists in the slightest that they themselves (e.g. Kotsnews) have talked about Ukraine's peaceful territories being shelled from Belgorod and the locals rejoicing at it both at the onset of the full-scale invasion and over the last two years, including the time shortly before the current attempted offensive on Kharkiv oblast from the north:

"Belgorod followers report that goodies of all possible calibers have been flying towards Kharkiv oblast all night: "Sasha, good morning! What a night, so many gifts flying! I came home from work, and our boys were going at it all night, jets, missiles. I was tired, but stayed up to watch nonetheless," writes a propaganda channel on Telegram.

Z-patriots from Telegram not only flipped the situation on its head, but also managed to bow before their dictator Vladimir Putin as they were at it. They suddenly remembered his fantasies about creating a "buffer zone" on the border with Ukraine and wove that idea into their reports on the Kharkiv oblast attack. In this way, the Kremlin's mouthpieces are trying to convince the Russian audience that this step is necessary to protect Russian citizens.

  • "SWAT Archangel":

"The Supreme Leader announced few months ago hat the Russian Army would create a buffer zone."

"Ukraine's military command and political leadership could not have been unaware of the Russian army's intention to at least create a buffer zone in Kharkiv oblast."

  • "Kitten the War Reporter":

"The Kharkiv oblast offensive was made necessary by the actions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In addition to the goal of liberating the originally Russian land, the Russian Armed Forces are performing the task of creating a sort of a sanitary zone, pushing the Banderites back from the state border. This should prevent the enemy from shelling the border areas."

IMI's screenshot from the Telegram channel "Kitten the War Reporter"


After a while, the propagandists got tangled up in their own narratives and explanations of the attempted offensive. One moment they claim revenge for Belgorod, speculate about the prospects of creating a "buffer zone", and the next they start talking about the Russian army's intent to capture the entire Kharkiv oblast for their tsar.

Disinformation from "Kitten the War Reporter":

  • "The Russian reconquest is inevitable as an avalanche. Russia's Kharkiv, founded by a Russian Tsar, will come back home. But everything has its time, as determined from Above."
  • "So far, everything seems simple: the whole world was saying that the Russians would attack Kharkiv. And we did."

Disinformation from the channel "War-craZy":

  • "'North' continues their storm, liberating the land of Kharkiv oblast from the scum's occupation."

But all the propagandists' efforts to muddle the reality and create alternative versions of it were rendered meaningless by the Telegram channel "Sladkov+". Knowingly or not, he exposed the ideological purpose of the attempt to attack Kharkiv from the north.

"The primary measure of success is tthe names of new villages and towns appearing in our and the enemy's battle reports. Once it was the 'immortal' Maryinka and the 'endless' Avdiivka. Now there are many other names."

That is, the propagandist admits that the Kremlin regime absolutely needs to keep feeding Russians the tale of new military achievements, to amuse Putin's electorate with new names of destroyed Ukrainian municipalities, because the two-year long attempts to destroy of the same villages and cities in Ukraine is no longer exciting for Z-patriots.

The lack of unity and contradictory messages coming from the pro-Kremlin Telegram channels indicate that the Russian propaganda machine is malfunctioning. This may be due to the fact that the Kremlin has no clear action plan or is deliberately misinforming its own propagandists to confuse the adversary.


The Institute of Mass Information (IMI) is a Ukrainian non-governmental organization that has been operating since 1996. The IMI defends the rights of journalists, analyzes the media field and covers media-related events, fights propaganda and disinformation and has been providing media outlets with safety gear for trips to the combat zone since the start of the Russo–Ukrainian war in 2014.

The IMI carries out Ukraine's only freedom of speech monitoring and keeps a list of high quality and sustainable online media outlets, documents Russia's crimes against the media committed in the course of the war on Ukraine. The IMI has representatives in 20 oblasts of Ukraine and a network of "Mediabaza" hubs to provide journalists with continuous support. The IMI's partners include Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House; the organization is a member of the International Organization for the Protection of Freedom of Expression (IFEX).

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