Russian propaganda against refugees from the war in Ukraine

More than two months after the start of the war in Ukraine, its refugees continue to arrive in European countries, and the debate over the effects of the migration wave has already turned into a heated public controversy.

At the same time, disseminators of manipulative information are relying on growing anti-immigration sentiment. Lessons learned from previous refugee crises show that attention and compassion for victims can be too short-lived, and many studies even suggest that positive attitudes toward those fleeing the war in Ukraine are likely to fade long before the end of the refugee wave.

And the Russian disinformation campaign has been coordinated throughout the European Union. According to her strongholds, Ukrainian refugees are aggressive, rude, and commit crimes against residents, threatening their jobs and living standards.

On April 17 this year none other than former Russian President and former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev publicly announced that Ukrainian refugees in Europe could provoke a “wave of violence and crime.”

This is not the first time Medvedev has said such a thing. As early as the Syrian migration crisis in 2016, when former German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched an “open door” policy toward refugees, Dmitry Medvedev said: “Among these people there are many – perhaps hundreds or even thousands of criminals who they are coming to Europe on a mission. Now they are waiting to be activated and will act as robots against Europe. ”

In Germany, for example, Russian disinformation about the war in Ukraine effectively uses online platforms to sow hatred for refugees, win sympathy for Russia and create tension among citizens over the role and responsibilities of warring parties and the Euro-Atlantic community.

Distribution of “viral” videos

One such example is the “viral” video circulated on German-language online platforms, in which a woman tells a fake story about an alleged attack on a Russian-speaking boy in Germany by Ukrainian refugees. In this video, originally published on TikTok, the woman, who remains anonymous, admits that she was not a direct witness to the event, but learned about it from an acquaintance. However, she tells in detail how the Russian girl was beaten at the train station in Euskirchen by a group of Ukrainians, to whom the German authorities hospitably provided housing.

According to police in Germany, such an event did not happen at all, and the video was created for the sole purpose of arousing hatred towards refugees from the war in Ukraine. But although this misinformation has been officially refuted by the German authorities, the damage done to public opinion is a fact.

The refugee crisis is being exploited by various far-right political formations

In Poland, the refugee crisis is being exploited by various far-right political groups trying to polarize citizens, claiming that refugees are criminals and that in addition to Ukrainians, a wave of migrants from outside Europe may enter Poland. One of the points of reference for Russian propaganda, in this case, is that the state should take care of its citizens rather than refugees from Ukraine.

According to other sources of propaganda against Ukrainian refugees in Central and Eastern Europe, “children have been thrown out of oncology hospitals to make room for Ukrainian refugees”, the state offers free accommodation for refugees and free medical services. paid by the local population “,” refugee children will already occupy insufficient places in kindergartens and public schools “. The latter is that “Ukrainian citizens are privileged and enjoy better living conditions than locals.”

The analyzes performed so far show that disinformation theories are constantly evolving as they quickly adapt to the information context. Narratives aimed at provoking a certain reaction in society use vocabulary with a powerful emotional charge. Refugees are described simply as migrants who have left their homeland driven by vague interests rather than a natural desire to avoid the tragedy of war. In addition, some propaganda sources use the word “refugees” in quotation marks to question their desperate need for help.

Regardless of the language in which the propaganda messages are spread – Italian, German, Polish, Romanian, and others. the vocabulary used is the same.

The same words as “invasion”, “invaders”, “invasions”, and “conquest” are used for refugees from the war in Ukraine. The aim of all this is to provoke fears, public opinion in countries attacked by disorientation must be disoriented, and confused and create the feeling that the countries receiving refugees are almost “under siege”.

There are several misleading public groups:

– racist, nationalist and extremist circles, among which there is already a predisposition to negative attitudes towards refugees;
– supporters of conspiracy theories, which are easily influenced by emotionally charged content and rarely verify the facts;
– Ordinary citizens are targeted by misinformation about the potential increase in prices and difficulties in obtaining the necessary medicines in case of radioactive accidents.

Channels of misinformation

Disinformation channels include anonymous accounts on social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and others. some of which were created specifically for use during the refugee crisis. Others have already been tested in anti-vaccination campaigns during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Niche Facebook profiles are also used, which share sensational and conspiratorial content, far-right politicians, and fake social media profiles.

Several investigations in recent months have shown that many active accounts on social platforms in Europe have been created from addresses registered in Russian domains years ago. They have built up the illusion of their reliability by disseminating content related to local events, problems, and personalities in different countries over a relatively long period.

The technology for spreading fake news

The technology for spreading fake news to the widest possible audience in most of the analyzed cases is as follows: Russian pro-government TV channel made a “revelation”, which was then widely covered by Russian media with international coverage such as RT, Sputnik. Social networks and far-right groups then share the information on the Internet. And finally, high-ranking Russian politicians are commenting on the “news”.

The key to all this is to undermine the confidence of the citizens of Central and Eastern Europe in their government and Euro-Atlantic values. An important conclusion from all this, however, is that European liberal societies are not yet immune to this kind of “ideological pandemic”.

The way to overcome it is to proactively inform European citizens about the vulnerabilities, risks, and threats associated with information that is available free of charge has an unclear origin, and is spread mainly in the virtual environment. To this must be added the personal responsibility for media literacy when using information sources. Only in this way can a balance be struck between the rights and freedoms of European citizens and the dark side of autocratic systems that do their best to undermine democratic values.

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