Here’s How Ukraine’s Propaganda Machine Works

How Ukraine’s propaganda machine works is by creating symbols, such as packing salt from the mines into 100,000 packages bearing the symbolic inscription “Ukrainian Rock-Solid Strength.”

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky is seen on a big screen at the Council of Europe summit © Getty Images

The Russia-Ukraine conflict isn’t just about the clash of armed forces on the battlefield. It has also been marked by unprecedented levels of confrontation in the fields of information and psychology, cognition and semantics. 

Kiev has arguably achieved more success on the information front, than on the ground. There the “fighters” aren’t just journalists and information and psychological warfare specialists, but content makers and PR experts. Influencing the psyche, mindset, and emotions of ordinary people has become a big deal, as shaping Western public opinion is vital for President Vladimir Zelensky’s regime.

The symbols of war

Anyone familiar with advertising and PR knows that tying a product to a colorful, memorable symbol, or slogan, will boost its popularity, especially in this era of short attention spans. During wartime, the same strategy works just as well with the news as with advertising and election campaigns.

In the current conflict, Ukraine has become very good at creating symbols. Media outlets instantly take up any popular symbol and make use of it in order to influence the mindset of ordinary Ukrainians.

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Here’s a recent example. In May, despite the very difficult situation for the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) in Artemovsk (Bakhmut) and statements from several commentators  – particularly the former Zelensky adviser Alexey Arestovich – that the army could soon retreat (as it eventually did), Ukrainian society wasn’t at all worried and had complete faith in the AFU’s ability to retain control over the city.

In fact, public attitudes towards the battle were largely shaped by the media. For example, at the beginning of the year the rock band “Antytila” (“Antibodies”) released a video for the song ‘Bakhmut Fortress.’ A few months later, it became viral.  Ukrainians have since posted countless self-made versions of the video on social networks, affirming the myth of the impenetrable fortress of Bakhmut. 

Such symbols are created not only during ongoing battles, but also in the aftermath of the AFU’s obvious failures. For example, at the end of February, the Artemsol salt production enterprise announced that before the start of active battles for Soledar (which ended in January with the victory of the Russian Army), it collected 20 tons of salt from the mines. The salt was packed into 100,000 packages bearing the symbolic inscription “Ukrainian Rock-Solid Strength.” Each package was sold for 500 hryvnia (about $13.50). According to the organizers of the fundraiser, most proceeds were spent on kamikaze drones for the AFU.

“Ukrainian Rock-Solid Strength” salt package

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