The Ukrainian media environment is diverse, from small online media outlets writing about coffee to big media holdings with multiple TV channels. In contrast to national media outlets, the development of regional media varies. Sometimes, the local newsroom consists of just a few people doing everything from reporting to creating membership models for their financial sustainability.
But the war has changed everything. The last few weeks have shown that despite size, ownership and even the number of people in newsrooms – some of which are dwindling as Ukrainian journalists join territorial defence units to protect their cities – media stakeholders and journalists have united. Working together, they are providing verified information to the Ukrainian population, protecting citizens from Russian fakes, supporting citizens with necessary instructions during wartime and sharing inspiring stories of Ukrainian resistance.
Mayors of cities and heads of regional administrations have become both main sources of information as well as resistance leaders.
Since 15 February, news TV channels Suspilne, Rada, Inter, ICTV, 1+1 and Ukraine24 came together to broadcast a joint information marathon called United News. Entertainment radio stations switched to news coverage, pulling from the public Ukrainian Radio station to form the basis of their news content. Some commercial radio stations also broadcast the television marathon United News. Besides, Ukraine’s four media groups have coordinated and each dedicated one channel that broadcasts children's and family content to entertain and comfort young viewers during this difficult time.
Mayors of cities and heads of regional administrations have become both main sources of information as well as resistance leaders. They share information about military actions, call residents to be united and supportive, and, critically, debunk Russian fake news in real-time.
Despite many events in regions, some local media outlets are not as capable as national ones to cover them. Nevertheless, the newly unified, one-voice coverage coordinated amongst all Ukrainian media channels is likely one reason why Russian troops chose to target Kyiv’s TV tower in an airstrike on 1 March.
Ukrainians are well informed not to post information about places where any airstrike happened and have also been asked to share any relevant information about the Russian military using an official chatbot created by the Security Service of Ukraine. And on top of that, people are trying to cope with abnormal levels of stress by sharing memes, fun videos and courageous stories, like that of the woman who "downed a drone with a jar of tomatoes".
I am writing this on day 16 of the war. Many Ukrainians have lost their homes, loved ones, kids. Such emotional fatigue is an excellent opportunity for further Russian information security operations.
Since the outset of the war, a newly-created, informal unit called the "informational forces" is a name for actively engaged Ukrainians who protect informational space. They ban fake accounts on social media, check information security in their group chats, communicate with relatives, friends or influencers in Russia by sharing the truth about the Russian invasion, bombarding cities and other war crimes, and more. These days, a main focus of the collective informational effort is calling politicians and governments outside of Ukraine to help Ukrainians save lives by imposing a no-fly zone and providing jets.
I am writing this on day 16 of the war. Many Ukrainians have lost their homes, loved ones, kids. It is very hard emotionally to think about all the terror in our country. Such emotional fatigue is an excellent opportunity for further Russian information security operations. What is observed these days are some particular narratives being pushed by Russia within Ukraine. These include the idea that western societies are not taking care of Ukrainian people and that NATO is abandoning our nation because the alliance has not imposed a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Other pro-Russian sources push false narratives like the idea that internally displaced Ukrainians are dangerous.
But this is not happening just in Ukraine. It’s all around the globe. For instance, I have a friend who is originally from Luhansk, living peacefully in Ukraine. Her sister Oksana has been living in Germany for many years. Oksana believes in a "Russian special operation" to save Ukrainians from Nazis. And every time my friend explains about airstrikes in the city, Oksana denies and says it's Ukrainian propaganda. You’ll soon be saved by the Russian army, she tells her. This is one of the billions of such stories.
Russian narratives have deep roots and many followers all around the globe. By closing Sputnik and RT/Russia Today, the EU started transforming this image. The next step is to develop a sustainable strategic command to enhance informational security in Europe with new narratives of unity among nations.
In Ukraine, we do not have the capacity to think about global informational security right now, but we need to prevent any further attempts to hijack reality and sell terror as salvation.
As the biggest producer of terror, Russia will continue to disseminate fear. Ukrainian people know how to resist. But while we are at war protecting the democracy and security of the world, we know that our partners are bringing up the rear.
In Ukraine, we do not have the capacity to think about global informational security right now, but we need to prevent any further attempts to hijack reality and sell terror as salvation. The first step might be very simple: double-check that the broadcasting of Sputnik and RT has been suspended and there is no access to these channels in all EU countries. Think about suspending such elements of soft power as Russian cultural and religious organizations, Russian programs in academia, and other ways to make them less powerful. Provide your citizens with a healthy and diverse media environment, invest more in fact-checking organisations, new media projects and products, media watchdog organisations and media literacy programs for all. Create options for media outlets to coordinate with each other, by sharing experiences and doing new joint projects. And last, but not least, invest in building trust, between institutions, countries and communities.