The early days of the invasion saw a flurry of Russian international misinformation campaigns, as descriptions of Ukrainian heroism dominated the Internet. But in Russia, the country’s propaganda machine was busy churning out a flood of misinformation aimed at its own citizens.
The story, broadcast online by state-run and unofficial channels, has helped create an alternative reality where aggression is justified and Ukrainians are to blame for the violence. Russia has also blocked access to several websites and threatened lengthy jail terms for criticizing the war on the news media. There is some evidence that this effort has affected at least some Russians.
Based on a review of state news articles, channels on the popular chat application Telegram, and input from some disinformation watchdogs overseeing Russia’s propaganda machine, here is what the war looks like for Russians.
Russia blames ‘neo-Nazis’ after Ukrainian civilians killed in Russian firing
Some of the most disturbing images of the war came from the port city of Mariupol on the southeastern coast. The shelling hit the region hard, killing many civilians trying to flee the area during what was considered a ceasefire.
But the Russians found a different explanation online: the Ukrainians fired on Russian forces during the ceasefire, and according to the Russian state news website Tas, the neo-Nazis “hid behind civilians as human shields.”
Neo-Nazis have been a recurring theme in Russian propaganda campaigns for years, used to justify military action against Ukraine, which Russian officials have called “denazification.” Those claims continue only during the conflict. To counter the attacks on other Ukrainian apartment buildings, a similar article by Tas claimed that the neo-Nazis “placed heavy weapons in the apartment buildings, while some residents were forcibly placed in their homes,” without providing any evidence.
Russian social media accounts have used a mixture of fake and unverified photos of Ukrainian soldiers with Nazi flags or photos of Hitler. An analysis by the Center for Information Resilience, a non-profit that focuses on identifying disinformation, shows that the number of tweets linking Ukrainians to the Nazis has increased since the invasion began.
“Propaganda works when it matches your current assumptions,” said Pierre Vox, a senior investigator at the Center for Information Resilience. “Rotating material in Nazi material is really effective.”
After a fire at a nuclear facility, the Russians claimed they were protecting it.
The fire broke out after Russia attacked an area near the nuclear complex in Zaporizhzhya, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called “.Nuclear terrorism,
But the military seized the facility to prevent Ukrainians and neo-Nazis from “planning provocations full of catastrophic consequences,” according to a Kremlin statement quoted in Tass. Although the Ukrainians had fortified the area against the attack, Russian officials claimed that they already had control of the compound before the Ukrainians began firing. They added that the Ukrainians had set fire to a side building before fleeing without providing any evidence. Western experts say controlling the Zaporizhzia complex would allow Russia to launch a blackout or shut down the entire power grid.
Russia’s image as a world protector has resurfaced after country officials claimed that evidence had been found that Ukraine was working on a nuclear bomb. According to Russian officials, the bombing at the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant was exposed.
“It doesn’t even make sense, because if you’re going to develop a nuclear weapon, you’re not going to develop your secret in a nuclear power plant,” he said. Said Vox. “But that kind of thing is only being shown on Russian state TV.”
After Russia fired on a residential area, the Russians claimed that the Ukrainians did it.
According to the Atlantic Council, an American research group, the attack on the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, which borders Russia, provided additional evidence that Russia had indiscriminately bombed residential areas and killed civilians. The International Criminal Court began investigating war crimes after the attack.
An attack involving heavy shelling killed 34 civilians and wounded 285, according to the Ukrainian state emergency service.
But Russians listening to state media or browsing channels on the Telegram heard another story: the missiles, the sources claimed, came from Ukrainian territory.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to Know
On the telegram channel for the Russian news site Ridovka, a post describes how “Ukrainian missiles” “came from the northwest” – an area controlled by the Ukrainian army.
Russia’s defense ministry said it had never attacked cities, but instead targeted “military infrastructure” with “high-precision weapons,” according to an article in the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.
Bloody civilians after the attack, Russians called injured Ukrainians as emergency actors.
A woman who survived a blast in her apartment building became the center of a misinformation attempt after her bloodied and bandaged photograph was widely circulated in the newspapers and in the Western media.
The woman was a resident of an apartment complex in Chuhuiv, near Kharkiv. Photojournalist Alex Laurie captured her portrait after the attack, and the image soon appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world.
But according to an analysis by Ukrainian fact-checking website Stopfek, Russian social media channels misrepresented her as a member of Ukraine’s Psychological Operations Unit.
A post by the pro-Russian website and telegram channel “War on Fax”, which appeared at the beginning of the invasion, suggested that the blood might be grape juice and that the woman could be “part of the regional defense.” As evidence, the post includes a shot of another woman with some similarities. That image comes from a New York Times photograph taken in Kiev – a seven-hour drive west of Chuhuiv.