Reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories: information component | Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories: information component

The increasing role of information in modern society’s life has not only led to the justification of the media’s role as a “fourth power”, and today – even as the “first power”. Informational technologies have provided new tools of war that can be effectively used both in the country planning to start a war and on the territory of a country that has been chosen as an object of aggression. At the same time, the strategic state information policy can become a powerful instrument to form a new system of values in society, overcome contradictions and strengthen civil identity. The first case demonstrates Japan’s experience in the process of democratic transformation, the second one is the experience of Germany after the unification and other European countries in post-crisis periods.

In Art. 7 of the adopted in the first reading draft Law of Ukraine “On the peculiarities of state policy for ensuring the state sovereignty of Ukraine over temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions” tasks are set for ensuring national security in general, and for the development of information and telecommunication infrastructure within the territories adjoining to the temporarily occupied areas in particular. However, regarding the issue of information policy, the authorities are still focusing more on solving the technical problem – building towers for broadcasting Ukrainian channels within the uncontrolled territories. Nonetheless, if the issue of information security and information policy is raised in the context of ensuring national security, integration of residents of uncontrolled territories into the Ukrainian civil society, the problem should be considered not only as a technical one, but primarily it should be regarded as ideological issue of the state.

The media’s influence on identity: destruction/unification

The media, like any other instrument, can exercise both destructive and consolidating influence. It depends on what purpose the subject establishes, what means are chosen to implement it, on what mental and political-cultural soil the seeds, sown in the media space, fall. To understand why Russian propaganda has achieved maximum effectiveness in eroding the Ukrainian identity in the East of the country, to outline ways to overcome the consequences of its influence, it is necessary to disclose the three above-mentioned components. The goal is clear. Means depend on conditions. So let us start with the third component.

The fact that a politically illiterate person cannot be a subject of politics, but will only be an object of manipulation, was also pointed by Vladimir Lenin. However, the Soviet system did not need to be manipulative. It relied on direct coercion and placed its stake on the “ideological man”, who was not a subject of politics either. It was this Soviet ideological man, whom the Ukrainian state did not transform into a “political man”, who turned out to be defenseless against propaganda and manipulation and became the mainstay of the “Russian world” in Ukraine.

The clear results of the influence of Russian information expansion are demonstrated by changes in the self-identification of Crimean residents. Outright anti-Ukrainian propaganda began to actively unfold in the Russian media even during the first Maidan. Since 2005, two of its main vectors have already been clearly traced. The first was aimed at forming the image of the enemy-Ukrainian in the minds of Russians. The second was to destroy the Ukrainian identity, first of all, among the inhabitants of the South and East of Ukraine. Actually, the second strategic goal has determined the key direction of Viktor Yanukovych’s election campaign in the presidential election of 2004, and the Kremlin’s political technologists, as it is known, headed the work of his election headquarters. Russian propaganda has been blurring the Ukrainian identity for 10 years before the military invasion.

In particular, the content of the active two-year Russian propaganda impact, which falls on 2006-2007, can be clearly traced in the results of sociological research given in the article “Peculiarities of the socio-cultural and civic identity of national ethnic groups dominant in the Crimea”, published in № 10 of the Journal “National Security and Defense” for 2008. According to these results, in 2006, 74% of Crimea residents perceived Ukraine as their homeland, and 22.2% of Crimea residents did not perceive Ukraine in this way. By 2008, the position of the Crimeans had changed significantly. Ukraine as a homeland was perceived by only 40.1% of the inhabitants of the autonomy, and by 32.9% of the inhabitants it was not perceived in this way. At the same time, 68.3% of Crimeans considered Ukrainian citizenship a purely practical matter and only 10.3% were proud of being Ukrainian citizens. 48% of Crimeans, if possible, would change Ukrainian citizenship to another, 80% of whom preferred Russian citizenship. This was the dynamics of the “Crimean identity”. These results already then had to draw the attention of the authorities to the issues of security and defense. It is also significant that 29% of respondents named the media as the most important factor in the formation of their own political views.

Similar trends in identity change were clearly traced in the East of Ukraine. At the time of the beginning of the aggression, according to the results of various sociological studies, from 80% to 90% of the region’s inhabitants called Russian TV channels to be the main source of information. At the same time, more than half of them have never travelled outside of their region. Before the Revolution of Dignity, the inhabitants of Donbas had already in fact formed a regional pro-Russian identity. Therefore, separatist insurgencies under the leadership of Russian ideologists quickly found support of a certain part of the region’s population.

In December 2013 – February 2014 the attention of Russian propaganda shifted to an intensive incitement of hostility between residents of various regions of Ukraine, to discredit the protest movement. At the same time, a new wave of propaganda relied on the grounds that had been laid down since 2004 – the “fascist rebellion”, “the hand of the West” and the like. Simultaneously, the media design of a separate eastern identity was strengthened, to the foundation of which was first put the federalization project, which soon quickly gave way to “Novorossiya” project. The fact that the inhabitants of the region, who made up the social base of the “Russian world”, supported the first project, and then the second, forgetting about the previous one, became evidence of the establishment of Russian media control over the consciousness of a significant part of the region’s inhabitants. During the period of occupation, this control is intensified.

Attention should be also paid to one more component of the information influence of the Russian Federation. Since February 2014, the Russian mass media began to massively appear articles and programs in which the plans and ways of joining Donbas to the Russian Federation were presented. Supporters of the “Russian world” were sent clear messages: the future of Donbas in the Russian Federation; “joining” will take place easily, most likely, according to the “Crimean scenario”; in the Russian Federation a “bright future” is waiting for them with specific measurable, in terms of “ordinary resident” indicators (pensions and salaries as in “television Russia”).

These and other examples point to several things. First, they demonstrate an illustrative picture of how easily large social communities, in which a system of basic civil values is not formed, can be influenced by propaganda and even primitive information manipulations. The less practical political, legal, economic and civic knowledge a person has, the more he or she loses the ability to adequately assess reality. If in a country ranked fourth in the world in terms of the number of citizens with a higher education, the society is defenseless against the obviously destructive information impact, this shows not only the extremely low level of media literacy, but also indicates a massive inability to think critically, demonstrates a political and civil incompetence in a broad sense. Therefore, the first means of resisting information aggression is working towards overcoming this group of reasons. Secondly, these examples point to the need to broadcast to citizens of uncontrolled territories clear messages on the project of a joint future in Ukraine.

Russian propaganda is based on all Soviet stereotypes, which in the minds of Ukrainian society still occupy a critical niche. Among most of the inhabitants of uncontrolled territories, this niche, obviously, is still increasing. In this regard, questions arise: how to fight in the television space for the minds of people? What to rely on in this fight? Should counterpropaganda, based on the same “soviet” thinking and consciousness, be deployed? Such an ingredient is present on some TV channels. Efficiency of that equals zero. Russian “fakes” and information attacks can be denounced, the technology of making “fake news” can be demonstrated, which is also present. Apparently, it is good, but is it enough? Are the programs “Anti-Zombie” able to solve the problem fundamentally? Probably not.

An effective solution to any problem requires not only combating the consequences, but, first of all, eliminating the causes. Russian television content is aimed at activating the Soviet stereotypes. The Ukrainian one, accordingly, must demonstrate the results of the practical embodiment of the values of a civilized society, achievable for the consciousness of the average citizen. For residents of uncontrolled territories the country is associated, first of all, with the state, the authorities. The total discrediting of the Ukrainian authorities is one of the pillars of Russian propaganda. Therefore, Ukrainian content should carry information about positive changes in society due to effective modernization of public administration. The Russian media have already switched from the problems of “banderites” and “oppression of Russian-speaking” to “throwing in” conditions on which Donbas can return to Ukraine. They are, from time to time, also voiced by Russian henchmen in uncontrolled territories. Therefore, residents of the occupied territories from TV screens should be informed that the conditions of return are the result, first of all, of a social contract within the whole of Ukrainian society and not of the Russian Federation ultimatums.

The development of an information policy strategy requires a realistic assessment of the consciousness’ state of the occupied territories’ inhabitants. Obviously, it is already possible to affirm the existing regional quasi-identity. It is based on an artificially created model of regional social memory, constructed images that regional is something “own” and Ukrainian – something “alien”. The modern Donbas identity is increasingly moving away from the Ukrainian one, but it has not yet become completely Russian. Due to their stay in a closed information environment and the strengthening of Russian information influence, the inhabitants of the occupied territories gravitate even more towards a “strong hand”, paternalism and other Russian-Soviet values. Therefore, the strategy of information reintegration should be aimed at neutralizing all factors for the formation and maintenance of Donbas quasi-identity.

The strategic goal of information policy to solve the problems of reintegration can be briefly defined as following: to form a modern state and its image as a civilized European country; educate a citizen and civil identity, form a political nation on the basis of basic democratic values; to provide a platform for a nation-wide dialogue on solving acute problems of society; to unite society by a joint project of future. In order for communication through television channels to contribute to the realization of the goal, it is necessary to introduce several vectors of information policy:

  • Positive-informational vector, designed to create in the minds of citizens a sense of positive dynamics in the state. In the framework of this vector, image and reputational tasks are also realized.
  • Pluralistic vector, aimed not only at the implementation of one of the basic principles of democracy in the media space, but also on the development of a broad public dialogue on the problems of the state’s modernization model formation. Ways and means of reintegration of the occupied territories should constitute a separate direction of the dialogue.
  • Educational vector, aimed at the formation of a system of civic knowledge and values.

Each of these directions cannot be equally present on all TV channels. Educational programs, including civilian ones, can be more represented on the public TV. Their second important mission is to create an interactive platform for finding solutions to the problems of the state and society. Private TV channels can play an important role in the reintegration process, ensuring the implementation of all the designated vectors.

Interaction through the information space: priorities and tools

From time to time in the media there are reports that Ukraine has received financial and technical support to strengthen information security. Western partners transmit television towers, digital repeaters. Representatives of the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting state an increase in access to Ukrainian television in the occupied territories. Therefore, in the solution of the technical part of the problem, certain successes have been achieved. However, the content of such broadcasting is much more important.

The “Draft strategy for the information reintegration of certain territories in the East of Ukraine, at which the state authorities temporarily do not exercise their powers, and the territories adjoining to the area of the anti-terrorist operation” is published on the website of the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine. In the part which characterizes the problem that needs to be addressed, attention is focused on weakening institutional ties with Ukraine; formation of negative image of Ukraine; differences in the assessment of the political situation and conflict in the East of Ukraine by citizens in controlled and uncontrolled territories. It is noted that “the process of physical reintegration temporarily uncontrolled territories in Ukraine should provide for the parallel reintegration of Ukrainian citizens at the level of their beliefs and attitudes towards Ukraine”.

This definition of the problem and the vision of reintegration demands significant comments. The formulation of the problem does not reflect a vision of the underlying causes that led to the support of part of the Donbas inhabitants of Russian aggression. At the same time, it is through overcoming these reasons that the path to reintegration lies. Negative image of Ukraine, differences in the assessment of the political situation – this is only the upper and the thinnest layer of the problem. The key reason is a rotten system of values, on which the “phantom of Donbas” is held, which is further spread by the Russian media. The interpretation of reintegration as a unification “at the level of convictions” is extremely inconclusive. What should these beliefs be formed on? Should they be formed on the assessments of the situation? They cannot be a firm basis for beliefs. Therefore, it should be highlighted the formation of civil values and a new system of vital values as the basis for reintegration. Accordingly, it is necessary to specify the goal. The formulation proposed in the Draft Strategy should be supplemented with a specific list of prerequisites, the creation of which is necessary for successful reintegration. Among them is the formation of a system of civil and new life values, the formation and promotion of a joint future project in Ukraine.

The tasks that are necessary to achieve the goal of the strategy are formulated in a declarative manner. Most of them have propagandistic, not state-strategic content. Among the tasks it is indicated “increasing the level of Ukrainian civil identity and consciousness among Ukrainian citizens living in Donetsk and Luhansk regions”. The fact that this task is placed at the end of the list indicates a lack of understanding of the essence of the problem and the significance of its solution for reintegration. The term “increase” is used in the formulation, although in modern conditions it is more about formation.

Most of the tasks outlined cannot be realized within the framework of the information reintegration strategy separately. Tasks on the formation of beliefs that the sustainable development of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions is possible only as being a part of Ukraine; beliefs in the absence of alternative to Ukraine’s Eurointegration course can be effectively implemented only if there is a general state reintegration strategy. It should define clear guidelines for a joint future: how the cities destroyed by the war will be rebuilt; what industries will develop and provide jobs; which systemic reforms in the near future will ensure real progress towards European integration. There is no such a strategy today. Without it, the implementation of tasks in the field of information reintegration can be realized only by propaganda means, and the information strategy itself looks “suspended in the air”.

The list of activities to achieve the goals and objectives of the Strategy includes institutional and instrumental ones. In particular, it is about strengthening coordination, ensuring full coverage of the controlled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions with a signal from Ukrainian TV and radio broadcasters. Of course, organizational, bureaucratic and technical components are important, but only if there is a clear understanding of the necessary content to be filled. One of the points determines the increase in the share and quality of specialized content for Ukrainian citizens residing in the controlled territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The content for residents of uncontrolled territories is not mentioned at all. It is not clear how the tasks formulated regarding those residents will be realized.

If to consider the strategy of information reintegration, then obviously, the key should be 3 questions: the direction of information policy; content and its filling; the media that will broadcast the relevant programs and relay of which to uncontrolled territories must be provided first. In the submitted Draft, the second is mentioned episodically, others are not mentioned at all.

In the part “Semantic filling of communication with citizens of Ukraine on the controlled and uncontrolled territories of Donetsk and Lugansk regions” the senses on which communication should be based are defined. Analysis of the content shows that they are more counter-propagandistic, not aimed at eliminating the causes of the destruction of civil identity. In the semantic content, there is no place either for the formation of a modernized system of values as the basis for reintegration, nor for civil education and upbringing, nor for social dialogue. The first two points reflect the image vector of the information policy. Certainly, it is extremely important. However, some senses require filling with real content. To form the image of Ukraine as an effective state, in which the rule of law operates, citizens need to constantly show positive changes in this direction. In their absence, the declaration of democratic principles causes only irritation due to the recognition of the great difference between the declared and the real.

In order for citizens of controlled and uncontrolled territories to perceive Ukraine as a “stable state with a perspective future”, which “provides them with opportunities for development”, it is obviously necessary: to implement a strategy of systemic reform in the state, to explain the goals and meaning of reforms; to show at least insignificant, but real, positive changes as a result of implementing the steps to realize reforms; to show what opportunities for development are already being created. If the translation of the positive aspects from the TV screens is superimposed on a sense of improvement in real life, then the image of Ukraine as a state with a perspective future will begin to be consolidated in the minds of citizens.

An essential basis for the formation of a positive image of Ukraine is to increase the level of confidence in the authorities and support the reforms that are being fulfilled by them. For residents of uncontrolled territories this is especially important, because in their minds Ukraine is associated, first of all, with the authorities. The results of sociological research indicate that the level of trust and support for government actions is insufficient to improve the image of the state.

Thus, the results of a survey conducted by the sociological service of the Razumkov Center on October 6-11, 2017, show a critically high level of distrust towards the highest institutions of state power: 68.2% of Ukrainians do not trust the President of Ukraine, 73.1% – to the government, 80.7% – to The Verkhovna Rada. None of the reforms adopted or initiated in 2017 has the support of most citizens. This shows both the low level of the quality of the reforms themselves and the lack of awareness of citizens about their meaning and goals. In a situation of mistrust of power and a negative assessment of its reform efforts, it is extremely difficult to introduce the senses of communication defined in the Draft Strategy. Therefore, the need to intensify the work of power institutions in two directions is obvious: improving the quality of reforms; ensuring effective communication with the public through the media.

Effective information reintegration is impossible without the development of an overall reintegration strategy across the country. Systemic reforms are also part of the strategy. Their successful implementation and positive perception on the controlled territory lay the foundation for the formation of a positive image of Ukraine in uncontrolled territories. Accordingly, one of the areas of information reintegration should be an explanation of the meaning of the reforms and positive results from their implementation.

A necessary component of the process should be a constant translation of democratic civil values, but not speculative and far from life, but those that underlie specific reforms and changes. Without this declaration will remain cliches, dialogue will stay pointless, and democratization will continue to resemble the cosmetic repair of an unworthy for life home. The priority of the tasks on the formation of basic civil values is indicated by the results of the study “Ukrainian Society and European Values”, conducted by the Gorshenin Institute in cooperation with the Representative Office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Ukraine and Belarus in April-June 2017. The rule of law as the most important value designated only 11.7% of respondents, and democracy – 14.5%. However, the presented Draft Strategy lacks evidence of an understanding of the importance of the democratic and civic values formation. Accordingly, the expected results do not envisage either the formation of a common civic identity or the ousting of the “Russian world” from the consciousness of residents of controlled and uncontrolled territories. Judging by the contents of the document, reintegration is not generally perceived within institutions of power as a unification based on a modernized value system.


On the example of the inhabitants of Crimea and Donbas, the results of the influence of propaganda on the transformation of self-identification of people with the consciousness of “homo sovieticus” are clearly visible. During the four-year period of life in the Russian information space, the identification distance from Ukraine has increased, and the components of the non-Ukrainian identity have strengthened. Therefore, for the formation of Ukrainian civil identity, large-scale activities are needed, primarily in the field of education and information. The mass media, in particular television channels, should become an important tool for informing and education, the formation of a system of democratic values in society as the basis of civil identity and the necessary prerequisite for reintegration.

The information strategy cannot be realized separately from the complex state reintegration strategy. In fact, the information strategy is a component of the general strategy. One of the main tasks of the media is to promote the state reintegration strategy through the information space: its explanation and public discussion; reporting a joint future project with clearly defined parameters of life in a unified country; realization through the information space of enlightening, educational, value-forming tasks.

In the power offices the authorities are more concerned with technical issues. The development of key information policy vectors for the reintegration of the occupied territories has not yet been actualized. In the expert environment, this is also not given a decent attention. At the same time, the solution of the problem of information reintegration of the occupied territories in the East of Ukraine needs to change the order of priorities.

Published on the website of Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine “Draft strategy for the information reintegration of certain territories in the East of Ukraine, at which the state authorities temporarily do not exercise their powers, and the territories adjoining to the area of the anti-terrorist operation” does not correspond to the level of the state strategic document. Reintegration is not perceived as the unification of the whole society on the basis of a system of civic values. The goal and objectives are defined more in a counter-propagandist way. The state-ideological vision of the problem is not explicit. The main components of the information policy, in particular, its direction, content for the implementation of these areas, are not reflected in the Draft.


The strategy of information reintegration of the occupied territories should be based on a comprehensive state strategy of reintegration, ensure the implementation of its directions requiring information support.

In the process of the information strategy of reintegration development, the value component should be placed in the center of attention, and the information policy should be subordinated to the introduction of a system of democratic civil values.

In the issue of information support for reintegration, priority order should be changed:

  • First, it is necessary to develop an information strategy for reintegration, which defines the main vectors of the information policy: educational, value-forming, informative, discussion and others.
  • The next step is to start the formation of content for each of the indicated directions.
  • Since obviously not all television channels are aimed at solving reintegration problems, it is necessary to identify those which will implement the information strategy, are able to develop and increase content, and to provide constant information support for the reintegration process.
  • Provide retransmission of those TV channels content of which contributes to the achievement of the results defined in the strategy.

The proposed “Draft strategy for the information reintegration of certain territories in the East of Ukraine, at which the state authorities temporarily do not exercise their powers, and the territories adjoining to the area of the anti-terrorist operation” requires substantial refinement:

  • Initial understanding of reintegration as a unification of the whole society on the basis of a modernized system of values and a common vision of the future should be the starting point.
  • The information strategy should be defined at three levels: the entire state, the front-line territories, the occupied territories.
  • The main tasks, respectively, and the expected results, should concern, first and foremost, decommunization of public consciousness and changes in the value system, the formation of civil identity.
  • The strategy should identify the main vectors of the information policy and clear guidelines for the national and regional content.
  • The educational vector of the information strategy requires the most careful attention, because it is through education and informing that prerequisites are formed for the realization of most reintegration tasks.

Svetlana Topalova, Elena Ukrainets

Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Published on the informational and analytical portal “Hvylya”

The material was prepared within the framework of a project implemented with the financial support of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) and the Government of Canada