Information Vacuum and Trash News: Russian Propaganda in Occupied Donetsk Oblast

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What propaganda resources of the occupied territories of Donetsk Oblast write and how communication with the “population” is arranged.

Propaganda in the occupied territories of Donetsk Oblast has its own history, it should already be considered retrospectively. Military propaganda is led by professional Soviet specialists, graduates of the Marshal Yepishev Donetsk Military Political School. Its typical representative is Colonel Eduard Basurin.

They told stories about African Americans in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, “thousands of Poles” attacking the occupied Donetsk Oblast, and entire Ukrainian brigades that regularly “surrendered” near Volnovakha. Basurin is also remembered by the news of dead Ukrainian soldiers who, under the influence of mysterious substances, attacked regardless of the bullets.

Military propaganda in Donetsk was treated as a funny entertainment: Basurin was allowed in hospitals to entertain the wounded. But after Russia’s full-scale invasion, he was removed from office and dismissed. The locals were replaced by curators from Moscow.

What changed? For example, the propaganda did not react to the appearance of the International Legion and foreign volunteers in the battalions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with the usual “Negroes” and “thousands of Poles.” Now, propagandists are diligently ignoring the realities of the war, building their parallel reality, which sometimes features Western equipment “burning,” but very few foreign volunteers.

The Ukrainian counteroffensive here is covered exclusively with Putin’s and Nebenzya’s quotes from the UN about its failure. The news about this “failure” on a local TV channel has 270 views: this is on average ten times more than usual. Locals do not watch or study the war according to propaganda resources. Because if there are “authorized” channels to cover the war, they write about the assistance to the front in general and about some local achievements. But the Avdiivka offensive, with loud explosions and the sirens of the ambulances with the wounded, is not covered at all on the resources of the occupied Donetsk Oblast. Thus, this is what “war correspondents” at the federal level write, but in no case local ones. In Donetsk, correspondents write about the production of the Vatnik bulletproof vests, a new “innovative” wheelchair to evacuate the wounded, protection gear for war dogs and plans for new offensives on Mariinka…

The first sign of propaganda in the occupied territories is its “Kremlin” nature. This technique differs from others in that there are no “unimportant” directions and tools of influence. All means should be involved in propaganda: from loudspeakers of wired radio and district newspapers to Telegram and channels with hundreds of views on such a resource as Rutube.

This is without taking into account large television and federal media. There is funding for everything!

What exactly has changed now

Before 2022, there was a whole cohort of “bloggers” on Facebook in Donetsk, who were given promising topics by the former press service of the previous leader Zakharchenko, and then approved their opus in Moscow. Now all channels banned by Roskomnadzor are excluded from the list of “important” ones: there is no Facebook, there is no systematic work with YouTube, work is underway to block such messengers as WhatsApp and Viber. In recent weeks, it has often been impossible to speak via WhatsApp to Ukrainians in Donetsk and Makiivka. The leader of the terrorist group of the occupied Donetsk Oblast, Pushilin, issued a separate “decree” on September 24 (immediately after the pseudo-elections and his “reappointment”) informing the subordinate population about censorship, curfew, and other “new” bans.

“Introduce military censorship over mail and messages transmitted using telecommunication systems, as well as control over telephone conversations,” Pushilin’s curators write in this “decree,” establishing a curfew from Monday to Friday, extending bans on movement near the front, and threatening with filtration measures for those who went “to Ukraine.”

The curfew in the occupied territories has been in effect without a weekend break since 2014. For posts on social networks, “courts” imprisoned for 10 to 15 years, even a separate class of prisoners appeared in local prisons — “twitter users.” All residents of the newly occupied territories, if they do not have a Russian passport, cannot use roads without a certificate of filtration since spring 2022. Obviously, this “decree” is primarily a psychological pressure on people with the aim of further intimidation. Secondly, the propaganda claims that the increase in pressure means “bringing things in line with Russian legal standards.” In addition, on the example of the occupied territories, a mechanism for the implementation of a partial martial law for the bordering Bryansk, Belgorod, Rostov regions of Russia is being developed.

How instrumental propaganda works

There are several “fronts.” At the expense of the occupiers, district and city newspapers of “municipalities,” telegram channels of local occupation administrations, and local TV channels are maintained. There is no war on this, the first, small “front” — only positive news about construction, holidays, and greetings from Putin, Pushilin, or Gazmanov.

For example, in the episode of the Mariupol city TV channel Mariupol24 published on October 5 on Rutube, the news stories are as follows: Putin’s congratulations on the teacher’s day; a concert and awards on this occasion in Mariupol; a story about the painting championship, wallpapering and other “creative competitions” among vocational schools of the occupied parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts in the local construction college; a story about members of the United Russia party who support the elderly in the destroyed city; competitions in women’s volleyball at school No.53; blocking traffic due to the repair of the bridge in Mariupol…

There is one story about the war: that the Federal Security Service found 12 grenades, ammunition, and uniforms of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the village of Volodymyrivka, Volnovakha district. As a result, the “ammunition” was given to the Russian army. That’s it!  Volodymyrivka is practically a “gray” zone, Vuhledar direction. In this village, the BARS detachment from Altai was recently destroyed with an apt strike; 11 invaders including the commander were killed. Russian militants prevented the locals from moving, set up checkpoints at the entrance and exit, and were eventually attacked. But there was not a single mention of this and the war — only construction, sports, the Federal Security Service fighting the “Banderites” just like “after that war”… And that’s it!

The October 12 issue of the main newspaper of the former local “party” “Donetsk Republic,” which is published in 200,000 copies, contains the usual 8 sheets. Main topics:

  • grand prospects for the development of the Azov Sea region;
  • regional dialogue between Donetsk and Volgograd;
  • the warm heart of the Far North (this is about Pushilin’s meeting with the Governor of Chukotka);
  • protection of the historical truth (about benefits for the children of those who died in the special military operation);
  • Russian standards are changing schools for the better;
  • the presidential garden will bloom in Volnovakha;
  • work with no service record, but we’ll find a way out;
  • I’ll be a donor too!

And not a single word about the counteroffensive of Ukraine, unsuccessful and bloody local offensives of Russia and other wars. But in the destroyed Volnovakha, a garden was planted for Putin’s birthday, which “will for many years to come remind” of the Russian president. In addition, for “many years to come,” new stones are placed in Volnovakha in memory of some more dead soldiers, allegedly, military drivers. This is the “republican” level.

At the district level, according to the mandatory “Kremlin” template, there should be “coverage”; there is a newspaper, there is a telegram channel Mangush Municipal District and a channel Boris Trima, the Head of the Mangush Municipal District. All channels show announcements of live broadcasts of the “head”: on telegram, Odnoklassniki, and VKontakte. The occupiers did not touch Mangush, Sartana, Mariupol and other settlements with Greek names and Greek minorities, but there were attempts to restore the Soviet names.

In Soviet times, Mangush was called Pershotravnevyi; this name appears in the “title” of Boris Trima: from time to time, the collaborator is called “the head of Pershotravnevyi.”

The channel mostly shares positive news: some “volunteers” plant 15,000 oaks as “a geoglyph We Are Together” to mark the day of the “accession” of new territories. On this occasion, some dance group from Smolensk is to perform. A forest of tree seedlings from Kursk is planted in the steppe, and the story is filmed by the Donetsk TV channel Oplot. The All About the DPR channel also covers the event. The cross-references of a bunch of little-known resources are mandatory — 300 people are following the collaborator Trima, 2,300 — the Mangush Municipal District, but it regularly publishes posts from the Youth of the Azov Sea Region channel, which has 174 subscribers and a story about the “royal forest” from the Oplot TV channel, which has as many as 54 views 8 days after the release.

It’s all about the discipline! Is there an order to plant an oak tree in autumn? We’ll plant it in October if there is! The same location is featured three times on one channel and television — in the stories “about the geoglyph,” “new forest” and when implementing the federal programme Ecology. No one asks unnecessary questions. What was ordered needs to be done!

Nikolske and Mangush are now towns where people do not sleep: on the outskirts, the Russian army is building defences, metal structures and steel sheets from Mariupol are buried underground. The noise due to works with metal is heard at night, the Russians are anticipating the Ukrainian offensive on Mariupol, they are afraid. But local channels only report stories about a forest in the middle of the steppe, oaks from Kursk as many times a day as necessary — three if there is an order. There is no criticism, editing, or screening, and there can be no such thing.

All these local and small-scale channels post, for example, the fake about the diamonds of Olena Zelenska, which was simultaneously spread by Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Moskovsky Komsomolets, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Arguments and Facts, Moscow 24, Ren-TV, NTV, Tsargrad, RT, Mash, Life,, 360,, Federal Press, Bloknot, Rosbalt, Svobodnaya Pressa, Abzats, National Television, Personal Correspondent…

Russians simply do not have unimportant sources. In such total massive spreading of propaganda, the reliability of news is neither important, the main thing is to completely clutter the entire information space.

Another dimension is channels where it is allowed to write about the war, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Azov, and other Russian troubles. These are small-scale channels with the titles of cities near the front lines such as Tokmak, Zaporizhzhia for Life, From Bakhmut to Artemivsk, Mariupol LIFE… There are several permanent, important “peaceful” topics covered there. Every day, news is broadcast according to the mandatory programme: firstly, “Life in Ukraine is bad,” secondly, “Ukrainians in Europe are a real disaster,” and thirdly, “Russian chefs help your city.”

This news may seem ridiculous to residents of free territories: for example, about the construction of “victory simulators” in each shopping centre of Kyiv by the end of the year, where every Kyiv resident will be able to watch a virtual tour of the ruins of burnt Moscow “for 40 hryvnias.” Or, without indicating where, but somewhere in Ukraine, the book “Fu**ing Russians” was published and is to be sold. But even such “news” is covered on several channels at once.

Every other day, news stories about how “Ukrainians brought bedbugs to Paris,” “Ukrainians are no longer welcome in Poland,” they “protest in Spain against the assistance to Israel” because of the lack of weapons are posted!

There are “large-scale channels” that people really read to understand the course of the war, the location of shelling, and useful information for security. For example, Typical Donetsk has more than half a million subscribers. Here, most of the materials are about the places where shells fell, fires, addresses of newly destroyed houses. And among the news about these “houses,” Gaza and its suffering get mentioned unexpectedly.

Local channels of the occupied Donetsk Oblast do not see terrorists and avidly support those “socially close” to them — HAMAS. Russian propaganda never saw a problem in pretending to be “anti-fascist” and at the same time being openly anti-Semitic.

Residents of the occupied Donetsk Oblast are forced to consume typical Soviet propaganda, which is based on instincts and on the postulate that there can be no other alternative information for a Soviet person. Not then, not now.

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