After all: my brave digital namesake who breaks the lies

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, our columnist speaks exclusively with a Ukrainian IT professional who is helping his people counter fake news and stay connected in the face of the enemy.

Never before has the world been exposed to so many blatant and cynical lies. Since the start of Russia’s invasion of my native Ukraine, the Russian mass media has dumped tons of filthy counterfeits.

The image that a credulous Russian citizen can draw from all this torrent of untruth is something like this: Ukrainian neo-fascists have been tormenting Russian-speakers in their country for years until the valiant Russian army decides to protect them from “genocide” and oppression. by sending a limited contingent of its troops to Ukraine. The Ukrainians, having lost control of their country, began indiscriminately bombing and razing their own towns and villages, with peaceful civilians inside. Etc.

No exaggeration here. The Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzya, was recorded publicly asserting at the UN Security Council on March 7, 2022 that the Ukrainians should “bomb themselves”!

He got so deep into the sticky swamp of manufacturing that I can suggest a new unit of measurement for lying: a nebenzya. In this case, the statement that the Ukrainians are targeting their own civilians would probably equal 10 nebenzyas and the claims that Ukrainian soldiers are hiding inside the bombed Mariupol maternity hospital, or the claims that Ukraine has secretly developed chemical weapons, would be equivalent to 100 nebenzyas each!

The fact that some people in Russia, including several of my (now former) friends, choose to believe such crude and primitive misinformation can only be explained by the lingering Soviet mentality, multiplied by fear.

Indeed, life in the former Soviet Union, of which Russia made up by far the largest part, was characterized by constant nationwide lying. From kindergarten, we were led to believe that our country was the greatest, the freest and the greatest in the world. That last one was true, by the way, and it added a touch of authenticity to all the other nonsense, including plenty of lies about technology. In school, we were taught that Russia has always fought just wars and always won; that everything – from the wheel to the light bulb – had been invented by the Russians.

The first powered aircraft, of course, was plagiarized by Wilbur and Orville Wright from the Russian scientist Zhukovsky. The wireless telegraph was discovered not by Guglielmo Marconi, but by Alexander Popov. The steam engine was a creation of the genius of Ivan Polzunov, and James Watt simply hacked his idea. And so on.

The main daily newspaper in the country Pravda (‘The truth‘) regularly abounds with the most outrageous lies on the scale of 1,000 nebenzyas per page. It took courage to resist this pervasive deception, with black officially branded white and vice versa.

The only cry in the desert came from dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. On February 12, 1974, he published the essay “Live Not by Lies”, in which he urged Soviet citizens as individuals to refrain from cooperating with the lies of the regime. Even the most timid, he writes, can take that least demanding step toward spiritual independence. If many walk this path of passive resistance together, the whole inhuman system will falter and crumble.

His call fell on deaf ears.

It is now extremely important to protect Ukraine and the entire free world from the flow of lies emanating from the aggressor, who inherited the old Soviet methods of disinformation. The best way to do this is to keep people connected and give them access to trusted information channels.

My Canadian-based son Dmitri, himself a cybersecurity professional, introduced me to one of his colleagues based in Ukraine, who is now fighting the Russians on the all-important digital information front.

The Digital Lie Busters, as I’ve come to call them, are children of democratic Ukraine – a radically new type of young people in the country, who left a deep impression on me when I last visited Ukraine in 2017. Educated, cultured, and fluent in English, they were products of Ukraine’s new democracy, shaped by continued pressure from their aggressive totalitarian neighbor, Russia. Force begets counterforce – this third law of motion can also be applied to societies. Contrary to what he wanted to achieve, Putin united Ukraine much more than the pro-Russian Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1596-1657).

Vitaliy Moroz, one of these “new Ukrainians”, is an independent consultant in digital technologies, with more than 10 years of experience in the field. He refused to speak to me in Russian, our common mother tongue, and opted for English. I didn’t blame him. We talked on Zoom.

Vitaliy told me that he was temporarily based not in kyiv but in Vinnytsia – a small town in central-western Ukraine that was, until now, much safer than the constantly bombarded Ukrainian capital.

“At this crucial time for Ukraine, like many other Ukrainians, I am trying to contribute to Ukraine’s victory over the Russian aggressors in different ways,” he told me quietly, without pathos. .

“As a volunteer, I help with fundraising campaigns to buy medical equipment for Ukrainian soldiers – DEAs [automated external defibrillators] to medical kits. The campaign goes on Facebook.

“As a media professional, I help local, war-affected news outlets get funding and relocate. Additionally, I actively use my Twitter account to update the world on developments in Ukraine.

I asked Vitaliy about the digital technologies he uses in his work.

“Russia is targeting TV towers in our cities and we are doing our best to keep Ukraine online, to keep people connected. For this we launched DComms [decentralised communication networks] in different Ukrainian cities. Given potential Russian internet shutdowns, decentralized networks help Ukrainian users stay online and communicate with family and friends in critical times. If the power supply goes out, it would be useful to have a pair of power banks to charge the smartphone.

“A similar idea is behind DComms. ‘Element’, an encrypted chat channel, helps me get updates from Kharkiv, which is bombed daily by Russia. Like some other social media platforms, Element helps people feel part of the community, despite their temporary isolation.

At some point, our Zoom conversation was interrupted. “I suddenly lost the power,” Vitaly texted me shortly afterwards: I was afraid his house might have been attacked. Soon, his face reappeared on screen as he logged back in from his smartphone, to say he was confident of Ukraine’s imminent victory.

I wish good luck to my young namesake; he will definitely need it. And our country too, Ukraine.

Vitaliy suggests three ways in which AND readers can help Ukraine:

  1. The Ukrainian government site for donations for the needs of the Ukrainian military.
  2. Campaign by Vitaliy and his colleagues to provide medical kits to Ukrainian soldiers.
  3. British Red Cross emergency call.

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