In May 2020, the first post of the Telegram channel U_G_M — a Ukrainian flag emblazoned with a swastika — set the tone for what was to follow.
If you spend some time reading pro-Russia media outlets like the Telegram channel U_G_M, you’ll notice three distinct categories of posts: the dehumanization of Ukrainians, the glorification of Russia, and the demonization of the West. And the vein running through all three is the same — to create “news” that supports the Russian message.
U_G_M’s message is clear: Heroic Russians are liberating Ukraine from fascists and Nazis. Claiming to be speaking from the Russian-controlled Donbas region of Ukraine, the Telegram channel started sharing its partial truths and outright fictions after protests in Ukraine ousted Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Yanukovych is currently living in exile in Russia.
The acronym U_G_M says a lot about the channel’s ideology. It’s a term used to mock Ukrainians, meaning something like “Ukrainian disease of the brain,” and implying that the whole notion of a Ukrainian identity is a falsehood. It reflects the Russian argument that Ukraine is an extension of Russia.
To spread its pro-Kremlin and anti-Ukraine message, U_G_M offers a continuous flow of information that has employed some of the more malicious lies we’ve seen in this war, including the fake story that Ukrainian soldiers were using dummies to fake civilian deaths.
The channel also shared the doctored “BBC” video claiming that Ukraine attacked the train station in Kramatorsk, which killed at least 52 people, including five children. In response, the BBC has said the video was a fake.
To better understand the tactics of these pro-Russia media channels, WhoWhatWhy translated and reviewed posts that U_G_M has been sharing for years with its 23,107 subscribers.
Before the Invasion
U_G_M was created on May 11, 2020, went inactive for several months in 2021, and then relaunched with its current name about three months before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
In its first post on May 12, 2020, U_G_M showed a video of someone waving a swastika-emblazoned Ukrainian flag, and the words, “The Reich is coming out.” Two years later, Vladimir Putin would use such imagery as a rationale for attacking Ukraine, saying Russia “will seek to … denazify Ukraine.”
Along with posting lies claiming that Ukraine is populated by Nazis, U_G_M glorifies the days when Ukraine was run by Russians: “Previously, Mariupol (Zhdanov) was one of the significant steel [manufacturers] of the USSR,” states one of its earlier posts from August 2020.
In these earlier posts, U_G_M describes contemporary Ukraine as being isolated, viewing its neighbors as enemies, as seen in this map with the word вороги (enemies) encircling the country, and underneath this statement: “The whole essence of the modern Ukrainian worldview.”
As Russia began to threaten another invasion of Ukraine, U_G_M turned its attention toward the Ukrainian people, encouraging them to hand over Ukrainian territory. In one post, they call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a clown who slaughters young soldiers:
“🤷♂️Not too late???🤷♂️
Ze🤡 wants to mobilize young guys for slaughter⁉️ As for me, it’s better to give up this damned territory and live in peace, and not turn yourself in the face of the public into a real clown❗️💢 How many guys will die 😒”
During the War
On the day of the Russian invasion, U_G_M’s rhetoric became more charged: “This ghoul Zelenskyy sends [children] to the slaughter. Son, go home to your parents. It’s the best thing you can do,” states one post from February 24.
Also on February 24, U_G_M creates a lie — that the Kremlin will repeat throughout the early days of the war — claiming that Ukraine is hiding military equipment in residential areas and in schools: “🇺🇦 In Mariupol, Ukrainian equipment is hiding in residential areas,” one post reads.
The Kremlin has used this claim as an excuse for bombing residential areas and killing civilians. Recent reports say a total of 2,435 civilians have been killed, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The actual number is likely significantly higher. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko has stated that his city alone has sustained at least 10,000 casualties.
U_G_M likes to focus on Russian “success.” On February 24, the channel had this volley of posts:
“The [Ukrainian] fighters lay down their arms, realizing that this is the only way they will save their lives.”
“An entire convoy of Ukrainian soldiers was liquidated on the border with Crimea.”
“Ukrainian radars near Mariupol.”
“And 5 km from Kherson, on the Antonovsky bridge, Ukrainian tanks are already suffering losses.”
Stated alongside such military successes, U_G_M calls for Ukraine’s surrender:
“⚡️A group of deputies of the Verkhovna Rada appealed to Zelenskyy with a call to immediately start negotiations with Russia,” stated one post.
Another posts calls out to Ukrainian soldiers: “Why are you dying like cannon fodder for this f***? Just hand over your weapons.”
Other posts claim the Ukrainian military was calling for surrender: “🔥 Calls to surrender appeared on Ukrainian military websites.”
As the war stretched on for weeks, U_G_M continued to dehumanize Ukrainians. Some posts like this one claimed the majority of people in the eastern Ukrainian city of Izyum are Nazis:
“An ordinary house of an ordinary Ukrainian in Izyum🤷♂️”
Another post is more threatening: “Nothing changes and awareness does not come… Denazification awaits them all.”
U_G_M also continues its false claims that Ukraine is responsible for Russian attacks on Ukrainian schools:
“💥💥💥 #Mariupol today
The frame shows a burned-out #armored personnel carrier #of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which was hiding behind the sports ground near the school.”
In early March, U_G_M also began the narrative that Ukraine planned to attack residential areas and then blame Russia, a lie that has continued throughout the war:
🇺🇦We received information from our friends among the Ukrainian security forces that a provocation is being prepared using artillery. Under the gun are the settlements of Bashtanka and Snegirevka of the Nikolaev region.
It is noted that the texts of messages for the media have already been prepared and approved, which will have to massively disseminate information about the aggression of the Russian army.”
Several weeks later, U_G_M would falsely claim that Ukraine bombed the Kramatorsk train station, citing a fake BBC report:
All along, U_G_M describes Russia as a savior. One post, which is entitled “We were waiting for our – #Russians,” includes a video of a woman saying, “We thought we would never get out of there at all. We counted the days. They tell us — another day, two more. And then a week, a second, a second has already ended. That’s when our guys came in — we cried. When the man came in, said good evening — we realized that it was #Russians #come.”
Other images blend contemporary Russian soldiers with Russians from World War II, reflecting the Russian-state narrative that the military is fighting a similarly just war:
Attacking the West is another common theme on the Telegram channel. Disturbingly, U_G_M repeatedly uses comments made by unwitting US Republican pundits to support their false claims or twist the truth. Two posts, in particular, reference the conservative Tucker Carlson show on Fox News.
In one, U_G_M cites Carlson as saying, among other comments critical of the US, that the American dollar is sinking while the Russian ruble grows. They label Carlson’s heavily biased talk show as “US news.”
In another post, they include a video of conservatice political commentator Candace Owens, who reiterated Russian propaganda when she incorrectly said “Ukraine wasn’t a thing until 1989.” She also said people misunderstand Putin’s goals in Ukraine, saying it’s untrue that Russia is committing a “genocide.”
‘A Firehose of Falsehood’
Taken as a whole, U_G_M’s onslaught of propaganda presents a picture of Russian infallibility against a backdrop of enemies that Russia must defend itself against.
One post sums up the U_G_M message in a poem. In the post, the channel shares a video that combines the Ukrainian and American flags, while a female narrator reads a poem that attacks Ukrainians as savages and the US as meddlers in foreign affairs, while calling Russians heroes of the civilized world.
The poem talks about how Europe has turned a blind eye to “Ukrainian fascism,” and the US was the main force behind the protests in 2014 that toppled the Russia-backed government in Ukraine. The poem says that Ukrainians have killed children in Donbas and are now being called on to kill Russians, just as they did in 2014.
Yet, the poem says brave Russians are the only ones who have the courage to put an end to fascism, but violence is needed: “Sometimes to remove the gangrene, you need to slit the vein with a knife.”
Underneath the video, U_G_M quotes a Russian saying: “Russia never started wars, she ended them.”
According to a report by US think tank Rand Corporation, U_G_M fits the mold of most Russian propaganda. Rand characterizes Russian propaganda as a “firehose of falsehood because of two of its distinctive features: high numbers of channels and messages, and a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions. In the words of one observer, ‘[N]ew Russian propaganda entertains, confuses, and overwhelms the audience.’”
Russia’s information war seems to be working, at least among Russians. The Washington Post conducted a survey between February 28 and March 1 that found that 58 percent of Russians support the war, while only 23 percent oppose the invasion.