“Hanged UOC Priest” and “Burned Churches”: How Russia Creates a “Circle of Lies” about Ukraine in Italy

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It is no secret that Telegram has long captured the leadership among messengers in Ukraine, which are used as a source for prompt news. But this is not exclusively a Ukrainian or Russian trend — the share of users of this network abroad is also growing. 

For example, according to analysts at Sensor Tower, Telegram has become the most downloaded messenger in Europe in 2022. That is why pro-Russian propaganda spends more and more resources on the development of “nets” that broadcast the necessary narratives exclusively to foreign audiences.

The Centre for Strategic Communication analyzed the work of one of these nets, the face of which is the Italian pseudo-journalist Andrea Lucidi.

The Italian has long been working for the Russian propaganda

Lucidi has profiles on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, but does not use them very actively, and the audience on each of these sites does not exceed 3,000 subscribers. 

The Italian regularly travels to the temporarily occupied territories, where he shoots propaganda stories, which are then distributed to the Kremlin media with a special emphasis on what the “Italian journalist” reports.

For example, in March, Russian propagandist Vladimir Solovyov in his telegram channel thanked the pseudo-journalist for “trying to convey the truth to the citizens of the country.” 

Lucidi came to Mariupol to shoot a video against the background of the new buildings there.

The main place of Lucidi’s “work” is Telegram, where he has a personal channel with 7,700 subscribers, as well as support for a number of Kremlin platforms that mimic “independent” media that want to “tell the truth to the Italians.”

How Russia spread a fake about the “hanged UOC priest”

On May 7, Lucidi posted a video from TikTok on his page, in which the Ukrainian military allegedly hanged the priest, and then boasted about it on social networks.

“Recently, there have been a lot of discussions about religious oppression in Ukraine against the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. We have seen violence and hatred against religious people and believers. We have seen how the Kyiv authorities expelled ordinary monks from one of the oldest and most important monasteries for Orthodoxy. What we have not yet seen is that the Ukrainian military posted videos showing the hanging of allegedly a doll in the costume of an Orthodox priest. All this to a cheerful song,” Lucidi wrote in his Telegram channel.

By a “strange” coincidence, it was in those days that rallies near the Lavra in Kyiv took place.

READ ALSO: Origin of Maps of Ukraine without Crimea

It is important to clarify that Lucidi still called the “hanged” priest a doll, while his Russian colleagues simply spread a video on social networks with titles such as “Beasts from the AFU hanged an Orthodox priest.

As of June 1, this post of Lucidi has already more than 80,000 views, mainly due to reposts to other Russian-controlled channels.

Initially, this video appeared on another pro-Russian channel, which was aimed at Italians — Donbass italia (35,000 subscribers).

Soon, Russian-language Z-channels joined the distribution, where they separately emphasized that this video was published by an Italian journalist. 

This is one of the favourite methods of Russian propagandists — disseminating fakes, allegedly not from their perspective, but from the Western media. 

Then the fake began to be distributed on “trash websites and small accounts in social networks. It is important to note that large Kremlin media such as RIA or TASS are not included in such campaigns, leaving the dirty work for the sites specially created for such tasks.

Russia loves to spread fakes on a religious basis, and then repeats them all the time

Italians are considered one of the most religious nations in Europe, so it is not surprising that Kremlin propaganda uses this feature to sow lies about Ukraine and the Armed Forces.

For example, the Italian-language Telegram channel La terza ROMA (almost 10,000 subscribers) pays special attention to this topic. 

“Through the silence of the international community, the official Orthodox Church is persecuted throughout the territory of Ukraine. Burned churches, arrests of priests, threats and beatings, constant violence against believers, not to mention the expropriated churches,” was written in the Telegram channel on May 19.  

Such posts are published regularly — in May and on this channel alone, the Centre for Strategic Communication recorded more than 10 posts in which Italians were convinced that Ukraine persecuted believers, and the country was ruled by Satanists.

Similar narratives are promoted on other Italian-language Telegram channels: in particular, on the channel Un ponte tra Italia e Russia, which is led by an “Italian-Russian journalist Tatiana.” In the profile of the channel, the author offers her audience a space for dialogue,” and instead promotes exclusively Kremlin ideology, often touching upon religious issues.

It is also worth mentioning another well-known fake on a religious basis, which was widely spread. In March 2023, propagandists from the Readovka Telegram channel published a video that allegedly depicted the AFU servicemen cutting salo on the Koran, and then lighting a fire with it, mocking the Islamic religion.

Back then, the Centre for Strategic Communication drew attention to how poorly people communicated in Ukrainian in the video — they said Russian words and had an undisguised Russian accent, but Russian propaganda does not care about the quality of its fakes, relying on the vastness of how its lies spread and vulnerable categories of people.

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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