Propaganda plays a part in many conflicts and to some extent it can even be the catalyst of war itself. The recent conflict in Ukraine that has been simmering since its independence from Russia in 1991 exploded both back in 2004 with the Orange Revolution and most recently last November with the most current one. Both sides would swear on the truthfulness of their information but with my own eyes and ears, while in Ukraine over the summer, I came across propaganda at every turn.
The war situation in Ukraine has become desperate with groups splintering and confusion over the true role of the revolution disappearing from sight, from our sight in the West. I decided to go to Ukraine at the beginning of the summer and photograph what I saw in order to portray an objective view of the aftermath of the revolution through the eyes of a young person. A view I felt had been severely overlooked by mainstream media.
But it is hard to blame Sky news, the BBC, STV and similar major TV companies when in fact they are just pandering to the public’s demands. Among many of us there is a want for bite size snippets of whatever extreme events are going on now. In the world of BuzzFeed and Twitter long, drawn-out features are less popular.
Ukraine has always been a tenuous hot-pot of different ethnic groups with a strong divide between Europe – and Russia-leaning people. The main concern I perceived back in April, when I was writing a feature for The Student newspaper, was that Putin had apparently begun an ‘information war’.
One of my sources spoke about how ‘he [President Putin] started to show terrible news on their [Eastern Ukrainian’s] TV channels, that western Ukraine hates people from eastern Ukraine.’ They went on to say: ‘It’s not true but people ceased to understand.’
It became increasingly difficult as media channels from both Western and Eastern Ukraine were interpreting violent events in different ways, each blaming the other side. As further people were directly affected their anger turned towards other Ukrainians – ‘Ukrainian against Ukrainian’ as one of the young students I met in Kiev put it.
But the interpretation of the news channels were not only to blame as some people believe that protestors often secretly incited violence amongst themselves in order to rally peaceful camps against the government and to start the riots.
Originally both protestor and police found it hard to fight one another, especially in Kiev where strong opinions against Europe were low. But as acts of violence increased, and with confusion about the sources of these dangerous events, both protestor and police force began to doubt each other.
Anya Korbut, a young photographer and journalist I met while researching my first article on Ukraine told me that Ukrainian media is split right down the middle, with 50% supporting the new Ukrainian government and 50% supporting the pro-Russia policy. She also believes that Russian media is far from truthful; ‘there is a huge difference between our media and the Russians. This is because Russia build their informational policy on propaganda and 90% lying about everything.’
Worryingly the propaganda may be working; ‘some people in Russia and Belorussia still say ‘there is no war’. There is war.’
This war of words and mistrust of the media has led to complete confusion among some of the factions fighting for a pro-Europe Ukraine. A more dangerous component in the mix is mercenaries. People being paid to fight for certain sides, especially, it seems according to reports, for the Russians; ‘there are many different groups of people with weapons, trying to act in their private interests, sometimes really aggressive and stupid.’
The media played a huge role in this war and continues to do so. Many people believe that it was the news channels themselves that both ignited and fueled the aggression between eastern and western Ukraine. A sad, classic case where subjectivity and bias has infiltrated the media.
Georgia Forsyth Sijpestijn
Georgia Forsyth Sijpestijn is a photojournalist, investigative reporter and blogger. Her work includes Ukrainian Days, Ukrainian Fights and Investigative, an environmental blog – see here. She is also Photo Editor for The Student newspaper. Studying Ecological and Environmental Science at The University of Edinburgh, she loves travelling and sticking her nose into things. All she needs is her camera, pen and notebook and a plane ticket…to anywhere.
If you would like to check out Georgia’s photoblog of post-revolution Ukraine go to her site Ukrainian Days, Ukrainian Fights – visit it here.
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