Written by Dan Cohen . Originally published on MintPress
Since the Russian offensive inside Ukraine commenced on February 24, the Ukrainian military has cultivated the image of a plucky little army standing up to the Russian Goliath. To bolster the perception of Ukrainian military mettle, Kiev has churned out a steady stream of sophisticated propaganda aimed at stirring public and official support from Western countries.
The campaign includes language guides, key messages, and hundreds of propaganda posters, some of which contain fascist imagery and even praise Neo-Nazi leaders.
Behind Ukraine’s public relations effort is an army of foreign political strategists, Washington DC lobbyists, and a network of intelligence-linked media outlets.
Ukraine’s propaganda strategy earned it praise from a NATO commander who told the Washington Post, “They are really excellent in stratcom — media, info ops, and also psy-ops.” The Post ultimately conceded that “Western officials say that while they cannot independently verify much of the information that Kyiv puts out about the evolving battlefield situation, including casualty figures for both sides, it nonetheless represents highly effective stratcom.”
Key to the propaganda effort is an international legion of public relations firms working directly with Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to wage information warfare.
According to the industry news site PRWeek, the initiative was launched by an anonymous figure who allegedly founded a Ukraine-based public relations firm.
“From the first hour of war, we decided to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help them distribute the official sources to show the truth,” the nameless figure told PR Week. “This is a hybrid war: the mix of bloodily struggling fight with a huge disinformation and fake campaign lead by Russia [sic].”
According to the anonymous figure, more than 150 public relations firms have joined the propaganda blitz.
The international effort is spearheaded by public relations firm PR Network co-founder Nicky Regazzoni and Francis Ingham, a top public relations consultant with close ties to the UK’s government. Ingraham previously worked for Britain’s Conservative Party, sits on the UK Government Communication Service Strategy and Evaluation Council, is Chief Executive of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation, and leads the membership body for UK local government communicators, LG Comms.
“We’ve been privileged to help coordinate efforts to support the Ukrainian Government in the last few days, “ Ingham told PRovoke Media. “Agencies have offered up entire teams to support Kyiv in the communications war. Our support for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine is unwavering and will continue for as long as needed.”
With an anonymous Ukrainian figure joining two of the top public relations figures in the Kiev government’s propaganda blitz, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs distributed a dossier folder (archived) with materials instructing public relations agencies on “key messages,” approved language, content for debunked propaganda constructs, far-right and Neo-Nazi propaganda.
The folder is run by Yaroslav Turbil, described on his LinkedIn page as “Head of Ukraine.ua — Ukraine’s digital ecosystem for global communications. Strategic Communications & Country Brand Promotion.” Turbil has worked at multiple “civil society” organizations closely linked to the U.S. government and interned at Internews, a U.S. intelligence-linked organization that operates under the guise of promoting press freedom.
Among the propaganda constructs distributed in the dossier, is a video of the Snake Island incident, which was quickly proven false, in which Ukrainian border guards stationed on a small island were reported to have been killed after they told an approaching Russian warship that had urged them to surrender to “Go f*** yourself.” President Zelensky held a press conference announcing he would award the men the Hero of Ukraine medal as mainstream media spread the story widely. However, the supposedly-dead soldiers quickly turned up alive and well, proving their heroic stand to be a farce.
Despite the story being proven as fake, the dossier contains a propaganda video promoting it.
Another folder in the dossier is run by Ukrainian MFA graphic artist Dasha Podoltseva and contains hundreds of propaganda graphics submitted by artists in Europe and the United States.
Some feature generic “no war” messages, while dozens of other images celebrate “The Ghost of Kiev” – a heroic Ukrainian pilot who turns out to be non-existent – and the phony “Snake Island 13” incident.
Many use xenophobic and racist language, and some are explicit in their praise of prominent Ukrainian Neo-Nazis, including C14 leader Yevhen Karas, the Right Sector fascist paramilitary, and the Neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. Multiple images call for “Banderite smoothies” – a reference to Molotov cocktails named for the late OUN-B commander Stephan Bandera, who collaborated with Nazi Germany in the mass murder of Jews and ethnic Poles during World War II. Another image depicts a book titled the: ”Encyclopedia of Incurable Diseases,” listing Russia, Belorussia, North Korea, Syria, and Eritrea.
Foreign extremists flock to Ukraine
The dossier also contains a link to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs page called “Fight for Ukraine,” which provides instructions for foreigners who wish to join Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi-infested armed forces – termed the “International Defense Legion of Ukraine.”
Following Zelensky’s call for foreign fighters to form a brigade, fighters from all over the world, including the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, Spain, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and more have traveled to face Russian forces. Others with no combat training or experience have arrived for “war tourism” – what one British soldier called “bullet-catchers.”
While the Ukrainian government says tens of thousands have answered their call, some commentators expressed doubt at those figures, calling it a “PR exercise.”
However, the foreigners who have traveled to Ukraine have encountered a much more severe reality than they anticipated.
Russia’s air force bombed military installations adjacent to where the foreign fighters were sleeping. Having fled to neighboring Poland, a Spanish fighter described the bombing as a “message” that could have killed thousands.
Similarly, an American fighter who hid in an ambulance to escape the frontlines warned that Ukrainian authorities were killing foreigners who decided not to fight, calling it a “trap.”
One document inside the dossier delineates acceptable language on the conflict with Russia as determined by the Ukrainian government.
“Such Russian clichés like ‘referendum in Crimea’ or ‘will of the people of Crimea’ are absolutely unacceptable,” the document states, in reference to the 2014 overwhelmingly successful referendum to separate from Ukraine.
The document deems unacceptable the terms “Civil war in Donbass,” “Internal conflict,” “Conflict in Ukraine” and “Ukrainian crisis” to describe the Ukrainian military’s war with the breakaway republics of the Donbass region. This, despite the fact that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates that 14,200 people, including 3,404 civilians, have been killed in internal fighting in Ukraine since 2014.
In place of these phrases, the document calls for the use of the terms “Armed aggression by the Russian Federation in Donbass, international armed conflict, Russian war against Ukraine, Russian-Ukrainian conflict armed conflict.”
Another document titled “Key Messages” contains specific propaganda claims that were widely disseminated in mainstream western media, but which have since been discredited. One section claims the “entire Europe was put on the brink of nuclear disaster, when the Russian troops began shelling the largest in Europe Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.”