How Ukraine is winning the social media war

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After almost eight months, the war in Ukraine hangs in the balance. Ukrainian counter-offensives continue to make progress, while Russian forces are still pressing elsewhere.

But on the internet, it’s a very one-sided affair.

“This is a meme nation,” says Olena, a Kyiv entrepreneur who manages teams of social media volunteers.

“If this was a war of memes, we would be winning.”

Olena is not her real name. Due to the sensitive nature of the work she and her teams carry out on behalf of Ukraine’s defence ministry, she has asked to remain anonymous.

Her teams work round-the-clock, reacting within hours to news from around the country, producing punchy videos, often set to music, for the ministry’s audiences at home and abroad.

Just as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky tailors speeches to foreign parliaments to take account of local history, culture and sensibility, so Olena’s five-strong international team target their messages.

A June video thanking Britain for its military assistance featured the music of Gustav Holst and The Clash, with glimpses of Shakespeare, David Bowie, Lewis Hamilton and a montage of British-supplied anti-tank weapons in action.

More recently, French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to supply Caesar self-propelled guns was greeted with a video which declared: “Romantic gestures take many forms”.

Images of red roses, chocolates, the Paris skyline, followed by the guns in action, were set – perhaps inevitably – to the sound of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s breathless Je T’aime Moi Non Plus.

With nods to a Macron-Zelensky bromance, it was suggestive and thoroughly tongue-in-cheek.

Olena says one of her favourite “thank you” videos praised Sweden for its value-for-money investment in Ukraine: $20,000 (£17,900) Carl Gustav rocket launchers, capable of knocking out Russian T-90 tanks worth $4.5m.