Letter to the Editor: In Response to Oleksiyenko

I would like to thank everyone who participated in the discussion of my article The Propaganda Surrounding Crimea and to clarify on certain issues that ...

Dec 12, 2015

I would like to thank everyone who participated in the discussion of my article The Propaganda Surrounding Crimea and to clarify on certain issues that Anastasiya Oleksiyenko raised in her response to my article.
First, I think it is important to mention that my piece is not a political analysis of Ukraine’s crisis, but rather is a personal narrative where I describe my background and my impressions about the events that took place in Crimea and Ukraine. It’s worth reiterating that my main point is that the propaganda on both sides is a powerful tool that, as I originally wrote, divides Russians and Ukrainians “who are historically and culturally very close people."
I do realize that the tone I am using in the article is somewhat provocative and hyperbolic. It helps me to deliver my deep resentment about the violence between Russians and Ukrainians that I observed in the past two years. I firmly believe that media plays a central role in this brotherly war.
I find it frustrating that some readers have an impression that I present Russian and Ukrainian propaganda as having equal influence. There is no doubt that Russian government has more resources and power to disseminate its aggressive disinformation both domestically and internationally. I do not attempt to compare the scope of influence of the two, but instead demonstrate through my own observations that Ukrainian media has provided an extremely biased version of the events, which has instigated hate speech and prejudice.
Many reputable publications discussed this aspect as well as the widespread censorship in today’s Ukraine. In addition, the US State Department’s report on human rights in Ukraine provides the following statement regarding the above-mentioned issue: “both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting on stories that might expose political allies to criticism." Furthermore, the report provides the following quote by Natalia Ligachova, critic and founder of the Ukrainian media watchdog Telekritika: “The media are playing an old scenario as they provide unbalanced information, help media owners promote themselves, and engage in dishonest investigative journalism filled with false allegations." I believe these references provide sufficient evidence to back up my position on dishonest journalism in Ukraine. For any further references regarding specific points I made about Ukrainian media in my original article, I would be happy to answer questions via my NYU email.
I also strongly disagree with Oleksiyenko's assumption that my article portrays the Maidan as a destructive force hostile to ethnic Russians. In fact, it can be inferred that I oppose the Russian media’s portrayal of Euromaidan activists as "fascists" by calling it “a blatant lie” in my original article. However, I indeed demonstrate that the Maidan had some ultra-nationalist elements by referring to the article in The World Post. I do recognize that the majority of Euromaidan activists were ordinary citizens who were fighting for freedom and democracy. Yet it is pivotal to emphasize that the Maidan also increased negative influence of radical Ukrainian nationalism, which many Crimeans saw as a threat to their Russian identities.
Furthermore, Oleksiyenko fails to acknowledge that there is substantial evidence that nationalist ideology plays an important role in today’s Ukrainian society, regardless of the fact that neither Svoboda nor Praviy Sector passed the five per cent threshold. This point is made in the piece published in BBC where the author describes how the current Ukrainian government is linked to radical activists and the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist military unit, which has been involved in widespread abuses and human rights violations in Eastern Ukraine, according to the Amnesty International report.  Similarly, Politico has published an article that states that “ignoring Ukraine’s far right ... can have dire consequences for the very dream of a free and democratic country which so many Ukrainians have fought, suffered, and died for."
To conclude, I would like to reiterate that my original piece was meant to show how difficult it is for people like myself who have strong connections with both Russia and Ukraine to be stuck in the middle of propaganda wars. Instead of providing a detailed analysis of Ukrainian and Russian media, I shared my personal observations and disgust of the hate speech that reached catastrophic levels in both countries.
Sergei Rokachov is a contributing writer. Email him at 
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