How Russia discredits the Revolution of Dignity
Living in the reality of wartime, Ukrainians often recall their memories of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity because many consider it to be the turning point of contemporary Ukrainian history that ultimately launched the beginning of today’s chapter.
The revolution was particularly significant in its demonstration of a real threat, perhaps for the first time throughout Ukraine’s independence, to Russia’s influence on Ukrainian politics and civil society. Realising the revolution would serve as a catalyst for a powerful campaign seeking to solidify Ukraine’s ambitions to join the European Union in the future, Russia launched an aggressive and large-scale propaganda effort to discredit the Revolution of Dignity and nullify the Ukrainian civil society’s explicit expression of a desire to look westwards. The Russian propaganda campaign attempted to infiltrate both the global and Ukrainian media spaces. With some of its remnants being echoed by countries today, it goes to show how fast propaganda narratives are able to spread and how dangerous they can be to national security. At a time when Ukraine is in need of strong allies in its fight for democracy and freedom, it can only rely on those who have successfully identified purposefully introduced Russian propaganda narratives as exactly that – propaganda, with no truth to it.
In this publication, we’d like to draw your attention towards some of the propaganda narratives that were and are to this day perpetuated and spread by Russia on the subject of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. To demonstrate the local scope of Russian propaganda being injected into Ukrainian media, we will give some examples of rhetoric on the topic previously spread by media currently banned in Ukraine and persons who have been placed on sanctions lists.
The Propaganda Way of Lies
False narrative #1: The Revolution of Dignity was a coup d’etat and a prerequisite for civil war.
Now sanctioned due to its spread and legitimisation of Russian propaganda, Strana.ua was previously a locomotive of anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. In their coverage of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity and the subsequent occupation of Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the media repeatedly incorrectly labeled the occupation as a “civil war” that allegedly came out of the Maidan movement, claiming that it was the “supporters and opponents of the new Kyiv authorities.” The “civil war” rhetoric is one frequently used by the Kremlin in attempts to rid Russia of any responsibility for having persistently broken international law in Ukraine since 2014.
The placement of blame on the Maidan movement for the occupation of Crimea, and Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as a “sharp drop in living standards” is a purposeful deflection tactic aimed at redirecting attention away from Russia’s years-long attempts at threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Furthermore, the propaganda narrative about the 2014 Revolution of Dignity as being a coup d’etat reflects attempts at delegitimising the revolution’s nature of being a grassroots people’s movement. The first rally to take place at Kyiv’s Independence Square happened because of journalist Mustafa Nayyem’s Facebook post, where he called on Kyiv’s residents to gather in the city center to demonstrate their disagreement with Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the promised and much-awaited EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Those who participated in the Maidan protests, those camped out in the city center for several months, and those who were martyred were all regular civilians, some of them teachers, some of them doctors, some of them students. The Revolution of Dignity was a clear-cut demonstration of a physical manifestation of the people’s will, far from being a staged protest or a coup d’etat. On the contrary, what was staged were the alleged anti-Maidan protests – indeed, some did take place under the guise of being the revolution’s opposition. However, those gatherings were immediately proven to have been comprised of people paid off by the government to be there and attempt to disrupt the peaceful mass protests.
Fact: The Revolution of Dignity was a grassroots people’s movement that began with a peaceful protest of students against the refusal of the pro-Russian government, represented by President Viktor Yanukovych, to continue with the promised Ukraine’s European integration course. This revolution became bloody only because the security forces were authorised to use weapons against civilians, leading to the death of over 100 people.
False narrative #2: The Revolution of Dignity is the result of “external management” of Ukraine by the EU, the USA, and the whole Western world.
While the Revolution of Dignity was underway, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. and EU of creating a “brown revolution,” warning that Russia would use “all its influence” to “finally bring order to Ukraine.”
Such rhetoric is nothing more than an attempt at delegitimising the autonomy of the Ukrainian people in being active participants in the state-making process of their country. Furthermore, this narrative of a “West-controlled Ukraine” is dehumanising in its implied portrayal of Ukrainians as nothing more than puppets to the West incapable of making decisions themselves.
Pro-Russian propagandist Portnov is also a prominent dabbler in the “West-controlled Ukraine” conspiracy theory. He, like his associates, has resorted to spreading fake information to propagate the claim that Ukraine is being externally governed and that the 2014 Revolution of Dignity was sponsored from abroad. Such claims remain factually unfounded and contribute to the creation of a harmful perception of Ukraine as a simple middle-man between Russia and the West, which is a narrative that completely obscures the 400 year-long history of oppressive Russian-Ukrainian relations.
Fact: the Revolution of Dignity and peaceful protests that preceded were initiated exclusively by the Ukrainian society and its most conscious strata in the form of activists, civil society, and all concerned citizens of Ukraine, who were united by the goal of overthrowing an authoritarian government and calling for their political desires to be appropriately represented by their elected political leaders.
False narrative #3: The “Heavenly Hundred” who were killed by government security forces during the Revolution of Dignity are a made-up fact.
To obscure the human cost of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity and the willingness of its participants to stand up for their freedoms, some Russian and pro-Russian propagandists have taken to claiming that no deaths had occurred and the heroes of the Heavenly Hundred are made up figures. Such a narrative was promoted by pro-Russian politician and Viktor Yanukovych supporter Olena Lukash, who argued that the murders of Maidan protesters “were clearly mythologized.”
Fact: the fallen civilians during the Revolution of Dignity are real people with real stories, whose families are still mourning after them eight years on, and the Ukrainian civil society is seeking justice so that those complicit in the murders are punished.
False narrative #4: The Revolution of Dignity caused the occupation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in the east of Ukraine.
To place blame on Ukrainian civil society and shift responsibility away from the aggressor, Russian propaganda frequently creates a causal connection between the 2014 Revolution of Dignity and the occupation of Crimea, and Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. An example of such narratives being voiced can be seen in pro-Russian politician Yevhen Muraiev’s speech on air of his own TV channel: “There have been two revolutions: Orange Revolution and Revolution of Dignity, as a result of which we lost Crimea, and our country is now at war.” Pro-Russian websites and their telegram channels (Strana, Klymenko Time, VESTI) also mentioned in their publications that Euromaidan cost Ukraine a “loss of territories.”
Fact: the responsibility for the occupation of Crimea, and the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts can only be placed on the aggressor-state that occupied them – Russia. Internal political events in Ukraine did not determine the external aggressive war that Russia unleashed in 2014 that continues to this day.
False narrative #5: The Revolution of Dignity is an example of why democracy leads to chaos and freedom of speech and expression must be suppressed.
The threat of Maidan has long been the main narrative of pro-Kremlin propaganda. In the hands of propagandists, it has become a universal bogeyman used whenever protests are involved. Commenting on the capture of the Capitol by an armed gang of Trumpists, pro-Kremlin propaganda mouthpieces compared it to the events in Ukraine, purposefully obscuring the vast differences between the two events in order to enforce the image of Maidan as a chaotic riot, rather than a peaceful protest expressing the will of the people.
The Kremlin has a simple goal — to create or intensify chaos in other countries, and to present Russia as a center of stability. In order to solidify such an image of itself, it is imperative for Russian propaganda to characterise democratic procedures in a negative or mocking light. This way, Moscow justifies its own actions of restricting freedom of speech, introducing censorship and having a justice system with no regard for human rights.
Fact: democracy allows for the direct participation of a state’s citizens in the decision-making processes of their representatives that ultimately impact the citizens’ lives. Peaceful protests by Ukrainians are their inalienable right to defend their rights and freedoms. Russia as an authoritarian state is afraid of democracy and any freedoms.
This historical overview includes cases from the authors’ personal overviews, analysis of Detector media journalists and analysts, VoxUkraine, and Texty.org materials.
Prepared by Anastasiia Murzak, Kvitka Perehinets
Designed by Vladyslav Rybalko