"The West used coronavirus", "Soros controls Ukrainian law-enforcement": anti-Western messages in Ukraine #3

April 28, 2020
Internews Ukraine and UkraineWorld.org are continuing to publish a regular roundup of anti-Western messages in Ukraine aimed at undermining trust in democracy and in Ukraine’s integration with the EU and NATO. We publish regular weekly and monthly reports, and also provide alerts covering specific narratives when they appear.

On 21-27 April the following anti-Western narratives have been the most popular in Ukraine's information sphere:

  • the West used the spread of coronavirus for its own gain, refused to help Ukraine fight the pandemic;
  • the West stands behind Saakashvili;
  • Soros controls Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies;
  • The Russian Church in Ukraine is under attack because of coronavirus.

Let's look at these messages in more detail:

"The West used the spread of coronavirus, refused to help Ukraine"

A narrative about the West being somehow involved in the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic resurged this week.

Dmytro Korneychuk, a political commentator, stressed during the Mizhnarodna panorama (International Perspective) talk show on the ZIK TV channel that the United States knew about coronavirus in China from the very beginning but did nothing to prevent the pandemic because it was lucrative for them. "I have been watching how they [the U.S.] launched the hysteria around coronavirus, how the leading media outlets joined forces and famous people started becoming ill," Korneychuk argued, hinting that all of this has been a coordinated disinformation campaign.

At the same time, bots on Twitter have been spreading an article from "junk website" inforuss.info which claims that "Israel leaked evidence of CIA involvement in the spread of coronavirus."

Meanwhile, the narrative about the West not helping Ukraine in its fight against coronavirus has also been active. Iryna Gavrylova, a journalist and former editor-in-chief of Radio Vesti, argued on air on the 112 Ukraine TV channel that Europe, the U.S., NATO and international financial institutions refused to help Ukraine when the coronavirus pandemic started. "Philanthropists, passionate people and socially responsible politicians are our only hope. For instance, Viktor Medvedchuk and his family have made great efforts to help," Gavrylova said.

"The West stands behind Saakashvili"

On 22 April Mikheil Saakashvili, former Georgian President and governor of Odesa Region in Ukraine announced that he was offered the post of Ukrainian deputy prime minister for reforms. Anti-Western actors already label Saakashvili as one of the key people in the "Soros team" and draw his appointment as another example of "intervention of the USA".

For instance, MP Illya Kyva (Opposition Platform --- For Life) said on the ZIK TV channel that "Saakashvili is not only a person from Soros team, but he has also been recruited by the American secret service." The same channel aired a story about George Soros supporting Saakashvili and his movement in Georgia and organising the capture of the Georgian Parliament in 2003.

Valentyn Zemlianskyi, an analyst of the "alternative expert government", conveyed a similar message on air on the NASH TV channel (owned by Yevhen Murayev, one of the leaders of the Opposition Bloc). "This is the echo of Soros. He [Saakashvili] is absolutely dependent on the West," Zemlianskyi argued.

Gleb Prostakov, a political observer and former editor-in-chief of Vesti.Reporter magazine, argues on Facebook that "Saakashvili promotes the West, which aims to receive compensation for the resignation of Honcharuk [former PM] and ministers who represented grant-based organisations, in other words --- the West itself."

Strana.ua website suggests that Saakashvili's appointment is part of a deal between the West and the Ukrainian government. According to the article, Max Nefiodov, former head of the Customs Service, and Serhiy Verlanov, former head of the Tax Service, were fired last week because they were no longer useful to the West, and that's why the West allowed them to be fired in exchange for Saakashvili being appointed.  The same goes for Artem Sytnyk, the head of Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Bureau, who is "to be fired soon."

"Soros controls Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies"

Several anti-Western actors simultaneously accused the International Renaissance Foundation of controlling Ukraine's law-enforcement agencies.

Andriy Portnov, a lawyer from Yanukovych's entourage, drew attention on his Telegram channel to the fact that the "brazen and cocky" International Renaissance Foundation published details about Grant № 52948, which foresees the provision of public control over the State Investigation Bureau (SIB). "You are lucky the country [Ukraine] is being governed by people who are afraid of their own shadow. If I was [in the government], you would already be packing your bags and buying airplane tickets," Portnov stressed.

The same message was voiced by Illya Kyva (Opposition Platform --- For Life) on the ZIK TV channel. Kyva argued that the "Soros foundation" is financing SIB directly.

"The Russian Church in Ukraine is under attack from 'tomosiata', who brought coronavirus from Europe"

According to the narrative spread by bots on Twitter, "halychany" (Ukrainians from Galicia ---  Lviv, Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk Regions) are "disgusting" because "herds of them were bringing the virus [COVID-19] from Europe", and now they "blame" the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. The word "tomosiata" (analogue to "sorosiata") is also being used to describe people from Western Ukraine who allegedly supported the Tomos.

This might be a campaign to whitewash the Russian Church in Ukraine, which  put the health of believers at risk at Easter.

Note: Why we do this research

In past years, but especially after the 2019 elections in Ukraine, anti-Western and anti-democratic messages have become more widespread in the Ukrainian information space. They are aimed at undermining trust in democracy and creating a monstrous image of the "West" ("Europe", "America", "Soros", and "the IMF") trying to destroy Ukrainian sovereignty. They are traditionally disseminated by Russian and pro-Russian information actors, but they have now been joined by increasingly visible Yanukovych-era "revanchist" politicians (Andriy Portnov, Olena Lukash, etc.); forces close to oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskiy, and even by the formerly pro-Western "Orange Revolution Queen" Yulia Tymoshenko.

Internews Ukraine and UkraineWorld.org, in cooperation with SemanticForce and Looqme, compile a regular digest of these messages. We weekly and monthly reports, and also provide alerts about specific narratives when they appear. This project is conducted with the support of the Media Program in Ukraine, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the international organization Internews.

Read our previous reports here:

analyst and journalist at Internews Ukraine and UkraineWorld