Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

Russian aggression against Ukraine and the new media ecology was the subject of an enthralling talk by Natalia Chaban. She is a Professor in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Canterbury, and the President of the Australia and New Zealand Ukraine Studies Association. Natalia comes from Ukraine, and researches political communications, but never thought she would be studying a war in her own country. Having been in Aotearoa since 2002, Natalia can see the Ukraine conflict both from within and from outside.

She spoke of how media love war, scandal, and bloodshed, but the level of media attention on Ukraine in Aotearoa has now dropped. The Western audience has little patience for a long and costly war where they see no clear threat, and the goal of the Ukrainian Government is to make sure the war is not forgotten.

In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea and the Donbas region. The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight17, and the humanitarian crisis in Donbas was news at the time, but the war smouldered on for eight years, with little attention until Russia invaded Ukraine in February of this year. So, what is different in 2022? The Global Soft Power Index shows that there has been a change, with improved perception of Ukraine.

Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, with a relatively old population of 43 million. By 6 September12 million had left the country and 7 million had been internally displaced. Natalia’s parents evacuated from Ukraine a few days after the invasion. A car journey that would usually take 24 hours took them three days. They were unable to sleep because the line of cars kept slowly moving. The Government had asked evacuees not to use GPS as this would alert the Russians to where the cars were, so Natalia navigated for her parents from her home in Christchurch.

Natalia comes from the city of Cherkasy in central Ukraine where there were 34 schools. She and her sister went to Russian-speaking schools, because at that time it was the best option to prepare for a professional career. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union four schools were Ukrainian-speaking, and 30 were Russian-speaking. After independence this ratio was completely reversed. Natalia pointed out that ethnicity doesn’t mean patriotism, and many ethnic Russians are fiercely devoted to Ukraine. In post Soviet Ukraine there was democracy and freedom, with new values formed, and this is why Ukraine is determined to keep fighting. This short video shows how the country was flourishing before the invasion.

The war in Ukraine is the first to have been fully fought with immediate internet information, and information about the war is much more accessible than it was in 2014. President Zelenskyy had for the previous decade been a scathing satirical commentator. He is a lawyer, a businessman, and a millionaire, having made his money from a humour empire. Zelenskyy is often seen with people, in contrast to Russia’s President Putin. He understands the media, is accommodating, open, and sincere, and knows the power of dramatic scenes. Through Zoom diplomacy he meets with policy-makers all round the world, and receives standing ovations. He also pursues celebrity diplomacy, with stars such as Mark Hamill (Luke Sky-walker). All his top advisers have a sense of humour, and he collaborates with exiled Russian opposition commentators.

Ukraine has benefitted from psychological operations such as winning the Eurovision Song Contest. Ukrainian soldiers dancing on TikTok show the human side of the Ukrainian army. First Lady Olena Zelenska has proved to be the country’s secret weapon. When she appeared on the cover of Vogue wearing ordinary clothes and sitting in a traditionally masculine pose she inspired a new tag #Sit like a girl.

When asked why it is that no-one smiles in Russia, Natalia explained that scientifically different cultures have different neutral faces. There is a pre-Christian belief in the Soviet area that you need to not smile to deceive the spirits into thinking that things are not going well for you, so they don’t try to make things worse. When she took her baby to Ukraine her husband was surprised that people commented “ugly baby”, but this was done to deceive the spirits.

Internet trolls were active in Ukraine before the invasion, and since then activity has multiplied. Natalia noted that just yesterday a Russian businessman, a close ally of Putin, admitted that he had interfered in the U.S. elections, and would continue to do so. The power of global social media is strong and to avoid being manipulated people need to develop the skills to compare different perspectives.

Asked about the bombing of power stations and what this will mean in a severe winter, Natalia said the effects on electricity, water supply, and sewage were very stressful. However such bombing makes people angrier, and more determined, and strengthens their resolve. Ukraine has many nuclear and hydro power stations, but the distribution infrastructure is under threat. The Government has asked those who left the country not to return during winter. It’s likely that three million people from Kyev will be evacuated to the countryside. Ukraine is looking for solutions and not giving up.

When asked how Aotearoa can best help Ukraine, Natalia said we are already doing much with targetted sanctions, special visas, and support in global forums. Individuals can donate money to the National Bank of Ukraine. Most important is to discuss the situation with our family, friends, and networks, to ensure the world keeps talking about it.

We need to stand beside Ukraine
until they can be free again

Read Full Post »