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According to UN estimates, after February 24, 2022, more than 6 million Ukrainians became refugees, and about 7 million became internally displaced persons. Many had to stay in the occupied territories. Others were more fortunate, and the Armed Forces of Ukraine liberated their land, however, the war in the vast majority of cases did not go far from them. Artillery shelling without air raid warning destroyed infrastructure and houses, the death of friends and relatives, unemployment, and humanitarian help as the only means of survival — all this constantly accompanied the people who remained in the temporarily occupied and liberated territories. In addition, Russian propaganda spreads disinformation to and about them, intimidates them, and tries to cause mistrust in these people. Detector Media analyzed about 40,700 posts related to Russian occupation in the Ukrainian segment of Facebook, YouTube, Telegram, and Twitter.

Publications about the residents of the temporarily occupied and de-occupied territories revive the "awaiter" meme from several years ago ("ждун", i.e., the one awaiting the Ukrainian military to liberate them). This term is used in both Ukrainian and Russian media spaces. Awaiters are the people who remain in the territory under the control of one party, but wait for the arrival of the other. The occupiers complain about them in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, who are waiting to be liberated and provide the Defense Forces of Ukraine with information about the location of Russian warehouses and headquarters. On the contrary, some Ukrainians claim that most of those who remain in the frontline cities and villages of Donbas are waiting for the arrival of Russian troops.

Regular news about the detention of ordinary Ukrainians who helped the Russian troops suggests that there are those in Ukraine waiting for "Russian peace". However, there is no doubt that branding all people trying to maintain life in frontline Ukrainian cities is harmful to society. Russian propagandists are playing this card, repeating stereotypes about pro-Russian awaiters to incite enmity and weaken the unity of Ukrainian society. Detector Media has previously written about how the Kremlin and its propaganda means are trying to seize any opportunity to sow discord in Ukraine, be it on national, religious, or gender grounds. Hence, it's crucial to avoid offensive and risky generalizations in media discussions, especially given the situation imposed by the occupiers in the controlled territories.

The occupiers subject local residents to repression, kidnapping, torture, murder, administrative pressure, and propaganda. Deportations from the temporarily occupied territories continue, which the Kremlin tries to present as "aid" to war victims. At the same time, for many, the choice is whether to live in houses destroyed by the Russian invasion, without heat, water, and electricity, and in some places without food, or to get on buses and go wherever the invaders will send them. Some population categories, such as Ukrainian children and teenagers, have no choice.

Administrative pressure, against the background of other horrors of war and occupation, may not seem so terrible. However, it is worth understanding that only a relative minority of the population is subjected to violent repression in the occupied territories. For the most part, the repressions concern those who were suspected of having a pro-Ukrainian position. All residents of the temporarily occupied territories are subjected to administrative pressure without exceptions. Issuing Russian passports became one of the critical issues of life there. Without a passport issued by the occupiers, local people are threatened with being left without medical care. Pensioners need a Russian passport to receive a pension. Sometimes the availability of documents issued by the occupiers depends on receiving humanitarian aid, which is the only possibility for many to survive in conditions of mass unemployment. In addition, in April 2023, Russia signed a decree recognizing residents of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine who have not received a Russian passport as "foreign citizens or stateless persons." It can threaten life with various complications, up to the confiscation of property and deportation.

The topic of issuing Russian passports is also indicative from the point of view of problems in the attitude of the Ukrainian state to the issues of occupation, collaborationism, and reintegration of those regions that were captured by the aggressor back in 2014. Thus, on April 30, 2023, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada, Dmytro Lubinets, stated that it is better for Ukrainians in the temporarily occupied territories (TOTs) not to give up their Russian passports if it will help them survive. The very next day, May 1, Deputy Prime Minister-Minister for TOT reintegration, Iryna Vereshchuk, said that Ukrainians should not take the passports of the occupiers but should leave the captured territories or wait for liberation. After that, Lubinets once again advised the residents of the temporarily occupied regions to take Russian passports since even leaving the occupation may be complicated due to the lack of an occupiers’ document.

"I don't know what reasoning someone used to make such statements. I know it can be used in international courts against Ukraine. Because if we made a call to remain citizens of Ukraine, then we as a state recognize that we can ensure all the rights of Ukrainian citizens in this territory. I do not know what the government will do about it," said Lubinets.

In turn, Vereshchuk previously said that all residents of the temporarily occupied territories, without exception, should leave to avoid danger.

"I am asking everyone: evacuate, please. Men must leave TOT to avoid being drafted into the enemy army. It is also better for women and children to leave so they are not used as human shields," the deputy prime minister wrote.

Before that, in the summer of 2022, Vereshchuk called for the evacuation of all residents of the Donetsk region. In some media, this call was interpreted as a "mandatory" evacuation, although the Deputy Prime Minister said there would be an option to decline this opportunity. However, the wave of panic in the cities and villages of the Donetsk region has passed. The panic wave was also combined with the efforts of Russian propaganda, which used Vereshchuk's statement to accuse the Ukrainian authorities of "deportations". Propaganda channels controlled by the Russians, which pretended to be Ukrainian, began to spread messages in the spirit of "the government is evacuating the population therefore, it is going to surrender the territory." In any case, a significant part of the people, both in the temporarily occupied and in the territories controlled by Ukraine, did not heed the calls and stayed. Some of those who did evacuate have already managed to return, in particular, due to the lack of opportunity to find affordable housing and work in the new places of residence. It appears essential for the state to formulate a more inclusive policy towards citizens in temporarily occupied and front-line areas, prioritizing the value of life and the freedom of Ukrainian people.

Russian official propaganda, of course, tries to claim that the occupiers' actions are also allegedly aimed at increasing security and organizing everyday life in the temporarily occupied territories. However, even pro-Russian propagandists, such as former People's Deputy and, since 2014, a Russian collaborator, Oleg Tsarev, deny this. They admit, sometimes veiledly or openly, that the residents of the temporarily occupied territories, illegally the "newly declared citizens of Russia", are "second-class people" for the Kremlin and its fictitious occupation authorities. Even the issuance of passports itself is poorly organized, people are kept in long lines (perhaps to show the excitement and demand for occupation documents). On the territory of Russia itself, bureaucratic bodies are skeptical of passports with "Ukrainian registration". It applies to the territories temporarily occupied after the start of the full-scale invasion and to the regions captured back in 2014-2015, except Crimea.

The pro-Russian population, the same awaiters who finally "wait through", also admit that they expected something else from the occupation. "We have become part of Russia but do not feel like Russians. We wanted a law, but we got prices that do not exist in Russia. We wanted justice, but we got indifference. We understand that not everything happens at once, but why is the positive not immediately, and the negative is now?", — writes one of the commentators in the pro-Russian group on Telegram.

Russian "warlords", Z-bloggers, and former Ukrainian politicians who have made a new career in Russia — all complain that administrative chaos, crime, and corruption reign in the temporarily occupied territories. There is no mention of those trying to survive in cities like Siverskodonetsk or Volnovakha. Official Russian propaganda highlights "recovery projects" such as new houses in Mariupol, but the critical opinion of local residents about these "Potemkin villages" even made it onto a video of Putin's visit to the city.

It does not prevent the Kremlin's propaganda from bragging about the enormous amount of money allegedly being used for the "restoration" of territories bombed by their own army. It is not surprising because construction in Russia (and not only) is one of the most generous sources of corruption income for people in business who fly to the same Mariupol to make money both on the dismantling of destroyed buildings and factories and on the funds directed to the construction of new ones. Generally, Russian propaganda has long since stopped, particularly in trying to hide the scale of the thefts. Instead, it suggests rejoicing that it [construction money] still reaches the population. For example, one of the loudest "mouthpieces" of propaganda, "Readovka", citing Russian researchers, reports the number of bribes in Russian government procurement at 6.6 trillion rubles in 2020 (⅕ of the amount of each contract). It is only what was recorded at one stage of budget transactions and before a full-scale invasion. If we consider what was said above about the chaos and crime in the territories occupied and illegally annexed in 2022, the scale of looting there may be much more significant. Even in regions with comparatively minor hostilities, the local population faces immensely challenging living conditions.

Fear and hatred remain the primary weapons of Russian propaganda. Residents of the temporarily occupied territories are intimidated by the fact that if they try to leave the regions controlled by Ukraine, they may be deported or even arrested as "Russian spies." Propagandists threaten that upon the return of Ukrainian control over the territories, Ukrainians who live under occupation will face reprisals. Therefore, the only chance for survival is to get a Russian passport and leave for Russia (preferably somewhere in remote, underdeveloped areas with a shortage of cheap labor).

After the news about Ukraine's acquisition of cluster munitions, propagandists have a new horror story — allegedly, the Defense Forces of Ukraine will liberate temporarily occupied cities with "carpet bombing." As it often does, Kremlin propaganda passes off its own actions as the opponent’s intentions because it is the Russian artillery that is shelling the peaceful quarters of de-occupied Kherson, which was, as they say, "forever with Russia." Also, Russian propagandists try to oppose the residents of the temporarily occupied territories to the citizens of the rest of Ukraine, just as they use the topic of refugees and IDPs to sow discord and build a negative image of Ukrainians in Europe. Provocations and attempts to deepen societal disputes remain the primary weapons in the Kremlin's propaganda arsenal.

Read the full version of Detector Media’a research on the use of residents of Ukraine’s temporarily occupied and de-occupied territories by Russian propaganda soon. As of now, you can get acquainted with the research results on disinformation in religion and nationality issues.

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