Top 7 ways Ukraine beat Russia on the information battlefield

Stories matter. Plato feared stories and poems, knowing they were so powerful.

And stories matter a great deal when it comes to war:

  • Soldiers must be highly motivated to risk their lives. To fight with courage, they have to passionately believe in the cause.
  • Civilians need reasons to suffer and sacrifice to support the war effort–and to possibly lose their sons and daughters if they sign up as soldiers.
  • Allies require good narratives to explain to their people why they are sending weapons and financial support to either side of a war.

On all of these fronts, Ukraine utterly crushed Russia’s vaunted disinformation and propaganda machine.

Here is how.

1) We root for the underdog, not the bully

Russia has nuclear weapons and is much larger than Ukraine, and when it invaded, our sympathies naturally went with the smaller country, who did nothing to provoke this war.

From the start, Ukraine celebrated its soldiers and people for defending their country, with videos of average people making Molotov cocktails or camouflage netting for soldiers.

All of Russia’s desperate attempts to portray Ukraine as somehow dangerous, threatening, or Nazi (??), simply did not work.

2) Russia’s narratives conflicted with their military strategy and rampant war crimes

Among other things, Putin claimed that this was about protecting Russian-speaking people, starting with the residents of eastern Ukraine.

His mouthpieces keep talking about how Russia is careful to avoid targeting civilians.

These words mean nothing compared to the flood of photos and videos of Russian attacks on schools, hospitals, and homes. Precision missiles hitting shopping centers and electrical grids turn Putin’s disinformation campaign into a waste of time.

Russia’s military strategy of shelling villages and cities into oblivion, then advancing, also demolished this argument.

And all the evidence of war crimes–including soldiers looting, raping, and killing civilians–completely destroyed any possibility of this narrative working.

4) Russia’s mistreatment of its own soldiers

Putin clearly doesn’t care about those on the front line and treats them like cannon fodder. Intercepted calls and reports from deserters show that soldiers (a) weren’t even told they were going to war, (b) don’t truly understand why they are fighting and dying, (c) don’t trust their officers, and (d) aren’t properly fed, clothed, rested, or treated when wounded.

This wrecks the fighting spirit of Russia’s troops. When you see photos of them compared to Ukraine’s soldiers, it’s clear that Ukraine country cares about its military, feeds them, and keeps them properly equipped, while Russian troops look skinny, dirty, and using a grab-bag of gear, some of it decades old.

5) Ukraine tells us stories of courage and compassion

Every day, we see the people of Ukraine and the jobs they’re doing, whether it’s a combat medic and her crew or a soldier’s mother coming out to hug her son as he liberates her village.

These images stick with you.

Russia doesn’t have anything close to counter those narratives. Instead, they offer up denial, disinformation, and silly threats that they’ve made so often that nobody believes they will invade NATO countries or use nuclear weapons. If they can’t beat Ukraine, what makes Putin think he’d have a chance against a single NATO nation?

6) Trust matters

There’s always deception in war. It’s part of the game.

You want to deceive your enemy and surprise them.

There’s a difference between tricking your enemy and trying to lie to the world.

Ukraine may be understating its losses or wisely choosing not to talk about them too much.

What it’s not doing is trying to sell all kinds of lies to the press, the public, and the world. If Ukraine says X and Russia says Y, journalists and allies know they should put their money on what Ukraine says.

Because throughout this war, Russia has consistently lied. Even massively pro-Russian military bloggers are fed up with the denial of reality, and combat journalists often confirm information coming from Ukraine by getting what’s being reported by military bloggers and accounts of Russian soldiers.

As a former journalist, the last thing I would ever do is take anything Russia says as a fact.

7) People care about the ending of this story

Good narratives have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

They have private stakes–the lives of individual people and soldiers–and public stakes, like the survival of a nation.

In the beginning, we naturally felt sympathetic to Ukraine when it was invaded and bullied by Russia.

Right now in the middle, it’s normal to feel joyous at the remarkable counter-offensive Ukraine waged in September, one that will be written about for decades.

But most of all, people care how a story ends.

Russia has lost the global information war when it comes to this question.

People around the world want Ukraine to be free and democratic. To win this war and restore their sovereignty.

The alternative ending to this story is Ukraine becoming part of Putin’s new empire and the beginning of a new story as he tries to repeat this process in eastern Europe and take over other former members of the Soviet Union.

The contrast between Zelensky and Putin could not be starker.

This is a massive problem for Russia’s disinformation campaign and a huge bonus for Ukraine’s war effort.

Zelensky has served as an amazing wartime leader, uniting the country and rallying the free world to his nation’s defense.

His speeches–to other countries, to the United Nations, and his nightly addresses to the people of Ukraine–have been master classes. I’ll do a whole post talking about these. THEY ARE AMAZING.

Zelensky dresses like a humble soldier, not a CEO, and grew out his beard.

He often visits wounded soldiers in the hospital and regularly travels to the front line. Those photographs and videos are driving Russian military bloggers crazy. As they should.

Zelensky may be one of the most admired leaders in the world right now. Hands down.

Putin may be one of the most hated. He treats his generals with contempt, often removing them from command. He doesn’t visit the front lines and disappears to his villa regularly.

Early in the war, one of Zelensky’s first decisions echoes even today. The United States offered to help evacuate him when it seemed Russia would take Kyiv.

Zelensky refused that offer and reportedly said, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

And that response, in the very beginning, set the course for the end of this story.

Top 5 music videos from Ukraine’s fight for freedom

What the people and soldiers of Ukraine have done is incredibly impressive, creative, and heroic.

I’ve watched and read about this war since the day Russia invaded, and want to hail the heroes who are liberating so much of their land in the last two weeks. Books will be written about them. I will forever be impressed by the courage of the Ukrainian people and the leadership of President Zelensky.

On Mondays, I usually post (a) obscure music videos that need to be shared or (b) make fun of popular artists who spent more than the gross national product of Paraguay to create a music video that should not exist.

Today, I want to post my top five favorite music videos coming out of Ukraine during this war.

These videos may not seem important. Yet from the very first Bayraktar video, I believe they helped boost morale inside the country and galvanize international support in a way that policy papers and numbers never could.

First up is a solid, traditional choice: use a rock song as the soundtrack for footage.

Second is creative goodness piled on goodness, with The Kiffness turning a soldier’s solo into seven different flavors of awesomesauce.

Third: a tribute to the soldiers.

Fourth, we have a change-up, edited more like a movie than a music video, with a slowed-down cover of Lincoln Park–so well done.

And fifth, a classic–soldiers doing the original Bayraktar song. Sláva Ukrayíni!

Elizaveta sings a Ukrainian folk song and yes, crying is okay

Usually, I will (a) find an obscure and bizarre music video, (b) make fun of famous bands with famously bad videos, or (c) delight in the discovery of something musical that is unique and amazing.

The world is too crazy right now. Making fun of things, even when it is deserved, doesn’t sit right with me today.

As a former journalist, I still love the news. The only stories I want to read right now are about Ukraine, in the hopes that they defend their country and can rebuild and live in peace again. (Some of you know what I’m talking about:, the Kyiv Independent, and

So I’m running into video after video of music from Ukraine, by ordinary people and soldiers, that moves me far more than any bazillion dollar extravaganza by whatever diva or boy band is hot right now.

This is the one that I keep watching.

What do I like?

I like how it starts as simply and slowly as you can, one woman singing alone, no music whatsoever.

I like how the other people come behind her and join in, and how the power of the chorus grows.

I like the feeling behind the words in a language I don’t understand.

And I like these people, fighting for their home, and for democracy.

Slava Ukraini.

1944 is a song that will make you cry

The great thing about the Series of Tubes is you stumble upon random treasures, like this cover of 1944 by Elina Ivaschenko.

Beautiful, right?

Obviously, her coach’s reaction help makes this video great. You can see and feel the joy as her singer nails this.

What hit me was the universality of music. Most of these lyrics are not in English and it doesn’t matter, because the emotion comes through, strong and clear.

I’ve seen research by ACTUAL SCIENTISTS that music has near-magical powers when it comes to generating human emotions. You can pinpoint the exact notes and chords that generate joy, sadness, and other emotions.

Here are the lyrics:

When strangers are coming
They come to your house
They kill you all
and say
We’re not guilty
not guilty
Where is your mind?
Humanity cries
You think you are gods
But everyone dies
Don’t swallow my soul
Our souls
Yaşlığıma toyalmadım
Men bu yerde yaşalmadım
Yaşlığıma toyalmadım
Men bu yerde yaşalmadım
We could build a future
Where people are free
to live and love
The happiest time
Where is your heart?
Humanity rise
You think you are gods
But everyone dies
Don’t swallow my soul
Our souls
Yaşlığıma toyalmadım
Men bu yerde yaşalmadım
Yaşlığıma toyalmadım
Men bu yerde yaşalmadım

There’s real pain and history behind the song, which is about Stalin’s deportation of the Crimea Tarters.

The original song is by Jamala, a Eurovision winner from Ukraine.

So this is one of the rare covers which improves the original. Kind of like how Meg Myers took RUNNING UP THAT HILL and transformed it into a rocket ship full of beautiful noise.

Here’s the original song for comparison.


11/10 for making me tear up.

Found art, literary garbage and spam

There are serious artists who get paid serious money by museums and galleries, with opening night of their shows featuring all sorts of wealthy moguls and supermodel types surrounding the Artist in his black turtleneck as he unveils his latest “installation,” which is an indictment of consumerism.

What is this art? A toilet glued to the wall above a pile of trash.

But it is ARTFULLY ARRANGED trash, you see.

If you think I’m kidding: A janitor in London got himself in serious trouble for seeing such a pile of trash on the floor of the gallery and sweeping it up. Because, you know, janitors sort of get paid to clean things up. And this horribly uncivilized and uneducated janitor ruined, just ruined, an Art Installation from a serious Artist paid far more than what the janitor makes, all to arrange trash on the floor.

Anybody can throw trash on the floor — or write pretentious gibberish like “Sacred Emily.” (See this post: Gertrude Stein is a literary TRAIN WRECK)

In the spirit of showing how silly this stuff is, I took a spam comment and went all Gertrude Stein on it, turning it into a high-brow (obtuse), dense (nonsensical) and difficult (incoherent) Poem. (Read it here: Is this high-brow poetry — or pretentious garbage?)

The funny thing is how little work it took. Maybe two minutes.

It would have been easier, and made for a far better Pretentious Poem, had I taken a full day to (a) ponder the pointlessness of life, (b) watch a marathon of Jason Statham films, (c) translate a book into Sanskrit, (d) kill half a bottle of bourbon and THEN (e) take two minutes to turn comment spam into poetry.

The spam comments are interesting. Is somebody writing this stuff? No. Can’t be. It has to be some kind of program that strings together random sentences or words. Or somebody in the Ukraine who knows English well enough that he can order a Big Mac without getting McNuggets, but not well enough to write a paragraph without sounding insane.

Here are two actual pieces of comment spam:

1) My spouse and i still cannot quite think that I could become one of those reading through the important ideas found on your blog. My family and I are seriously thankful for your generosity and for providing me the chance to pursue my chosen career path. Thank you for the important information I got from your web page.

2) I’m honored to obtain a call from a friend as soon as he discovered the important recommendations shared in your site. Examining your blog publication is a real excellent experience. Thanks again for thinking of readers just like me, and I wish you the best of achievements like a professional surface area.

They’re just a bit off, aren’t they?

I think it’s because if they did have a human write paragraphs that made sense, the spam filters would catch them even quicker, so they have to be somewhat random. Which makes them even less effective, like a bullet that misses the target by ten feet instead of ten inches.

But they’re interesting. Some idiots must be clicking on the links anyway.

And decades from now, after this post gets forwarded around the Series of Tubes and garbled a bit, some English literature PhD student will find fragments of THE CIRCLE and write a dissertation debating its true meaning.