Wars in Ukraine in the 20th and 21st Century: Media, Experts, Disinformation

Wars in Ukraine in the 20th and 21st Century: Media, Experts, Disinformation

Deutsch-Ukrainische Historikerkommission (DUHK)
Fand statt
Vom - Bis
20.10.2022 - 21.10.2022
Olha Martyniuk, Leibniz-Institut für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung

Russia’s current war against Ukraine evokes the question of the influence of modern media and propaganda on the war and its genesis in wars in Ukraine in the 20th century. The German-Ukrainian Historians’ Commission devoted its seventh annual conference to this topic (“Wars in Ukraine in the 20th and 21st Century: Media, Experts, Disinformation”). The event took place in Regensburg on October 20 and 21, 2022, in cooperation with the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies (IOS) Regensburg and the Ilia I. Mechnykov National University Odesa. It was organized by Guido Hausmann (Regensburg) and Polina Barvinska (Regensburg / Odesa) in cooperation with Tanja Penter (Heidelberg) and Yuri Shapoval (Braunschweig / Kyiv).

The conference was divided into two parts: on the first day it discussed the role of modern media and experts in Russia’s current war against Ukraine, whereas on the second day it explored more closely the same topics in regard to World War I and II. In his introductory remarks, GUIDO HAUSMANN outlined typical features of war propaganda since the 19th century and pointed to important changes in the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as to key relevant features in wars on / in Ukraine. The conference started with reflections on the self-positioning of experts. How does the war affect the self-positioning of experts and how do they reflect on changes in this regard? The Ukrainian sociologist VIKTORIYA SEREDA (L’viv) addressed the question of the self-positioning of researchers which remained one of the central topics of the conference. Its importance was demonstrated by the organization of the conference itself, as some participants could attend the conference only online from Ukraine. Sereda also raised the question of the social responsibility of researchers, as scholars must take into consideration the difference between working with people during war and peacetime. ANDREAS UMLAND (Kyiv) highlighted fascist features of Putin’s regime, but also the recent quick changes of the regime in Russia which makes it difficult to come to a clear assessment yet whether it can be termed fascist or not.

Digital media are now playing an essential role in influencing the perception of modern warfare. Their impact and various forms were discussed in two presentations and the evening keynote lecture. OREST SEMOTIUK (L’viv) analyzed political humor during the current war in Ukraine, in particular political cartoons and memes in international, Ukrainian and Russian media. He concluded that the international and Ukrainian media mostly support the Ukrainian side, while they are sometimes critical (“subversive”) of Ukraine in international media and mostly critical in Russian media. OLEKSANDR PANKIEIEV (Edmonton) also touched on this topic and addressed the theme of the online spreading of Russian propaganda narratives in “fakelore and history”, which “create attitudes and articulate the desired emotions” in Russia about the war in Ukraine. In her evening keynote lecture, the Berlin based journalist ANASTASIA MAGAZOVA reflected the role and influence of social networks in the war against Ukraine. She drew particular attention to the active use of social media platforms by Ukrainian and Russian state structures and officials, stressing the different usages at both sides, e.g. the particular importance of social networks for volunteer campaigns in Ukraine.

According to SERGIY STELMAKH (Kyiv), the writing of public letters was specific for the German public discourse on the war in Ukraine. He reviewed letters from various political sides: public letters, initiated by experts on Eastern Europe, demanded more severe sanctions on Russia, a reduction of energy dependence on Russia and the support of Ukraine with weapons, whereas others, initiated by e.g., Alice Schwarzer, demanded that Ukraine stops fighting and took a stance against the supplying of weapons to Ukraine from Germany.

In the panel on narratives of Russian disinformation on Ukraine YANA PRYMACHENKO (Kyiv) reported on Russia’s use of historical narratives in the information warfare and analyzed in particular the use of World War II history in Russian propaganda. In her comment, RICARDA VULPIUS (Münster) proposed to speak of “twisting history” instead of “imitating history”, which Prymachenko used to stress the alleged imitation of historical narratives of World War II in Russia’s war against “fascists” in Ukraine. GLEB KAZAKOV (Gießen) complemented Prymachenko’s report on Russia’s anti-Western conspiracy theories with a historical case study on alleged biological weapons developed by Americans in Ukraine, which was based on completely invented facts and on the distortion of available information. The theme of the so-called Great Patriotic War has been actively used in the parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions which since 2014 have been occupied by Russia. DMYTRO TYTARENKO (Kryvyi Rih) described the activities of the so-called “Donetsk and Luhansk National Universities” and the “Donetsk and Luhansk Republican Museums of Local History” in the years 2014-2021 and their selective and distorted representation of World War II.

IVAN BASENKO‘s (Kyiv) presentation found parallels between the propaganda against Germany in Kyiv’s Ukrainian- and Russian-language daily press during World War I and narratives in the current war. One such example was the “weak / strong enemy”-dualism, in which Russia portrayed Germany in 1914-1918 as a weak and at the same time strong enemy. He emphasized the connection of this narrative to the portrayal of Ukraine by Russia as a “weak / strong enemy” in the current war.

The second day of the conference was devoted to media and the role of experts during World War I and World War II and also to general features of Soviet propaganda. VIKTORIA VENHERSKA (Zhytomyr) spoke about the use of “the Ukrainian question” in the propaganda during World War I in the Russian Empire and Austria-Hungary. OLENA BACHYNSKA (Odesa) added valuable information on activities of Ukrainian politicians from the Union of the Liberation of Ukraine in the Ottoman State and Bulgaria, who promoted the idea of creating a Ukrainian state. LEONID ZASHKILNIAK (L’viv) discussed problems of Ukrainian-Polish relations in the context of historical memory and highlighted the use of history by Polish state authorities and historians with respect to the so-called “Volhynian Massacre” during World War II. SEMION GOLDIN (Jerusalem) recalled anti-Jewish violence during Russia’s occupation of Galicia in 1914-1915 and its depiction in Russia’s military press. Galicia was regarded as “Russian land” and the presence of a large number of Jews in this territory as a problem, which enabled anti-Jewish violence and the dehumanization of Galician Jews. FABIAN BAUMANN (Chicago) explored the changing views of Poles and Ukrainians by Russian nationalists in the newspaper “Kievlianin” during World War I. In 1917-1918 they perceived the Central Rada and the Bolsheviks as “secret agents working for German imperialism” and supported the Provisional Government in its policy of continuing Russia’s war against the Central Powers. VALERIA LAVRENKO (Dnipro) explored the representation of Germans in the Katerynoslav newspapers “Russkaia Pravda”, “Yuzhnaia Zaria”, “Pridneprovskii Krai”, and “Ekaterinoslavskaia Zemskaia Gazeta.” The local press created an image of the enemy, while largely ignoring the local German population.

YAROSLAV HRYTSAK (L’viv) presented his book “Podolaty mynule: Hlobal’na istoriia Ukrainy” (“Overcoming the Past: A Global History of Ukraine”), which has recently turned into a bestseller in Ukraine. The book aims at informing non-specialists about the history of Ukraine within a global context. The discussion about the book invoked vivid debates about the structure, themes and time framework as well as the appropriateness of the term “overcoming the past”.

The following panel dealt with propaganda during World War II. BENNO NIETZEL (Bochum) analyzed the propaganda of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union against each other during World War II. He argued that both sides tried to use their knowledge of the other side to persuade it to stop fighting, but the Soviet side showed greater elasticity in its view of the enemy. SERHII KONIUKHOV (L’viv) inquired the propaganda of the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, founded in 1929) against the Soviet Union. He noticed that the OUN had only limited possibilities for propaganda in forms of leaflets, brochures, and verbal appeals. Its propaganda was directed to the Ukrainian population as well as to the soldiers of the Red Army, as the different themes of the propaganda reveal. ANNA MEDVEDOVSKA (Dnipro) investigated the representation of the Holocaust in central newspapers, literary works, and movies in Ukraine in 1941-1947. She claimed that the turning point for the memory of the Holocaust in Soviet Ukraine was the plan to publish the “Chorna knyha” (“Black Book”) by the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which remained unpublished as the Soviet Propaganda Office deemed the book ideologically inappropriate.

The final panel addressed general questions of propaganda in the USSR. OLHA KOLIASTRUK (Vinnytsia) analyzed main features of Bolshevik propaganda starting from World War I in newspapers as the falsification of facts and the dissemination of false information. OLHA BILOBROVETS (Zhytomyr) reviewed Soviet propaganda in 1917-1920 by local agitators, newspapers and posters. Soviet movies created a negative image of representatives of the Ukrainian liberation movement and Ukrainian nationalism, which has been a recurrent topic of propaganda in Russia. ANASTASIA KANIVETS (Kyiv) set forth the analysis of propaganda in Soviet cinema by discussing the image of representatives of the Ukrainian liberation movement of 1917-1920, as well as representatives of the UPA (Ukrainian Insurrection Army).

In general, the conference opened a new, historical perspective on current forms of propaganda and the role of experts in Russia’s war against Ukraine by presenting a broader picture from World War I and World War II until today. It explored the topic from different angles, evoked the question of continuities, innovative elements and contexts in media propaganda by experts and non-experts. It opened also a critical perspective on the use of social media and propaganda and provided a fuller picture of the roots of recent media disinformation on Ukraine.

Conference overview:


Yaroslav Hrytsak (L’viv, Ukraine), Yurii Hrinchenko (Odesa, Ukraine),
Guido Hausmann (Regensburg, Germany): Introductory remarks on the conference theme

Panel I: Studying Propaganda Topoi in Russia’s War against Ukraine
Chair: Tanja Penter (Heidelberg, Germany)

Viktoriya Sereda (L’viv, Ukraine): Dilemmas of Positionality: Studying a War Conflict with(in) your own Country

Andreas Umland (Kyiv, Ukraine): Russian Fascism? Diverging Classifications of Putin’s Regime before and after 24 February 2022 - online

Orest Semotiuk (L’viv, Ukraine): Laughter during the War: Russian Aggression in Ukraine in Political Cartoons and Memes - online

Sergiy Stelmakh (Kyiv, Ukraine): Viina v Ukraini v publichnomu dyskursi Nimechchyny: “Zaiavy” i “Vidkryti lysty” intelektualiv

Oleksandr Pankieiev (Edmonton, Canada): Fakelore and History: Russia’s Propaganda in the Era of Digital Media

Discussant Yaroslav Hrytsak (L’viv, Ukraine) - online

Panel II: Analyzing Weaponized Historical Narratives on Ukraine
Chair: Katrin Boeckh (Regensburg, Germany)

Yana Prymachenko (Kyiv, Ukraine): Imitating History: How Russia Weaponized Historical Narratives against Ukraine in 2014–2015 - online

Gleb Kazakov (Gießen, Germany): Conspiracy Theories as Casus Belli? Russian Invasion of the Ukraine and anti-Western Narratives of post-Soviet Russia

Ivan Basenko (Kyiv, Ukraine): Parallels between the World War I – Printed Press and Modern Media Coverage of the Russian Aggression against Ukraine: 1914–1918 Kyiv Press Case Study - online

Dmytro Tytarenko (Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine): Druha svitova viina v naukovo-osvitn’omu ta mediinomu dyskursakh na terytorii “narodnykh respublik” Donbasu (2014–2021 rr.) - online

Discussant Ricarda Vulpius (Münster, Germany) §
Anastasia Magazova: Social Media as Modern Warfare in Russia’s War on Ukraine
Introduction: Martin Schulze Wessel (Munich, Germany)

Panel III: The End of the Empire: The Media on Ukraine during World War I
Chair: Petru Negura (Regensburg, Germany)

Viktoria Venherska (Zhytomyr, Ukraine): Imperii, natsiotvorennia i propahanda naperedodni ta v umovakh Pershoi svitovoi viiny (ukrains’kyi kontekst)

Olena Bachynska (Odesa, Ukraine): Informatsiini naratyvy pro Ukrainu pid chas i pislia Pershoi svitovoi viiny v Osmans’kii derzhavi ta Bolharii

Leonid Zashkilniak (L’viv, Ukraine): Ukrains’ko-pol’s’ki viiny u XX stolitti: heneza ta interpretatsii - online

Discussant Polina Barvinska (Odesa, Ukraine; Regensburg, Germany) §
Chair: Svetlana Suveica (Regensburg, Germany)

Semion Goldin (Jerusalem, Israel): Anti-Jewish Violence and Russian Army: Soldiers, Commanders, and Military Press in Occupied Galicia (1914–1915)

Fabian Baumann (Chicago, USA): Internal Peace, E(x)ternal War: Ukraine’s Russian Nationalists, 1914–1918 - online

Valeria Lavrenko (Dnipro, Ukraine): Vid nezrozumiloho do rafinovanoho voroha: nimtsi kriz’ pryzmu katerynoslavs’koi rehional’noi presy chasiv Pershoi svitovoi viiny

Discussant Guido Hausmann (Regensburg, Germany) §
Book Launch
“Podolaty mynule: Hlobal’na istoriia Ukrainy” by Yaroslav Hrytsak
Moderator: Gelinada Grinchenko (Kharkiv, Ukraine)

Panel IV: World War II as Propaganda War
Chair: Igor Shchupak (Dnipro, Ukraine)

Benno Nietzel (Bochum, Germany): Experts, Intelligence and the German-Soviet Propaganda War 1941–1945 - online

Serhii Koniukhov (L’viv, Ukraine): Agitation and Propaganda of OUN against the Soviet Union in 1944–1945 in Eastern Galicia - online

Anna Medvedovska (Dnipro, Ukraine): Mediini reprezentatsii Holokostu v Ukraini, 1941-1947

Discussant: Kai Struve (Halle / Saale, Germany)

Panel V: Soviet Traditions of Propaganda and Myth Making
Chair: Fedir Turchenko (Augsburg, Germany)

Olha Koliastruk (Vinnytsia, Ukraine): Militaryzm u praktykakh i metodakh radians’koi presy mizhvoiennoho periodu

Olha Bilobrovets (Zhytomyr, Ukraine): Metody ideolohichnoho vplyvu ta zasoby propahandy v khodi viiny bil’shovykiv proty UNR ta radians’ko-pol’s’koi viiny

Anastasiia Kanivets (Kyiv, Ukraine): Ukrains’ki vyzvol’ni rukhy XX st. v radians’komu kinematohrafi: konstruiuvannia mifu - online

Discussant: Yuri Shapoval (Kyiv, Ukraine)

Concluding Discussion

Martin Schulze Wessel (Munich, Germany), Yaroslav Hrytsak (L’viv, Ukraine) - hybrid

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