Russian Propaganda Uses Concert in Occupied Mariupol and Olena Zelenska’s Photoshoot for Vogue to Promote Anti-Ukrainian Narratives

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On Sunday, July 17, the Russian occupiers organized a propaganda concert in Mariupol on the occasion of Day of Metalworker. Actors of the local drama theatre and a symphony orchestra performed in Gurov Park. The main “star” of the concert was the ex-singer of the Russian band “Lesopoval” Sergey Kuprik.

Importantly, the Ukrainian military left the city two months ago, and Mariupol is under Russian control. The celebration of the Day of Metalworker in Mariupol was covered by the Russian media, which claimed that “peaceful life” had returned to the “liberated” city, and local residents were “rejoicing.” To enhance the emotional effect, photos and videos were published with the participants of the “folk festivities”: children, couples, the elderly.

Western-oriented tweets posted between July 20 and 24 also promoted narratives of Mariupol liberated from Ukrainian Nazis,” whose residents are “grateful” to the Russian army and “sing in Russian.”

On July 27-28, mass publications of an excerpt from the concert with Kuprik’s performance were recorded. The target audience of the tweets is American taxpayers, who know about the war in Ukraine and US military aid, but are not completely aware of the situation. Particularly, they don’t know that Mariupol is occupied by Russians. The following messages are promoted:

  • “A concert in a war zone is impossible, therefore the war in Ukraine is a fake”
  • “Ukraine spends American taxpayers’ money on concerts”
  • “Zelenskyy’s administration is fooling Americans in order to get hold of their money”

One of the first to draw attention to this passage was the American political commentator, editor of the conservative outlet Human Events Jack Posobiec — an influencer among Trump supporters. Posobiec is a public supporter of conspiracy theories, in particular “Pizzagate” (about the alleged affiliation of representatives of the US Democratic Party to a secret organization of paedophiles).

Posobiec started sharing the tweets by user @alopeki spreading pro-Russian propaganda.

The aforementioned messages started circulating:

Olena Zelenska’s photoshoot for Vogue has also become a pretext to spread messages about a waste of American taxpayer dollars, as well as to attack US President Joe Biden and his administration. Manipulative comments were used, as well as the mental association of “gloss” and glamour/luxurious and carefree living. Key messages:

  • “Biden’s administration squanders Americans’ money”
  • “the luxurious life of the Zelenskyy couple is paid for by the funds of American taxpayers”
  • “Ukraine demands money, under the guise of war, and spends it on unknown causes”
  • “the Zelenskyys have time for photo shoots for glossy magazines, so the scale of the war in Ukraine is exaggerated, or it is completely fake.”

The “discussion” started with a formally neutral tweet by Jack Posobiec.

A photo of the Zelenskyy couple was made into a meme to attack Biden and his policy on Ukraine.

The combination of two information hooks (the concert in Mariupol and the Vogue photoshoot) was made into a unified message: 

  • “The Biden administration spends tens of billions of dollars on Ukraine; the money is spent on Zelenskyys’ luxurious life and the organization of concerts. If concerts are held in Ukraine, then there is no serious war.”

Objectives of the tweets:

  • to cast doubt on the “reality” of Russia’s war against Ukraine;
  • to present US military aid as a whim of the Biden administration, ignoring bipartisan support for Ukraine;
  • to present Ukraine as “the most corrupt country” that should not be helped;
  • to convince the Americans that Biden and Zelenskyy are taking them for fools and stealing their money; 
  • to minimize the effectiveness of the Vogue photo shoot, to prevent it from strengthening Americans’ positive attitude to Ukrainians and their struggle for freedom and democracy;
  • to direct public opinion against providing aid to Ukraine.

Debunking lies and manipulation:

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