How Russians Are Trying to Pacify Occupied Territories. Key Propaganda Messages

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Despite the defeats, retreat, and escape from Kharkiv and Kherson regions, the occupiers do not abandon their attempts to integrate the Ukrainian lands they have invaded. In particular, to drive their residents into their information matrix. 

By imposing their information agenda on the occupied territories, Russians are betting not on quality, but on the lack of an alternative. Therefore, first of all, the Russian occupation administration closes access to alternative sources of television, radio broadcasting, and the press, blocks, or tries to censor the Internet.

Similar censorship is in effect in Russia itself: its main media have long been raided by the Putin regime, the objectionable media are closed, blocked by Roskomnadzor, or forced to be branded (like a patch with a David star on their clothes) a “foreign agent.” After the start of an unprovoked (and poorly justified by the regime itself) full-scale aggression against Ukraine, the Kremlin is also trying to dispose of the remnants of free public opinion in its country. To this end, amendments were made to the legislation, which allow prosecuting for “discrediting the army” and “spreading fakes about its activities during the performance of duties to protect citizens and the state.”

The creation of media ghettos in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine is accompanied by the destruction of traditional sources of information for people, starting with the removal and burning of books from public libraries and educational institutions and ending with the introduction of their controlled ISPs.

The occupiers act, obviously, guided by the Russian proverb “a love comes with habit,” counting, if not on gratitude, then at least on the Stockholm syndrome of their victims. The invaders pay special attention to the younger generations and children, who are expected to be brought up in a spirit opposite to the civic beliefs and life experience of their parents.

The Centre for Strategic Communication has studied the methods used by the Rashists in early November to instil the “Russian world” in the heads of the occupied population.

●      Young people are tried to be included into all-Russian activities, trips to Russia are organized, in particular, for “young athletes.”

●      They create cultural activities. To support the illusion of the normality of the occupation, they resort, in particular, to the services of actors who played in the Mariupol Theatre, where on March 16, as a result of a Russian air strike, residents of the city died. Now, the cast has gone on tour in cities of the south of Russia under the brand of the Mariupol theatre. 

●      For integration, regional “cooperation” with neighbouring regions of Russia is implemented, with the engagement of Russian “civic” organizations.

●      The message “Mariupol was destroyed not by us, but by nationalists” is reinforced. Sometimes children are used to tell that the Ukrainian army is responsible for the shelling. 

●   “Humanitarian charity” to locals is promoted. For example, the supply of books and stationery to an educational institution by the occupation administration is called humanitarian aid, and students are forced to line up, waving flags of Russia when they meet a car with such “aid.”

●      They try to play on the nostalgia of people whose youth fell on the times of the USSR, although such attempts to enchant Ukrainians with red flags, for example, on November 7, look ridiculous. 

●      They try to instil a false ideology, stating, “Ukraine is bad individualism, and Russia is good collectivism. Russia means family values, not Western non-traditional views with LGBT.”

●      “The Russian army is destroying the Ukrainian army”: “The second army of the world” is still invincible in propaganda reports. The retreat from the Kherson region is presented as a necessary preparation for further victories. Occasionally, fakes are spread that “soldiers of the Polish regular army” are fighting on the part of Ukraine. 

●      It is stated that POWs who return from Ukraine to the temporarily occupied regions, allegedly suffered abuse in Ukrainian captivity and return sick. This mirrors the Ukrainian narrative about abuse and torture in Russian captivity. 

●      “The Ukrainian authorities abandoned people. Took all the stuff. And now Russia is helping” — the standard rhetoric of the occupiers. 

●      They are trying to show that Ukrainians are changing their attitude towards the Russians, saying that first, someone volunteered for the Armed Forces, then realized everything, and now is volunteering for the Russian Armed Forces.

●      They blur the responsibility of Russia, claiming that Ukraine is also guilty, shift the blame to the United States, mention the Russian Empire as an ideal to strive for.

Working with young people

Recently, a youth essay competition on the “future in Russia” was held in the occupied territories, the winners visited Volgograd.

“Since October 26, representatives of the Zaporizhzhia Oblast have been in Grozny of the Chechen Republic of Russia at training meetings,” the message of the occupation administration reads.

Here are some of the news: “A boy from Skadovsk saved his friend, for which he was awarded in Moscow ‘For courage – making us very proud!”; “Students of the Berdiansk Music School took part in the All-Russian Festival ‘The Soul of the Bayan,’ which was held in Samara.”

The Putin regime hopes that establishing ties with Russia’s neighbouring regions will help it take over the occupied territories. At the same time, it also tries to engage Russian “NGOs” in the work.

For example, the governor of Rostov region Vasily Golubev “suggested that Don NGOs expand interaction with colleagues from Novorossia”: “We have a huge amount of work ahead of us to strengthen social, political, cultural ties with new subjects. And a special role here belongs to non-profit organizations.”

Establishing cultural activities

The tour of the Mariupol Theatre is actively covered in the Russian media. Let us remind you that its building was bombed by Russian planes, killing hundreds of people who were hiding there. For example, the AP investigation suggests the death of about 600 people

“From November 8 to November 20, the Grand Tours of the Mariupol Republican Academic Order “Badge of Honour” of the Russian Drama Theatre will be held in the cities of Rostov-on-Don, Simferopol, Yalta, Sevastopol, and Krasnodar,” the Russian media writes.

The occupiers use some actors who played in the same destroyed theatre as a propaganda tool to cover up the shame of their crime of destroying Mariupol.

“Unfortunately, some of the last names are well known, told Mariupol journalist Maksym Hrabovskyi in a commentary for the Centre for Strategic Communication. — They got together a few months ago and even arranged a photo shoot against the background of the destroyed Drama Theatre. I wonder where is Kozhevnikov, who at first was the director, and now, judging by everything, another man took this position. Probably, the occupiers put someone from among their own people. Unfortunately, the actors are really the same… Part of the theatre members left, now they live in Uzhhorod, having already given performances. And those who stayed, as we can see, entertain the Russians on bones.

“I am grateful to all the creative workers who stay in their workplaces. The cultural front is also a kind of war zone, where there is a fight for our children, for their free and happy future in peace and unity,” — the words of Yevgeny Balitsky, a governor of Zaporizhzhia Oblast.

“It was not us who destroyed Mariupol, nationalists did”

The ruins of Mariupol speak volumes about what Putinism is like. It is hard to stop thinking about the destroyed city. “The footage shows Mariupol and the story of how hard it can be to find the recipient among the wreckage and destroyed buildings. And there are still people living in these high-rise houses,” admit Russian Telegram channels.  

Propaganda, of course, tells how it will restore everything and that the reconstruction has already begun. “[Paediatric surgeon] Alexander Smirnov admitted that Mariupol astounded him with the extent of the destruction, but at the same time, with the help of Russia, the city is actively recovering. Roads are being repaired and built here, new residential complexes are being built.” On TikTok, young bloggers shoot several restored houses from different angles with the same message about reconstruction.

But the invaders are finding it increasingly hard to keep hiding who destroyed the city. New documentaries and testimonies of Russian crimes emerge. For example, the film Mariupol. Hope (Not) Lost.  

There is a prominent new wave of claims that it was actually Ukraine that destroyed the city. “A Mariupol resident told Vesti Tver about the atrocities committed by nationalists.” Telegram channels also shared videos with Ukrainian prisoners reading out the text about the killing of civilians. On November 3, the Mariupol 24 city TV channel started broadcasting in Mariupol.

RT Russia released a documentary, Mariupol, Russian City. How Mariupol Was Captured. It starts with the occupiers’ words that Ukrainian defenders were hiding behind civilians. This is followed by a clip made from interviews of local residents blaming the Armed Forces of Ukraine for everything. 

In the comments, the readers are convinced it was definitely Ukrainians committed the crimes. “Don’t Ukrainians on the other side see the truth, even through their families! They are so brainwashed!” Propaganda repeats the same thing that you hear in Ukraine, only the other way around.  

One of the Russian information criminals, Artem Sheynin, a talk show host on the Russian Pervyy Kanal, who was directly involved in inciting international hatred, which led to the war, came to Mariupol and filmed a video at the wreckage of the Drama Theatre. He provided “convincing arguments” that the explosives blew up from within, which means the theatre was destroyed by Azov Regiment. In fact, a 500-kilogram Russian aerial bomb, which is believed to have destroyed the theatre, can easily penetrate the roof, so the explosion, of course, could have happened inside.

Throwing a humanitarian bone

“The Ukrainian authorities fled, taking ambulances with them… They destroyed municipal equipment. And Russia was the first one who came to the rescue,” — the Russian Gauleiter of the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia oblast Evgeny Balitsky shared another message with the undemanding Russian audience. 

This is accompanied by stories showing how the occupiers feed children, for example, in the Lysychansk urban community. “We are fed by the military, who protect us: servicemen of the allied forces not only protect the residents of Novodruzhesk, but also organized two hot meals a day for everyone in need,” says propaganda about “helping” children. 

Here is another “bone” they’ve thrown: “Kazan Federal University responded to the request and brought literature and stationery to Mariupol.” The children were lined up to meet Russian textbooks with Russian flags. 

Representatives of “United Russia” often tour the occupied territories, handing out instructions on what needs to be improved.  There is now a regional branch of United Russia in Zaporizhzhia oblast. “Igor Kastyukevich, deputy head of the United Russia faction, arrived in Skadovsk to speak with the temporarily displaced persons and find out what issues they are having.”

“Ukrainians have changed their attitude towards the Russian army”

Propaganda tries to persuade its audience that people are giving up on Ukraine. “Former head of security of Zaporizhzhia NPP Oleksandr Dubinin, who used to raise funds for the Ukrainian army, has now sent heaters and rubber boots to Russian soldiers near Enerhodar,” reported military correspondent of RIA Novosti.

In the video, a man hands over items to Russian soldiers and says that he used to help Ukrainians, but he came under fire and realized that he was wrong: “I realized that they were shooting at their own residents from the other side… Against the background of shelling, people see that the Russian army really came to protect us from the Kyiv regime.”

“Ukraine tortures prisoners”

So-called “human rights commissioner in the LPR” Viktoriya Serdyukova made this comment about the exchange of war prisoners:”As always, everyone suffered abuse, inhumane treatment, moral and psychological pressure, there was also torture and physical abuse. There are traces of torture and violence.” 

Skadovsk in favour of groups, but against gays

“You lived here with the Ukrainian authorities, now you are with the Russian authorities. Can you tell me if there are any changes?” asks a propagandist in the street in Skadovsk, Kherson oblast.  

“Of course, there are changes,” says the person who was likely asked to respond exactly that way. “People are starting to think that things are going back, that they will live as a group. That is, the time of individualism is ending. It will no longer be the case that every man is for himself. People are starting to remember how they lived under the Soviet Union. Well, not exactly like under the Soviet Union… But this ‘collectivity’ of ideas.” The interview also mentions that the residents of Skadovsk do not share Western values, in particular, “LGBT propaganda,” and Russia protected them from this. 

Youth and red flags

Russia is trying to justify the annexation by nostalgia for childhood, youth and Soviet symbols. 

Sometimes it feels like the word “cringeworthy” was invented exclusively to describe the future campaigns of Russian occupiers in Ukraine, which they hold on USSR-related occasions.

About the USSR, they say that you should “leave difficult pages in the past, and take everything good on board.” Propaganda generally tends to forget about criminal pages of history.  

Sometimes, Telegram channels publish videos of incomplete buildings with a comment that the Ukrainian authorities are to blame for this decay — “the Ukraine we left.” 

Silent retreat

The main message about the withdrawal of troops from Kherson is that they had to withdraw for future victory. 

 Interestingly, as recently as November 7, Gauleiter Saldo insisted that “Kherson will stand strong.” But as usual, Russian propaganda is very different from reality.   

After the retreat from Kherson, Russian propaganda is also trying to comfort the trusting part of the occupied population. The Russia-managed Typical Odesa channel published an audio address trying to justify Russia. They said there are two sides guilty of this war, both Russia and Ukraine. The war benefits the US. And Odesa should be regarded as a southern outpost of the Russian Empire currently captured by idiots. However, no matter how difficult it may be, they must keep this idea of Russia in their hearts…

After all the crimes committed by the Bolsheviks and the Chekists on behalf of Russia, including ones against today’s Odesa, this stance is hardly justifiable.


As we can see, the propaganda of Putin’s regime is actively trying to convert Ukrainians into Russians. But these lies may only seem convincing at the surface, especially when spread by armed, cruel invaders.

As for what happens when there is no more coercion, we could well see it in Kherson, whose residents hung up Ukrainian flags even before their liberators entered the city.

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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