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Ukrainian media and the war. IMI monitorings 2022 summarized

03.01.2023, 14:57

As we were preparing this summary, we had to look through our archive for the whole year. It turns out that, besides the war, we started this year with surveys on how the media were covering the coronavirus (yes, it was still around and it was the main thing Ukrainians feared), looked into what fortune-tellers were predicting for 2022 and what mass media were writing about the protests in Qazaqstan and Poroshenko's trial. It feels like all this was at least three years ago, not earlier this year. Due to the Russian full-scale invasion into Ukraine, the entire IMI team had to change their plans completely. Some of our colleagues enlisted into the UAF / TDF. Part of the team took over their colleagues' duties. The media market has also changed. Ukrainian media had to find means to survive and to look for new sources of funding. At the onset of the war, jeansa and sexism disappeared from the media space. However, no later than fall, jeansa came back (albeit in a different way), and the media that used to discriminate against women was back at it again.

At the same time, this year brought two miracles that Ukrainians were waiting for: Medvedchuk's channels were closed and Shariy was detained and his property seized, although it is still unclear what will come of the latter, because he seems to have already fled from Spain.


According to the results of the annual online media transparency survey conducted by IMI, only 38% of Ukrainian media were mostly transparent in 2022. This is 12% less than in 2021. 52% of online media were partially transparent, and another 10% were mostly non-transparent. 26% of the surveyed online media listed their beneficiaries on their websites. We are talking about the names of specific persons. Last year, such publications were slightly fewer – 22%. Another 24% of online media, this year's survey shows, disclosed no information about the people who own them in a way that is understandable to the reader. Last year there were much more of them – 34%.

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In the first quarter of 2022, IMI recorded that the traffic of some Ukrainian media increased by 300% due to the war. In the first quarter of 2022, "Ukrainian Pravda" became the leader in terms of views count with a record average of 136 million views per month. For comparison: a year ago, the leader was "Censor", with a 41.2 million reach. In the second and third quarters, IMI experts noted that the audience growth and engagement with the content had dropped significantly. IMI researchers believe that Ukrainians are tired of living on news about the war, which is why their engagement with news websites has declined.

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The market for commissioned materials in online media, which shrunk noticeably at the beginning of the Russian full-scale invasion into Ukraine, is now on the rise again. Currently, although it has not reached the pre-war level, the amount of jeansa content commissioned by commercial companies is growing. Covert political advertising is recovering at a lower pace and now accounts for 30% of all detected material with signs of commission.

Russia's attack on Ukraine had a significant impact on the content of jeansa. The commissioners started shamelessly exploiting the topic of war for advertising. The most widely used method of manipulating public opinion was showing off one's financial and technical aid to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, charity towards victims of Russian aggression, and contributions to overcoming the consequences of the hostilities. Such advertising methods are still present in the content with signs of commission – both commercial and political.

Rinat Akhmetov with his companies and foundations remains a leader among the clients of commercial jeansa. Among the beneficiaries of political jeansa, Petro Poroshenko ranks first. Among the heroes of dubiously balanced content, Oleksiy Arestovych leads the way.

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In September, IMI published the long-awaited media whitelist. This is a list of online media that have passed a two-stage in-depth examination. First, the media outlets were checked for manipulation, fakes, hate speech, black PR, ethics violations, and commissioned content. Then the media that passed the first stage were analyzed according to the following criteria: compliance with the standards of balance, reliability, and separating facts from comments, as well as for transparency – whether a contact list, the editorial policy, information on the owner and the people responsible for content, etc is available on a media outlet's website.

The analysis showed that an average of 96% of content on the whitelisted resources are compliant with professional standards. The news feeds of these websites had no jeansa (although there was some material with insufficient branding), hate speech, sexism, and fakes. According to the results of the study, the following media outlets were included in the list of the most high-quality and responsible online media: Suspilne, Hromadske, Liga, Ukrainian Pravda, Ukrinform, Radio Liberty, Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, NV and Babel.

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Astrologers fearmongering and "100% reliable information" from Russia. This is how the fakes that IMI experts found in Ukrainian media can be briefly characterized. Most of the detected fakes involved mysticism and predictions: horoscopes, Tarot prophecies with warnings for various occasions, and astrologers "prophesizing" the course of the war and Ukraine's future. Furthermore, mass media has been actively producing low-quality content openly stigmatizing certain groups.

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Due to Russia's intensive war on Ukraine, IMI experts were paying a lot of attention to detecting Russian narratives and disinformation in their research, as well as to studying Russian propaganda.

Russian pro-Kremlin media have created their own version of the Orwellian "newspeak". The most typical and well-known example of misleading choice of words is that in Russia, the invasion and the Russian-Ukrainian war are being stubbornly dubbed "the special operation". The word "explosion" has been replaced by a more neutral word "pop". The Russian military's retreat brought on by the UAF's successful counteroffensive around Izum is dubbed "regrouping" in the Russian media. The Russian mass media only ever use the word "counteroffensive" in parentheses, thus trying to frame it as illegitimate. Mostly, Russian journalists call the UAF counteroffensive a "breakthrough attempt". The main cause for this is the propagandists' intent to reduce the social tension triggered by the government's actions and the society's negative attitude towards these actions.

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Before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian media used to write about Ukraine's four main issues: nationalists, Zelensky, Ukrainian politicians, and Poroshenko, to some extent. Even while celebrating "Russia Day", the Kremlin mouthpieces were devoting the lion's share of their reports to discrediting Ukraine and its Western partners supporting it in the war. In order to discredit the Armed Forces, they actively promoted multiple talking points to feed their audience a fresh serving of hatred towards Ukrainians. Russian propagandists pushed the following narratives about the Armed Forces in their news:

  • the soldiers fire on the civilian population and carry out terrorist attacks against the civilian population;
  • the UAF are drug addicts and alcoholics;
  • TDF fighters are simply "cannon fodder" who are not prepared for the war;
  • the fighters who were captured by the Russians want to stay and live in Russia, because in Ukraine, a trip back to the front line awaits them;
  • soldiers of the Armed Forces forcefully take food from the civilian population, while the Russian army is feeding the residents of the occupied territories.

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IMI experts studied the ways Russian propaganda resources justified the "partial mobilization" amidst reports about Russia's alleged stunning front line successes. They also studied the ways those resources promoted mobilization and encouraged Russians to go to enlistment offices. After the "partial mobilization" was announced, the main narratives about it promoted in the Russian media were as follows:

  • the mobilization is needed to "control the Ukrainian territories conquered by Russia";
  • the mobilization was announced because Russia is now forced "to stand against not just Ukraine, but the entire NATO bloc";
  • the mobilization is an alleged necessary step to support and defend the homeland;
  • only the reservists are being conscripted and there are no plans for a "general mobilization" yet;
  • one should feel joy and pride at receiving a conscription notice, and it also comes with some financial benefit;
  • Russians who do not want to be drafted are "second-class people";
  • anti-mobilization protests are illegal and are allegedly being coordinated from abroad.

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Making up a win for themselves on Telegram, Russian propaganda shifted the blame for the mass attack on Ukraine onto the Ukrainians themselves. For this purpose, propaganda mostly used aggressive rhetoric and extremist appeals bordering on hysteria. At first, without going into explanations, the propaganda accused Ukraine of sabotaging the Crimean bridge and called it an "act of terrorism." Then they painted the mass strike as a "symmetric response." The propagandists used information about the damage to Ukraine's energy facilities and temporary power and water supply interruptions in Kyiv and the regions as proof of successful revenge, as well as spread fakes about rockets hitting state body buildings. In addition, they tried to create the impression that the shelling caused panic in Ukraine.

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Most often, reports of an upcoming "big war" against Ukraine where Belarus is to be used by Russia as a springboard for military operations were called "fantasies", "speculations", or "provocations" by the West. However, the main narratives currently promoted by Belarusian propaganda are as follows:

  • "Lukashenka is a guarantor of security. Belarus is an island of stability and order."
  • "Belarus is a strong country (perhaps even stronger than Russia) with great prospects. By introducing anti-Russian sanctions, the West is shooting itself in the foot."
  • "Belarus is surrounded by enemies."
  • "Belarus is a peaceful country: if it does attack, it will only be because someone forced it."
  • "Ukrainians are not human."
  • "Russia is crushing the Ukrainian army on the front line."
  • "Serving in the army is an honorable and prestigious occupation."

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One of our major surveys was about the largest Telegram channel in the occupied territories of the Donbas. It was study of about the local Telegram channel of the occupied Makiyivka, which changed its tune in one night and became the "republican" news outlet focusing on the military goings-on in Ukraine. Now it writes about the UAF demons, the Orthodox spirit of the Russian occupiers, and promotes Putin as a successful leader of the Donbas.

The monitoring also showed that the propagandists promoted five broad sets of narratives: the ones discrediting the Ukrainian Armed Forces and everything Ukrainian; the ones praising the power and successes of the Russian army; the ones about the so-called "DPR" as a promising region of Russia; the ones arguing that all of Russia is a successful and respected country; the anti-Western narratives.

IMI researchers found that the admins of the channel used over 23 lexemes to refer to the UAF soldiers while expressing contempt towards them. The most often used were the UAG (Ukrainian armed groups) – 632 mentions, Nazis (601), militants (495), Ukrainians (160), terrorists (134), neo-Nazis (131), Ukrainian Nazis (117). Much less used: Banderites (86), Ukrofascists / fascists (73), Kyiv security forces (72), mercenaries (66), ukrops (53), khokhly (38), Ukrainian soldiers (28), Ukrainian death squads (19), khloptsy ( 16), bandits (16), shaitans (14), the junta (6), khokholdom / khokhly (3). Most often, propagandists experimented with equating Ukrainians to Nazism: Nazis, neo-Nazis, Ukroazis.

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Russian propaganda has been actively brainwashing the residents of the occupied territories for eight years. Almost half (43%) of the information in the Crimean mass media was related to Ukraine in one way or another, while 57% of the content was about other topics. Our monitoring survey showed that almost all references to Ukraine in the pro-Russian Crimean media were aggressive war propaganda aimed at inciting hatred towards Ukraine, portraying the country as something dangerous and scary. Since the Russian Federation showed no victories on the battlefield, the propagandists effectively stopped publishing front line reports and focused on advertising the mobilization instead. In particular, the Russian ruling party "United Russia" has been actively advertising the aid provided to Crimean conscripts. No oppositional or alternative viewpoints were found in the pro-Russian Crimean media during the monitoring period.

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IMI experts also recorded genocidal rhetoric coming from Russian propagandists and compiled their information crimes. The Russians have started deleting some things they had once written or said – they may already be worried they will have to stand before the Hague court and face responsibility. That is why IMI experts have been recording and archiving all talking points about Ukrainians and Ukraine promoted by the propagandists. The sample included:

  • Aggressive propagandist Anton Krasovsky, who proposed drowning Ukrainian children and burning them to death in their own homes.
  • Propagandist Margarita Simonyan, who is one of Russian propaganda's key figures. She runs "RT" – a Kremlin-controlled multilingual network of TV channels. IMI experts argue that RT is not a media outlet, and Simonyan herself is not a journalist.
  • Propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov, unlike some of his Russian colleagues, is not even coy about being engaged in propaganda and covering events in a politicized and biased way. Kiselyov was calling for a "forced denazification" of Ukraine long before international media started warning of the risk of a full-scale Russian invasion into Ukraine.

Furthermore, IMI researchers recorded the ways in which the Russian Orthodox Church and its leaders, including Patriarch Kirill, took part in the information aggression against Ukraine. The four key points that the ROC representatives have been endorsing were as follows: the UOC and Orthodox people in Ukraine are being persecuted; Ukrainians are prone to terrorism, aggression, paganism; Russians and Ukrainians are one indivisible nation; non-recognition of Ukraine as a separate independent country. Moreover, studies have shown that the Russian Orthodox Church sacralizes the war and promotes the message that "Ukrainians are reaping the war for their sins."

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In addition to the ROC's aggressive propaganda, our experts have investigated how Russian spiritual leaders are involved in propaganda. The survey found that all Russian spiritual leaders are promoting three common talking points. The first is that participating in war is every man's sacred duty. The second is promises of victory, and, of course, benefits to all the conscripts (if they survive). The third is that to die in the war is to fulfill God's will and be absolved of all sins. Murdering Ukrainians, which spiritual leaders are encouraging, is directly equivalent to "desanatization" and "deshaitanization."

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IMI experts studied the way Ukrainian media have been covering the Coronavirus and vaccination during the war. To spoil it briefly: we once again reminded that the propaganda trio (112, ZIK, Newsone), which has been developing over years with the Kremlin's support, was publishing anti-Ukrainian messages and promoting the Russian vaccine. That is, they did everything to ensure Ukrainians are exhausted from the Coronavirus, distrustful of the authorities, and don't get vaccinated with properly tested European vaccines. Moreover, the survey's latest figures showed that most often, Ukrainian online media publish official Covid infection statistics (49% of the total amount of Covid and vaccination-related content)*, official announcements about the face mask rules (16%), research and recommendations (11%), information on new batches of vaccine supplies (9%) and stories of vaccinated persons (4%).

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The war had a noticeable impact on online media's sources of information. For instance, as recently as two years ago, IMI surveys showed that the main sources of news were social media, the press offices of state bodies, and other media, Ukrainian or foreign. IMI's latest monitoring showed that nowadays, the media's main sources are social media of various officials, Facebook posts, and foreign media. Social media posts by officials and state bodies were used as sources most often. The IMI survey showed that every fourth report in online media (24.9% of all content) was based on an official source. The second most popular source is social media (in 15.7% of all content). In 14.1% of reports, Ukrainian publications used foreign media as a source of information (our experts did not count content from Russian media here). Russian media were used as sources by Ukrainian media in 2% of the cases. 11.8% of reports cite the media's own sources and journalists. Another 11.4% of the material are news based on press releases and official announcements by press offices of state bodies. Every 13th news report is a repost from some other Ukrainian media. 3.5% of content had no sources listed at all.

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Even before the start of the full-scale war, IMI researchers have been studying the way Ukrainian media covered motherhood and fatherhood. The results show that being a mother in Ukraine is no easy task, if online media are to be believed. Often, the image of motherhood is supplemented by articles that discuss mothers who suffer from alcoholism, reinforce stereotypical ideas of motherhood, and contain mandatory descriptions of what their homes should be like. If housing is mentioned at all, it is almost always in the "unsanitariness and untidiness" context. Being a father is somewhat easier in Ukraine. Even if there are any critical articles on fatherhood, they will still blame the mother. Fathers are often excused. For example, if a father neglects his children, the media will write that it is no big deal, since the children have a mother anyway. And if a father's behaviour is just normal, the media will talk about him as a "super dad".

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In the first days of the full-scale war, IMI investigated the way Ukrainian media were writing about IDPs. At the time, the UN (April 2022) reported 7.1 million internally displaced persons and 4.7 million refugees who had gone abroad. However, in the Ukrainian media, the content about people who had to leave their homes is so diverse that it included hate speech, comments from some unknown Internet users, and Russian narratives about "Russophobia and discrimination against Russian speakers". "Strana" was publishing the most manipulative, stereotypical, and unbalanced content.

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During the big war between Russia and Ukraine, police news in the Ukrainian mass media have been relying on press releases and other reports by law enforcement agencies for information and have been fundamentally different from what they used to be before February 24, 2022. Reports of domestic violence have almost disappeared from news websites, and there have been almost no reports about corruption, etc. The focus shifted to the security forces and their fight against traitors, collaborators, spies, and other agents of the enemy's army. However, the quality of Ukrainian media's coverage of this topic has not changed significantly. IMI analysts found that almost all editorial teams make similar mistakes which result in violation of the presumption of innocence principle. The vast majority of news use reports by law enforcers and special services without putting too much effort into processing them. Of the surveyed websites, only "Ukrainian Pravda" bothers with supplementing the press releases with information from their own sources.

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The war affected the representation of female experts in the media as well. IMI researchers recorded that the average presence of female experts in online media reached 12.5% in the fourth quarter of 2022. IMI has not recorded an indicator this low since 2014. As for the topics, female experts most often commented on international relations (48.4% of all comments by female experts). Much fewer articles featured women as experts commenting on the war (only 10.9% of all comments), survival, humanitarian crisis, and the consequences of the war (9.4%); economy and business (7.8%), and crime (6.3%). Female experts also commented on the topics of human rights, weather, healthcare, and science, but these comments were quite few and far between.

Furthermore, the survey showed that 40% of online media do not use female forms of job titles consistently.

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