Viral Disinformation: The Kremlin’s Coronavirus Information Operation in Ukraine


Key Takeaway: Likely Russian actors conducted a disinformation campaign against Ukraine exploiting COVID-19 fears related to the Ukrainian government’s evacuation of its citizens from Wuhan, China. The campaign’s tactics, timing, and nature all point toward Kremlin involvement. The campaign’s false information increased distrust of the Ukrainian government, caused protests in at least five different towns, and forced the resignation of a Ukrainian governor. The campaign is likely part of the Kremlin’s efforts to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for more concessions in the war in Donbas. This campaign may be part of a global Russian information operation on COVID-19.

Likely Russian actors launched a disinformation campaign aimed at provoking protests in response to the arrival of Ukrainian evacuees from China. The disinformation campaign exploited the lack of reliable information about the evacuees’ quarantine site. Ukrainian officials first announced plans to evacuate Ukrainian citizens from Wuhan, China, on February 3 but never provided details about the quarantine’s location.[1] Misinformation about the quarantine’s location began spreading on Ukrainian social media on February 15, increasing public uncertainty and fear. Ukraine’s health minister said on February 18 that the government identified three potential quarantine sites, but did not name them.[2] The Ukrainian government secretly selected a sanatorium in Novi Sanzhary, Poltava Oblast, as the quarantine site in the early morning of February 20, the same day the evacuees arrived in Ukraine.[3] Hundreds of protesters attacked the evacuees’ convoy and attempted to block their arrival in Novi Sanzhary in the evening of February 20.

This disinformation campaign in Ukraine could be part of Russia’s global COVID-19 information operation. The U.S. Department of State assesses the Kremlin began a global information operation on COVID-19 in mid-January.[4] The operation employs state-owned television, proxy websites, and thousands of fake social media personas in multiple languages. [5] Thousands of these accounts previously amplified Kremlin framings of the war in Syria, the Yellow Vest protests in France, and the protests in Chile.[6] U.S. experts observe parallels between this COVID-19 information operation with previous Kremlin information operations; this campaign promotes conspiracy theories that the U.S. is behind COVID-19, similar to how a KGB disinformation campaign in the 1980s claimed American scientists created HIV/AIDS.[7]

The Kremlin may have supported a COVID-19 disinformation campaign in Ukraine as part of the Kremlin’s larger effort to pressure Zelensky to grant concessions in the war in Donbas. Kremlin proxy forces launched an offensive on Ukrainian positions in Donbas on February 18 during the middle of the COVID-19 disinformation campaign.[8] The Kremlin is increasing economic, military, and diplomatic pressure on Ukraine with the objective of decreasing Zelensky’s space to maneuver in the Ukraine peace process.[9] The Kremlin-led peace process for the war in Donbas leverages Zelensky’s stalled political agenda – a dynamic ISW has analyzed.[10] For example, the Kremlin leverages the fact that Zelensky’s campaign promise to restore peace in eastern Ukraine relies on cooperation from Russian President Vladimir Putin.[11] The COVID-19 disinformation campaign also likely coincided with the timeframe in which Zelensky was planning the recent Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers reshuffle that occurred on March 4.[12] This disinformation campaign further eroded Ukraine’s domestic confidence and exacerbated Ukrainian government instability at a time when Zelensky’s ratings are at an all-time low.[13]

The COVID-19 disinformation campaign in Ukraine employed the following tactics.

  • The campaign targeted specific cities with disinformation. The campaign targeted residents of cities with sanatoriums, falsely claiming that the Ukrainian government would quarantine the evacuees in their city. The campaign stoked fears about the evacuees’ threat to public health and promoted calls to protest and physically prevent the evacuees’ arrival in Ukraine. Protests erupted in at least five different cities near sanatoriums from February 15-20 due to the disinformation campaign.[14] 
  • A focused disinformation campaign targeted Novi Sanzhary in central Ukraine - the town containing the evacuees’ quarantine site. Mass text messages to Poltava residents on February 19 called for protests to block the evacuees’ arrival.[15] Residents in Poltava received these text messages before the Ukrainian government confirmed Novi Sanzhary is the quarantine site.[16]

Caption: “Dear Residents of Novi Sanzhary, a terrible trouble is coming to our village. Law enforcement agencies were ordered to bring infectious patients from China (50 people). Today the authorities selected a military sanatorium as the place to take the infected from China. Tonight at 2 AM a flight will land in Boryspil [Kyiv’s main international airport] and in the early morning a bus will be sent here. In Lviv and other Cities the roads have been blocked [likely a reference to previous protests with blockades]. We cannot allow the destruction of our population, we must prevent numerous deaths. PEOPLE, RISE UP, WE ALL HAVE CHILDREN. We need to act immediately.”

  • Likely Russian actors sent a fake email posing as the Ministry of Health (MoH) to spread misinformation and provoke fear before the evacuees arrived in Ukraine. Likely Russian actors posing as the MoH sent an email to Ukrainians nine minutes before the evacuees’ plane landed in Kyiv on February 20.[17] The email falsely stated there are five laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases across Ukraine.[18] Ukrainian authorities announced the email was a fake two hours later.[19] Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU) claimed the email did not originate in Ukraine and that the email’s senders changed the “sent” address to mimic the MoH. [20]

 

Caption: “At this moment there are 5 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ukraine (Kyiv –2, Lviv –2, Kharkiv –1)...”

The disinformation campaign likely contributed to protests against the evacuees in Novi Sanzhary and across Ukraine.

Several hundred protesters gathered in Novi Sanzhary, Poltava Oblast, in the evening of February 19 to protest and block the evacuees a day before they arrived in Ukraine.[21] The Ukrainian government deployed police and Ukrainian National Guard officers to Novi Sanzhary in the morning of February 20.[22] Protesters clashed with the National Guard on February 20, injuring at least nine police officers and one civilian.[23] Protesters blocked the bridge leading to the quarantine site, set barricades on fire, and threw stones at law enforcement and the evacuees’ bus convoy.[24] Law enforcement arrested the most-violent protesters, most of whom were not residents of Novi Sanzhary.[25]

Protests also erupted in at least four different towns in western and central Ukraine that the disinformation targeted from February 15-20.[26] Viral misinformation emerged on Facebook on February 15 claiming the evacuees’ quarantine site would be a sanatorium in Shklo, Lviv.[27] Protests erupted in Shklo and Shklo’s village council passed a resolution opposing hosting quarantined evacuees on February 16.[28] A Lviv Regional Administration official called for stronger vigilance against disinformation and confirmed there were no government orders on quarantining evacuees in the Lviv Oblast on February 16.[29] Approximately 100 people protested in the town of Vinnyky, Lviv Oblast, two days later despite the official clarification.[30] 

 

Caption: Persons in Lviv received this message en masse: “Hello! Dial this hotline number: (number), they will record your voice saying that we are against and are not ready to accept and quarantine people from China. Share will all your contacts! Before it's too late"

Similar misinformation emerged on news sites claiming the evacuees’ quarantine would be in Ternopil.[31] Approximately 300 protesters barricaded the road to the alleged quarantine facility in response.[32] Ternopil’s governor resigned after Zelensky criticized Ternopil authorities’ poor handling of the situation.[33]

Misinformation also emerged on Facebook claiming the evacuees would travel to a quarantine facility in Vinnytsia Oblast in central Ukraine.[34] The Facebook posts called for the urgent mobilization of people to deny evacuees access to quarantine sites all over Ukraine, not only in Vinnytsia, Ternopil, and Lviv.[35] Protesters barricaded the entrance to the Vinnytsia hospital in response.[36]  

 

Caption: “Maximum repost! Vinnytsia, tragedy! Guys, there’s a tragedy! Tomorrow at 8 in the morning a flight from Wuhan will arrive at Vinnytsia airport. The plane was originally supposed to fly to Lviv, but people gathered and after that began asking Boryspil [to accept the plane]. Boryspil categorically refused. Vinnitsa quietly decided to accept the plane. This information is 100% verified, as my close relatives are being sent to take care of the plane. Hospitals are not prepared for this! This is all because they will pay money to those who accept the plane!”

Social media proliferated misinformation about the quarantine’s supposed location in eastern Ukraine, indicating the campaign was likely nationwide. Residents of Severodonetsk and Rubezhnoe, Luhansk Oblast, received misinformation on social media that the quarantine site would be a military hospital in Severodonetsk. This disinformation did not provoke protests in Luhansk. 

Caption: A false news article reads, “The Ministry of Internal Affairs named the place of the quarantine for evacuees from the PRC. Evacuees from the PRC will be taken to a military hospital in Severodonetsk.”

Caption: A post on Facebook for a Severodonetsk group reads, “URGENT!!!! According to insider information, the people that were evacuated from China were not accepted in western Ukraine! They’re taking them to us [to the village of Rubezhnoe]!!!!” 

The Kremlin exploited optics following the disinformation campaign. The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed the protests make Ukraine look like “medieval Europe” and claimed Ukraine’s democratic reforms have led to a “monstrous dehumanization of civil society and the disorganization of governance.”[37] Russian-language media exploited the optics in Ukraine to portray Ukraine as violent, lawless, and prone to ignorant village hysterics.[38] The Kremlin also exploited the fact that a majority of the protests occurred in western Ukraine to assist the Kremlin’s narratives about western Ukrainian “nationalists” as especially violent and ignorant.[39]

The disinformation operation and subsequent protests helped saturate the Russian- and Ukrainian-language news cycles to crowd-out Kremlin-adverse topics. The news about protests in Novi Sanzhary corresponded with the sixth anniversary of the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution and the beginning of Russia’s occupation of Crimea.

ISW assesses with moderate confidence that the Kremlin supported the disinformation campaign.

The coordinated nature of the disinformation campaign indicates Kremlin involvement. The disinformation targeted multiple cities in eastern, central, and western Ukraine. The delivery vectors used multiple media; disinformation spread though a fake email posing as the government, targeted text messages, proxy news sites, and social media posts. The social media posts in the different cities share similar messaging characteristics and exhibit signs of inorganic engagement. For example, most real users on social media “like” other users’ posts significantly more frequently than they “share” other users’ posts. However, this viral Facebook post claiming the quarantine site is in Shklo, Lviv Oblast, displays 29 “likes” and 925 “shares,” numbers that suggest a coordinated disinformation campaign boosted the post.[40]

Caption: “They’re planning to keep evacuated Ukrainians from China for 14 days at the Shklo sanatorium Zaporizhia [a region is south-central Ukraine] did not allow them [to be quarantined there]!!! WE also CANNOT [allow them to be quarantined in Shklo]!!!!!”

Russian disinformation campaigns employ targeted text messages in Ukraine similar to those used on the coronavirus. While officials have not publically attributed the text messages in the COVID-19 disinformation campaign, pro-Kremlin actors have a history of using targeted text messages in Ukraine. Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas have received text messages with pro-Kremlin propaganda since the war in Donbas began in 2014.[41] The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab assesses the text messages are localized, trace-less, and received even when there is no cellular reception, suggesting Russian-manufactured electronic warfare systems send the texts.[42] The Associated Press, Ukrainian National Cyber Police, and a Ukrainian cellphone company reportedly have all separately concluded that the messages to Ukrainian soldiers come from cell-site simulators.[43]

The Kremlin previously sent text messages and a fake letter posing as the Ukrainian government. The Kremlin sent false military mobilization orders to Ukrainians via mass text messages and fake orders to a Ukrainian hospital in a forged letter in 2018.[44]

The Ukrainian government identified many of the protesters in Novi Sanzhary as professional provocateurs. Ukrainian authorities said on February 22 that the protesters in Novi Sanzhary were “professional” provocateurs.[45] Ukraine’s National Police spokesperson for Poltava Oblast claimed 16 of the 24 arrested protesters were not residents of Novi Sanzhary and that other protesters arrived in cars bearing license plates from different oblasts.[46] One protester from the Kirovohrad Oblast documented his participation in the Novi Sanzhary protests on social media.[47]

Pro-Kremlin actors have used professional provocateurs in protests in Ukraine before. Political actors have used provocateurs in Ukraine before. One prominent example is former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s use of paid provocateurs to assault protesters during the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014.[48] The apparent use of provocateurs indicates that the violent protest in Novi Sanzhary was not an entirely organic protest, but part of a coordinated campaign to escalate the protest’s violence.

A Kremlin-linked actor participated in setting conditions for the Novi Sanzhary protest before the governor of Poltava knew the quarantine site would be in Novi Sanzhary. Kremlin-linked Poltavan politician Sergey Cherednichenko blogged about Novi Sanzhary being the quarantine site on February 19 at 2114.[49] However, the governor of the Poltava Oblast claimed he received official confirmation of the quarantine site on February 20 between 0600 and 0700. [50] Cherednichenko has ties to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.[51] He is also a known associate of the controversial Ukrainian politician Ilya Kiva, a member of the pro-Russian Opposition – For Life Party.[52] The participation of a Kremlin-linked actor with ostensibly advance knowledge of the quarantine site differentiates the protest in Novi Sanzhary from the other COVID-19 protests in Ukraine. These factors may indicate advanced coordination between the disinformation campaign’s central organizers and a pro-Russian actor in Poltava.

The COVID-19 disinformation campaign in Ukraine, regardless of its perpetrator, advanced the Kremlin’s objective of increasing pressure and imposing costs on Ukraine. The Kremlin likely supported this campaign as a component of the Kremlin’s ongoing effort to reduce Zelensky’s maneuvering room in the peace process for the war in Donbas. The disinformation campaign on COVID-19 had real impacts by provoking protests in several oblasts that led to the resignation of a Ukrainian governor. This disinformation campaign likely targeted western Ukraine to bolster Russian propaganda tropes about “Ukrainian nationalists” in western Ukraine, intensify domestic frictions within Ukrainian society, and provoke mistrust of the Zelensky government. The Kremlin will likely intensify and diversify its efforts to pressure Zelensky to extract concessions on the war in Donbas.  


[1] [“The Evacuation of Ukrainian Citizens from China is Planned for Before the End of This Week,”] RIA Novosti, February 3, 2020, https://www.rbc(.)ua/rus/news/evakuatsiya-grazhdan-ukrainy-kitaya-planiruetsya-1580748818.html ; [“Evacuation of Ukrainian Citizens from China is Planned for Next Week – Skipalsky,”] ; Censor, February 3, 2020, https://censor.net(.)ua/news/3173491/evakuatsiya_grajdan_ukrainy_iz_kitaya_planiruetsya_na_protyajenii_nedeli_skipalskiyi.

[2]  [“Skeletskaya Reported About ‘Three Safe Places’ for Evacuees from Wuhan,”] Ukrainska Pravda, February 18, 2020, https://www.pravda.com(.)ua/news/2020/02/18/7240927/.

[3] Ruslan Polischuk and Stanislav Gruzdyev, [“About Novi Sanzhary and More: The First Big Interview of the New Chairman of the Poltava Regional State Administration Oleg Sinegubov,”] Glavkom, February 24, 2020, https://glavcom(.)ua/interviews/pro-novi-sanzhari-i-ne-tilkibr-pershe-velike-intervyu-novogo-golovi-poltavskoji-oda-olega-sinjegubova-661373.html.

[4] AFP reported on February 22 that the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center assesses the Kremlin is conducting a global information operation on COVID-19. Jessica Glenza, “Coronavirus: US Says Russia Behind Disinformation Campaign,” The Guardian, February 22, 2020, https://www.theguardian(.)com/world/2020/feb/22/coronavirus-russia-disinformation-campaign-us-officials.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Evening Joint Forces Operation Press Briefing on 02/18/2020,” Joint Forces Operation Facebook Page, February 18, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/pressjfo.news/posts/793317444494207?__tn__=K-R ; [“Since Morning in the Zolote Region an Intensive Battle has been underway with all Types of Weapons, including 152 mm Artillery, 120 mm Mortars (Updated),”] Censor, February 18, 2020, https://censor.net(.)ua/news/3176305/s_utra_v_rayione_zolotogo_idet_intensivnyyi_boyi_s_primeneniem_vseh_vidov_orujiya_vklyuchaya_artilleriyu.

[9] George Barros with Nataliya Bugayova, “Russia in Review: The Kremlin’s Fake De-Escalation in Donbas,” February 24, 2020, https://iswresearch.blogspot.com/2020/02/russia-in-review-kremlins-fake-de.html ; George Barros and Nataliya Bugayova, “Europe Cedes Opportunity in Russia-Ukraine Energy Deal,” The Institute for the Study of War, January 30, 2020, https://iswresearch.blogspot.com/2020/01/europe-cedes-opportunity-in-russia.html.

[10] Nataliya Bugayova, “The Balancing Challenge for Ukraine,” Institute for the Study of War, September 5, 2019, http://iswresearch.blogspot.com/2019/09/the-balancing-challenge-for-ukra....

[11] Ibid.

[12] Zelensky fired Ukraine’s Prime Minister Oleksei Honcharuk and his Cabinet of Ministers on March 4. Zelensky appointed new ministers and Denys Shmyhal for the post of Prime Minister on March 4. Isabelle Khurshudyan, “Ukraine's Zelensky Replaces Prime Minister in Second Government Shake-up in a Month,” The Washington Post, March 4, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/ukraines-zelensky-replaces-prime-minister-in-second-government-shake-up-in-a-month/2020/03/04/2106bc50-5d87-11ea-ac50-18701e14e06d_story.html.

[13] [“January Information Blasts: Public Opinion Reaction,”] Center for Social Monitoring, February 3, 2020, https://smc.org(.)ua/news/informatsijni-vybuhy-sichnya-reaktsiya-gromadskoyi-dumky/?fbclid=IwAR1segFXyiwJ5zHkUPVtcLoitC-5tgaAHNiHrNEaF_GBKp6adAFlgZwUZcg ; [“Citizens Assessment of Government Activity, Level of Trust in Social Institutions and Politicians, Electoral Orientation of Citizens,”] Razumkov Center, February 24, 2020, http://razumkov.org(.)ua/napriamky/sotsiologichni-doslidzhennia/otsinka-gromadianamy-diialnosti-vlady-riven-doviry-do-sotsialnykh-instytutiv-ta-politykiv-elektoralni-oriientatsii-gromadian-liutyi-2020r.

[14] See paragraphs about targeted regions and subsequent protests.

[15]  [“Protest in Novi Sanzhary: Population Scared by Text Messages, Protestors Were Drinking,”] Info Resist, February 21, 2020, https://inforesist(.)org/protest-v-novyh-sanzharah-naselenie-pugali-sms-kami-aktivistov-spaivali/; TSN, [“Scared and Confused: In Novi Sanzhary Parents Do Not Allow Children to Go to School, Streets Are Half Empty,”] YouTube, February 21, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=SAsc30ni42Q&ab_channel=....

[16] Ruslan Polischuk and Stanislav Gruzdyev, [“About Novi Sanzhary and More: The First Big Interview of the New Chairman of the Poltava Regional State Administration Oleg Sinegubov,”] Glavkom, February 24, 2020, https://glavcom(.)ua/interviews/pro-novi-sanzhari-i-ne-tilkibr-pershe-velike-intervyu-novogo-golovi-poltavskoji-oda-olega-sinjegubova-661373.html.

[17] [“The Plane with Evacuated Ukrainians Sat at Boryspil Airport,”] Glavkom, February 20, 2020, https://glavcom(.)ua/news/v-aeroportu-borispil-zustrichayut-evakuyovanih-z-uhanya-ukrajinciv-660660.html.

[18] [“Warning! Information on 5 Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 Coronavirus in Ukraine is Untrue!”] Ministry of Health of Ukraine, February 20, 2020, https://phc.org(.)ua/news/uvaga-informaciya-pro-5-pidtverdzhenikh-vipadkiv-koronavirusu-covid-19-v-ukraini-ne-vidpovidae.

[19] Ibid.

[20] [“SBU Establishes that Organizers Used Fake Mail to Assert there is COVID-19 Virus Detection in Ukraine,”] Security Service of Ukraine, February 20, 2020, https://ssu.gov(.)ua/ua/news/1/category/2/view/7165#.4UNXIhvl.dpbs.

[21] Veronica Klimska, [“Clashes Resumed in Novi Sanzhary: Tires were Lit on a Local Bridge,”] 24 Canal, February 20, 2020, https://24tv(.)ua/u_novih_sanzharah_ponovilisya_sutichki_politsiya_gotuye_koridor_dlya_avtobusa_n1284731.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Veronica Klimska, [“Clashes Resumed in Novi Sanzhary: Tires were Lit on a Local Bridge,”] 24 Canal, February 20, 2020, https://24tv(.)ua/u_novih_sanzharah_ponovilisya_sutichki_politsiya_gotuye_koridor_dlya_avtobusa_n1284731; [“Protests in Novy Sanzhary Due to Evacuation From Wuhan: 9 Police and Civilians Were Injured,”] Zik, February 20, 2020, https://zik(.)ua/ru/news/crime/protesty_v_novyh_sanzharah_za_evakuaciyu_s_vuhanyu_postradalo_9_policeyskih_i_grazhdanskiy_959847.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Vitaliy Chervonenko, [“It Burned:  How Zelensky was Thanked for ‘Contagion’ in Novi Sanzhary,”] BBC, February 21, 2020, https://www.bbc(.)com/ukrainian/features-51581996; Nadya Trush, [“The Arrested in Novi Sanzhary- Are Who They. UPDATED,”] Kolo News, February 21, 2020, https://kolo(.)news/category/suspilstvo/18733.

[26] The characteristics of protests in specific regions is discussed below.

[27] Ksyushka Khodonovich, Facebook, February 15, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=201622720990597&id=100.... ; Marianna Popovych, Facebook, February 16, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/groups/varta1.official/permalink/2617040395246725/.

[28] Sofia Minzhos, [“‘If People From China Are Brought To The Sanatorium, I Will Stay There’: How an Official Reassured the Inhabitants of Shklo (VIDEO),”] LMN, February 16, 2020, https://www.lmn.in(.)ua/yakshho-evakujovanyh-z-ayu-pryvezut-v-sanatorij-sam-tam-poselyusya-yak-chynovnyk-zaspokoyuvav-zhyteliv-shkla-video/?fbclid=IwAR1t3KRYDRISEvl-kpeftjv4aFBHRZUOZHaqWjmnxJD8zwokFxF5ac_c2lw; Nadya Kozak, Facebook, February 16, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=531703034126030&id=100....

[29] Maxim Kozitzki, Facebook, February 16, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/maks.kozytskyy/posts/2666298656740125.

[30] The disinformation operation successfully exploited an existing regional cleavage in Lviv to foment distrust of Zelensky’s government. Former governor of the Lviv Oblast Oleh Synyutka suggested in a Facebook post the Zelensky government deliberately planned to send evacuees to Lviv as “revenge for patriotism” on February 17. Synyutka’s statement played to Lviv’s anti-Zelensky sentiments due to Zelensky’s perceived capitulation to the Kremlin in the peace process for the war in Donbas. Zelensky said he believes there was tacit political support for the COVID-19 protests amongst officials in “some cities” in his address to the nation on February 21, possibly in reference to Lviv. Oleg Synyutka, Facebook, February 17, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/oleg.synyutka/posts/1295095710678200; [“January Information Blasts: Public Opinion Reaction,”] Center for Social Monitoring, February 3, 2020, https://smc.org(.)ua/news/informatsijni-vybuhy-sichnya-reaktsiya-gromadskoyi-dumky/?fbclid=IwAR1segFXyiwJ5zHkUPVtcLoitC-5tgaAHNiHrNEaF_GBKp6adAFlgZwUZcg; [“Citizens Assessment of Government Activity, Level of Trust in Social Institutions and Politicians, Electoral Orientation of Citizens,”] Razumkov Center, February 24, 2020, http://razumkov.org(.)ua/napriamky/sotsiologichni-doslidzhennia/otsinka-gromadianamy-diialnosti-vlady-riven-doviry-do-sotsialnykh-instytutiv-ta-politykiv-elektoralni-oriientatsii-gromadian-liutyi-2020r; [“‘Are We a Flock or a Nation?’ Zelensky Appealed to Ukrainians Because of the Situation in Novy Sanzhary,”] Gordon, February 21, 2020, https://gordonua(.)com/ukr/news/society/-mi-stado-chi-natsija-zelenskij-zvernuvsja-do-ukrajintsiv-z-za-situatsiji-u-novih-sanzharah-1488034.html; [“’We Exhale’: How Ukrainians Protested Evacuated from China,”] BBC, February 19, 2020, https://www.bbc(.)com/ukrainian/features-51563815.

[31] Gregory Shevchuk, [“Almost 100 People Evacuated From China Will Be Quarantined in Ternopil Region – mass media,”] 0352 UA, February 17, 2020, https://www.0352(.)ua/news/2665518/majze-100-evakujovanih-iz-kitau-ludej-privezut-na-karantin-na-ternopilsinu-zmi; [“Almost 100 People From China Will Be Quarantined In Ternopil Region (updated),”] Ternoplyani, February 17, 2020, https://ternopoliany.te(.)ua/43101-na-karantyn-na-ternopilshchynu-pryvezut-maizhe-100-liudei-z-kytaiu.

[32] Igor Benzal, [“Inhabitants of Ternopil Region Protest Against Import of People Evacuated From China,”] Suspilnye, February 18, 2020, https://suspilne(.)media/14909-ziteli-mikulinciv-protestuut-proti-vvezenna-na-ternopilsinu-evakujovanih-z-kitau-ludej/; [“Head of Ternopil Regional State Administration Resigns in Connection With Scandal Surrounding the Reception of Evacuees from China,”] Gordon, February 22, 2020, https://gordonua(.)com/ukr/news/politics/-golova-ternopilskoji-oda-podav-u-vidstavku-u-zv-jazku-zi-skandalom-navkolo-prijomu-evakujovanih-z-kitaju-1488087.html; Fianye Misto, “Protests at the entry points at the Medobory Sanatorium, where Ukrainians likely will be evacuated from China,” Facebook, February 19, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/fainemisto.tv/videos/183082996351837/.

[33] Ihor Sopel resigned as Ternopil governor due to “unsatisfactory work of the [Ternopil] Regional State Administration in informing the population on epidemiological safety” on February 22. 18. [“Head of Ternopil Regional State Administration Resigns in Connection With Scandal Surrounding the Reception of Evacuees from China,”] Gordon, February 22, 2020, https://gordonua(.)com/ukr/news/politics/-golova-ternopilskoji-oda-podav-u-vidstavku-u-zv-jazku-zi-skandalom-navkolo-prijomu-evakujovanih-z-kitaju-1488087.html; [“’Are We a Flock or a Nation?’ Zelensky Appealed to Ukrainians Because of the Situation in Novy Sanzhary,”] Gordon, February 21, 2020, https://gordonua(.)com/ukr/news/society/-mi-stado-chi-natsija-zelenskij-zvernuvsja-do-ukrajintsiv-z-za-situatsiji-u-novih-sanzharah-1488034.html.

[34] Nastya Semchyshyn, Facebook, February 19, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/nastia.choma/posts/1769441643198637; [“Evacuated Ukrainians From Wuhan Will Be Taken To Lviv,”] Visoki Zamok, February 18, 2020, https://wz.lviv(.)ua/article/406539-evakuiovanykh-ukraintsiv-z-ukhania-dostavliat-u-lviv; Visoki Zamok online, Facebook, February 18, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/wz.lviv.ua/posts/2777788885647163.

[35] Ibid.

[36] [“In Lviv Region, Tires Were Taken to the Hospital: They Don’t Want Ukrainians to be Brought From China,”] Pravda, February 19, 2020, https://www.pravda.com(.)ua/news/2020/02/19/7241020/.

[37] Zakharova wrote on her Facebook, “Today the whole world thinks Ukraine is Europe. Stop and think –this is medieval Europe... I have a question for the founding fathers of Ukrainian democracy: Isn’t it you who presented [Ukraine] as the premier example of progressive reforms? This is a monstrous dehumanization of civil society and a disorganization of governance.” Maria Zakharova, Facebook, February 20, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167/posts/10222164267245343.

[38] [“Pozner Called the ‘Reception’ of Ukrainians Evacuated From China Shameful,”] RIA, February 23, 2020, https://ria(.)ru/20200223/1565109657.html; Victor Marakhovsky, [“Ukraine was Struck by a ‘Wild’ Virus that Could Spread to Russia,”] Sputnik, February 22, 2020, https://uz.sputniknews(.)ru/columnists/20200222/13523020/Ukrainu-porazil-dikiy-virus-kotoryy-mozhet-perekinutsya-na-Rossiyu.html; Sergey Rudenko, [“Opinion: Ukraine’s Attitude Towards Evacuated Ukrainians From Wuhan is Disgraceful,”] DW, February 20, 2020, https://www.dw(.)com/ru/%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%BC%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%82%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B9-%D1%83%D0%BA%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B8%D0%BD%D1%83-%D0%BE%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%B7%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%BE-%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%BE%D1%88%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5-%D0%BA-%D1%8D%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BA%D1%83%D0%B8%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%BC-%D0%B8%D0%B7-%D1%83%D1%85%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%8F/a-52459901.

[39] [“Putin: Zelensky Cannot Provide Forces Withdrawal in Donbas Because of Nationalists,”] TASS, October 11, 2019, https://nash(.)live/rus/news/politics/putin-zelenskij-ne-mozhet-obespechit-razvedenie-sil-na-donbasse-iz-za-natsionalistov.html.

[40] Ksyushka Khodonovich, Facebook, February 15, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=201622720990597&id=100....

[41] Raphael Satter and Dmytro Vlasov, “Ukraine Soldiers Bombarded by ‘Pinpoint Propaganda’ Texts,” Associated Press, May 11, 2017, https://apnews(.)com/9a564a5f64e847d1a50938035ea64b8f/Ukraine-soldiers-bombarded-by-'pinpoint-propaganda'-texts.

[42] “Electronic Warfare by Drone and SMS,” DFRLab, May 18, 2017, https://medium(.)com/dfrlab/electronic-warfare-by-drone-and-sms-7fec6aa7d696.

[43] Ibid.

[44] A Ukrainian hospital in the Luhansk Oblast received a fake letter supposedly sent from the Lugansk Regional State Administration in December 2018. The letter exploited the fact that then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared martial law in November 2018 following the Kremlin’s escalation in the Kerch Strait. The letter contained instructions for the hospital under the pretext of martial law. The letter contained official letterhead, original identification numbers, official signatures, and all standard bearings of an official letter.  Ukrainian officials determined the letter was a fake and former Ukrainian Minister of Health Ulana Suprun attributed the disinformation to the Kremlin. [“Ukrainian Hospitals Receive Fake Instructions on Actions During Martial Law – MOH,”] UNIAN, December 14, 2018, https://www.unian(.)ua/health/country/10377351-ukrajinski-likarni-otrimuyut-feykovi-vkazivki-shchodo-diy-pid-chas-voyennogo-stanu-moz.html; [“Beware of Fakes: Ministry of Health of Ukraine Calls on Medical Institutions to Check All Suspicious Orders Within the Framework of Martial Law and to Inform the Ministry of Counterfeit Letters,”] Ministry of Health, December 13, 2018, https://moz.gov(.)ua/article/news/oberezhno-fejki-moz-ukraini-zaklikae-medzakladi-perevirjati-vsi-pidozrili-rozporjadzhennja-v-ramkah-voennogo-stanu-i-povidomljati-ministerstvo-pro-pidrobleni-listi-; [“The Ministry of Defense Accused Russia of Sending Fake Texts with an Order to Arrive to at Military Units,”] Strana, November 27, 2018, https://strana(.)ua/news/173631-minoborony-rasskazal-ob-sms-o-mobilizatsii-kotoroe-jakoby-rassylaet-rf.html.

[45] The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense council said the Ukrainian State Security Service (SBU) and Ministry of Internal Affairs assessed the protesters were “professional” provocateurs on February 22. [“‘Professional Provocateurs’: Danilov Told Who Incited the Crowd in Novi Sanzhary,”] 5 News, February 22, 2020, https://www.5(.)ua/suspilstvo/profesiini-provokatory-danilov-rozpoviv-khto-pidburiuvav-natovp-u-novykh-sanzharakh-208842.html.

[46] The NPU spokesman said some of the 16 arrestees are from adjacent villages near Novi Sanzhary, but did not specify how many protestors were not from the general vicinity. Nadya Trush, [“The Arrested in Novi Sanzhary- Are Who They. UPDATED,”] Kolo News, February 21, 2020, https://kolo.news/category/suspilstvo/18733; [“‘Coronavirus Titushki?’: Police Commented on Possible Presence of Visitors in Riots in Novi Sanzhary,”] 5 News, February 21, 2020, https://www.5(.)ua/ru/rehyoni/tytushky-koronavyrusa-v-polytsyy-prokommentyrovaly-vozmozhnoe-prysutstvye-pryezzhykh-na-besporiadkakh-v-novikh-sanzharakh-208795.html.

[47] Legion Svetlovodsk, [“Article 5 – Titushki – Fake. Novi Sanzhary,”] YouTube, February 22, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uWJufAvvr8; Legion Svetlovodsk, [“Koronavirus – Novi Sanzhary!”], Instagram,  February 20, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/B8yqIsFlV0H/; Evgeni Rakhimberdiev, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100042025609186.

[48] “Titushki – The Ukrainian President’s Hired Strongmen,” DW, February 19, 2014, https://www.dw(.)com/en/titushki-the-ukrainian-presidents-hired-strongmen/a-17443078.

[49] Sergey Cherednichenko, [“Ukrainians from China Can Be Accommodated in Sanatoriums in Poltava Region,”] RegioNews, February 19, 2020, https://regionews(.)ua/ukr/blog/a1050/p989031?fbclid=IwAR0Oo7R2YkSdqc5xRV4CflMtsJ8lIt1PB1bM2vNcloraVaQ4lKA-By_Ea-s.

[50] Ruslan Polischuk and Stanislav Gruzdyev, [“About Novi Sanzhary and More: The First Big Interview of the New Chairman of the Poltava Regional State Administration Oleg Sinegubov,”] Glavkom, February 24, 2020, https://glavcom(.)ua/interviews/pro-novi-sanzhari-i-ne-tilkibr-pershe-velike-intervyu-novogo-golovi-poltavskoji-oda-olega-sinjegubova-661373.html.

[51] The SBU raided Cherednichenko’s office in October 2014 and found “Novorossiya” separatist propaganda newspapers reportedly belonging to one of Cherednichenko’s staffers. This campaign staffer in question reportedly was an opponent of the pro-Western 2014 Euromaidan revolution and helped organized the subversive “counter-Maidan” protest in Poltava. This campaign staffer reportedly fled to Russia after the SBU raided Cherednichenko’s office. Yan Pruhlo, [“In Poltava the SBU Searches Office of a MP Candidate,”] Poltavshina, October 29, 2018, https://poltava(.)to/news/30801/?fbclid=IwAR3daWIPcNfu-dVFGOFkI2_zGa0Rcv3YZo7TpYAFkQKQvpVgn7smnVMlLNQ; Ilona Chernohor, [“The Name of the Man Who Kept Copies of ‘Novorossiya’ Newspaper in Poltava Became Known,”] Poltavshina, September 9, 2014, https://poltava(.)to/news/29839/; Zloy Odesit, [“Kremlin Special Operation in Novi Sanzhary,”] InfoResist, February 21, 2020, https://inforesist(.)org/speczoperacziya-kremlya-v-novyh-sanzharah/.

[52] Kiva recently employed Kremlin-preferable framing of the war in Donbas. Kiva claims “the most important thing is to achieve peace,” and “sew Ukraine together.” Andrey Petrov, [“Ilya Kiva in Poltava Spoke about the Tasks of the Socialist Party of Ukraine and Introduced the Leader of the Local Branch,”] Poltavshina, February 26, 2018, https://poltava(.)to/news/46167/?fbclid=IwAR0CChckGi2NbXAHnbUUPnNwJTrXLFDAFxTTK3p4Th4DdEmd7x8UWRuF9BQ; [“Kiva Left the Socialists into Rabinovich’s Party,”] Glavkom, July 7, 2019, https://glavcom(.)ua/ru/news/kiva-ushel-ot-socialistov-v-partiyu-rabinovicha-600109.html.

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