Anastasiia Ivantsova: Fight against Russian propaganda

Anastasiia Ivantsova is a fact checker at VoxCheck, which is part of the independent analytical platform VoxUkraine. VoxCheck checks whether politicians use correct facts and context, exposes lies and manipulation, and debunks Russian propaganda, especially the most common misinformation about Russia’s war in Ukraine. She participated in the M100YEJ in 2016 and the M100 Colloquium in 2022.
Twitter: @tsovkan

This year has changed a lot for us. Of course, Russia’s war against Ukraine began back in 2014. But this tragedy was invisible for many – including foreigners – until February 24, 2022. We understood what real fear for one’s life is. When, for example, artillery shells your city, or you hear the whistling of a rocket over your own house.

The only thing that hasn’t changed during this year is the Russian propaganda, which we are bombarded with as often as with the rockets. And, as a fact-checking organization, our team had to deal not only with threats to their lives but also with informational threats. I won’t be able to tell you how the entire country lived during this period, but I will tell you about my three main memories of this war as Kyivan and fact-checker.

Morning coffee from the “red tram”

We faced the war in different parts of Ukraine, heard explosions in Kyiv, Khmelnytskyi, and Lviv. Surprisingly, at that very moment, the anxiety disappeared. We were aware that a full-scale war would start someday, and that Russia’s occupation of eastern Ukraine and Crimea was only a preparation. And on February 24, it just fell into place – we woke up from denial, went down to the basements and underground parking lots, and continued our work.

At the same time, pro-Russian telegram channels also woke up. Telegram is a popular messenger in Ukraine. 74% of Ukrainians read news mainly on social networks – these are the results of the USAID-Internews survey on attitudes to media in 2022. 60% of respondents prefer Telegram. At the same time, in Telegram, readers are at the greatest risk of falling under the influence of Russian propaganda. The fact is that, unlike Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter, content in Telegram is hardly moderated. This frees the hands of propagandists and gives them more methods to influence the population.

And Telegram channels, which disguised themselves as Ukrainian news resources and only occasionally posted “Ukrainian crisis” instead of “Russian war”, revealed their true faces. They started to post enemy’s disinformation, talking about the fact that Kharkiv is already occupied, Kyiv is surrounded, Odesa is under their control, and Zelenskyi called to lay down arms.

At that time, our team constantly monitored Russian propaganda in Ukraine and made updates every hour. Later, VoxCheck analyzed more than 5,500 messages from almost 60 Russian and pro-Russian Telegram channels and identified 19 main disinformation narratives. This research was made possible with the support of Democracy Reporting International with the assistance of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But Ukrainians and Ukrainian troops resisted. After the first military successes – the liberation of Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, we thought that victory was close. I remember how we discussed it with friends and were certain – now Europe will see who the real aggressor is, now they will urgently help us with heavy weapons and harsh sanctions. But another Russian weapon stood in the way – their propaganda in Europe. Russian politicians and pro-Russian bloggers were so active in telling Europeans their propaganda narratives:
– “Russia had to protect itself from NATO” (although, in fact, Russia was just looking for an excuse to become a bigger empire)
– “Ukraine is historically a part of Russia” (that is, Ukraine was occupied and colonized by Russia for so long that the Russians got used to it)
– “pumping Ukraine with weapons means more deaths of Ukrainians” (but it would be more true to say “western weapons allow Ukrainians to restore their sovereignty, and we don’t like it. If the Ukrainians surrendered immediately, we would quietly kill those who disagreed, and you simply wouldn’t know about it”)

It is a pity, but some Europeans began to believe in these narratives, which delayed the weapons for Ukraine. Because what democratically elected politician will go against the will of his own people? So we, the VoxCheck team, took a risk on another big project – a review of Russian propaganda in Europe. We even made a resource where we collect not only fact checks of the most popular Russian fakes about Ukraine and the causes of this war, but also provide materials and sources for understanding the context.

But after Ukraine received some weapons and liberated Kharkiv region, Russia began to commit terrorist acts against civilians. And then attacks on energy infrastructure started. Several-day blackouts, large cities, including Kyiv, were without electricity, water, and mobile communications.

I know well the place where the Russian missiles hit on October 10, the first day of these massive “energy” attacks. I often walked through this park on my way to the office to stop for a

The “red tram” in the centre of Kyiv

minute and have a coffee at the “red tram”. The playground in the park and the crossroads right next to it were under Russian fire. After this shelling, Russian mass media eagerly reported that their troops had hit the “decision-making center”. What decisions? What will I drink today – filter coffee or cappuccino? Shall I have a croissant with my coffee? These were decisions you hit?
Ironically, this park is named after Taras Shevchenko, a Ukrainian poet who dedicated his life to Ukraine’s independence from Russian imperialism. But it got him even after death.

This year has changed a lot for us. We learned to tell by the sound what was that – Russian missiles, Iranian drones or “exits” of our air defense. We realized that we are able to collect ₴230 million (which is about €6 million) for the secret Black Box project for the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine. This fundraising was organized by “Come Back Alive” Foundation, and we don’t even know what’s inside the Black Box, but we believe in our people. We consider bad manners not knowing how to apply a tourniquet.
But one more thing has not changed throughout all this year – our will to live in an independent country, in our comfort zone with an area of 603.7 square kilometers.