Russia has weaponized information as part of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022. It has used information operations and disinformation, in particular, on a massive scale to serve its strategic, operational, and tactical aims.
Much of the disinformation that Russian-affiliated actors have spread has been targeted directly at Ukrainian civilians with the goal of influencing their behavior—and it has often done so in ways that endanger civilian lives. Civilians deciding whether and how to flee from frontline areas riddled with mines and under bombardment, for example, encountered disinformation spread by Russian-affiliated and pro-Russian actors. This included disinformation regarding the times, locations, and existence of organized evacuation efforts, as well as false claims that the Ukrainian military was blocking certain evacuation routes or attacking civilians attempting to evacuate through them.
The scale of these disinformation efforts was significant. Of the approximately 6,300 Telegram messages shared by known pro-Russian Telegram channels that CIVIC analyzed for this research project, about 5,400 posts included evacuation-related material. Of these, CIVIC identified four case studies that demonstrate how disinformation narratives spread through Telegram in Mariupol, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhzhia.
This report includes recommendations for some key actors involved in spreading and curtailing the spread of disinformation in Ukraine. The majority of CIVIC’s recommendations are targeted toward the Ukrainian government because they are the primary actor with the capability, mandate, and political will to protect civilians from these information operations.
Although no recommendations are directed specifically at governments other than Russia and Ukraine, other governments, militaries, and military alliances have many lessons to learn from how the parties to the conflict in Ukraine are waging kinetic and information warfare and from Ukraine’s successes in combatting it. Among these lessons is the need to ensure that doctrine, policy, and planning include analyzing and mitigating the impact that information warfare will have—not only on the capacity of the military to wage and win war, but also on civilian security and well-being.