The Kremlin was actively forming Ukraine’s image as an enemy during 2013-2014 when they began to understand that it would not be able to control the situation in Ukraine. So, it needed to intervene, but for what reason? It was then that Russian propaganda recalled the old images of Nazis, fascists, and supporters of Bandera [politician, ideologue of the Ukrainian nationalist movement in the first half of the 20th century] and began to manipulate those images in the minds of the population of Russia and southeastern Ukraine, emphasising that the so-called “Bandera supporters” and “fascists” led by America will soon come and kill the Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine so they must be urgently saved.
How Does This Technology Work?
Demonisation of the enemy or dehumanisation of the enemy is a propaganda technique that forms public opinion by creating an image of the enemy as an aggressor who poses a threat and pursues only destructive goals.
This technique is aimed at creating a clear stereotype about a particular person, group of people, ideology, or state. It is needed to fight the enemy by simpler means, unite allies around itself and demoralise the enemy.
Demonising the enemy allows the arousal of public fear of the unknown in order to unite society against the enemy. The best way to prove the demonic nature of the enemy is to show living examples of his atrocities, preferably involving women, children, the elderly, and priests.
At its core, demonisation is simple and emotional, but rather a specific technique: people, actions, non-governmental organisations, states, people, religions, sects, ideas, concepts, past, present, future are demonised.
The main criteria for demonising an enemy:
1) Mass media and the state use certain frameworks to show the moral nature of an enemy.
2) The nature of an enemy is set out in the framework of the struggle between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil. That is, the enemy is an evil that must be defeated.
3) Basically, the “state” acts as a source of demonic nature.
Demonisation of Ukraine by Russian Propaganda
Since the end of 2013, the Russian government has been purposefully pitted its own population and the population of eastern Ukraine against majority of Ukrainians, using propaganda tools and demonising Ukrainians. All this is done to escalate violence and incite a civil war. It has been conducted in the following areas:
- Sticking labels according to a pattern “Residents of western regions – Bandera supporters – fascists.” The rhetoric of the Russian media outlets is aimed at forming the image of Bandera supporters as followers of the fascists among Ukrainians, appealing to the historical memory of the peoples. After all, Russian propaganda sees all supporters and defenders of Ukraine’s independence as nationalists.
- Demonisation of the Ukrainian government. Numerous headlines like “Kyiv authorities plan to kill the entire Russian-speaking population of Donbas,” etc. are an attempt, first of all, to point out the illegitimacy of Ukrainian government and create an image of the Nazi state led by the “rotting” West.
- Demonisation of the army. For the population of Donbas, the Ukrainian army must be presented as fascists, predators who came to kill and rape their own people.
- Demonisation of activists. Local activists who are trying to resist the occupiers are demonised. They are usually labeled as fascists, nationalists and collaborators.
It should be understood that all this is happening purposefully, through propaganda tools and demonisation of Ukrainians by the Russian government so that the Russians are ready to kill Ukrainians.
Such use of the technique of demonisation of the enemy by Russia leads to a vicious circle of escalation of tension, excludes the possibility of a diplomatic solution and inevitably leads to hostility.
Statements “Death to Bandera supporters,” “death to the fascists,” and “subject to destruction” now dominate the information space of eastern Ukraine.
Despite the complete absurdity of demonising Ukraine by the Russian leadership, they can boast of some successes. After all, decades of living with the Soviet mindset and subsequent efforts of Russian propaganda shaped a certain identity of the people and brainwashed them well. It was based on formed ideas about fraternal peoples, friendship with Russians and a distorted vision of the events of World War II.
That is why, when the Maidan protests began in 2013, the Kremlin should have used only the old clichés of World War II, adapting them to modern realities. As a result, they got a perfect demonisation of everything Ukrainian. Labels were made about the Nazis who came to power as a result of the Revolution of Dignity, as well as about the fascist government that wants to kill the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine. Those labels awoke an echo in hearts of the residents of Crimea and Donbas. Having believed in the absurd images created by the Russian propaganda, these people became a tool for spreading Russian aggression in Ukraine. Terabytes of Russian junk information formed a distorted view of the world around them, in which Russian-speaking people are killed by Ukrainian “fascists.” Thus, the Ukrainians were pitted against each other in this bloody war.
Well-known historian Liudmyla Hrynevych says, “Let us recall the stories of how a boy was allegedly crucified in front of his mother’s eyes, or how one ‘eyewitness’ said on Russian TV that a crowd in Lviv tried to bring a policeman to his knees, and when he refused, they burned him alive. Hearing this, the whole audience in the hall screamed! Here is a classic example of the mechanisms of propaganda influence on the population under an authoritarian regime. The task is simple – to influence the emotions and senses of people, to form an emotional perception of the ‘enemy’s image’ so that there is no doubt: you can be saved from this evil only by killing it.”
Of course, this happens with the aim of justifying war and violence. The enemy deliberately resorts to images to arouse the population’s fear of the common unknown in order to manipulate this people and agitate them to kill their own kind in the war.
It should be understood that the level of perception of images depends on the level of a person’s information culture. The lower it is, the more conservative and vulnerable a person is to various stereotypes. Therefore, it is necessary to develop critical thinking not to fall into the trap of emotions.