Spilnota Detector Media

Orest Slyvenko

Detector Media analyst

Oleksii Pivtorak

Detector Media analyst

Lesia Bidochko

Deputy Head of Detector Media Research Center

Oleksandr Siedin

Detector Media analyst

Andriy Pylypenko

Detector Media analyst

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On December 19, 2023, President Zelenskyy announced that the General Staff and the Chief of Staff at one of the bases had proposed mobilizing an additional 450,000–500,000 individuals. On April 11, 2024, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada passed a law on mobilization, which updated the procedures for mobilization, military registration of conscripts, recruits, and reservists, as well as the social protection system for military personnel. Russian propagandists seized upon the topic of mobilization, attempting to undermine it. They mocked Zelenskyy's initiative as unrealistic, highlighted mistakes in the work of the Territorial Recruitment Centers (TRC), and generalized isolated incidents as systemic failures. They also spread misinformation about the new mobilization norms, claiming that everyone, including individuals with disabilities, would be sent to the front without training and that those mobilized would face certain death. Additionally, they threatened that Ukrainian men from European countries would be deported and conscripted. This study examines the dynamics and specifics of the spread of propaganda messages from the time of the announcement of the need for additional mobilization to the signing of the draft law by the President of Ukraine.

What the law on mobilization provides?

On April 16, 2024, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed the law titled "On Improving Certain Issues of Mobilization, Military Registration, and Military Service." The law was supported by 283 MPs. The final version of the law omitted provisions concerning the conditions of demobilization or rotation of the military, which had been previously promised to be included. Fedir Venislavsky, a member of the Verkhovna Rada's Committee on National Security, Defense, and Intelligence, explained that the government will submit a separate demobilization bill, hence the exclusion of the provision. This decision was reportedly made at the request of Minister of Defense Rustem Umyerov and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Oleksandr Syrskyi.

Some of the previously discussed restrictions were retained in the final version of the law, such as a ban on driving a car or limitations on consular services for conscripts abroad who do not update their data with the territorial recruitment centers for social protection.

Under the new law, men aged 18 to 60 must carry their military registration documents at all times to present upon request by employees of territorial recruitment centers or the National Police. While the conscript's electronic office, scheduled to launch this summer, will be an option rather than a requirement for Ukrainians, the law does not specify regulations for electronic subpoenas, indicating that this method of notification will not be used.

The law introduces the abolition of conscription and the implementation of basic military training, which will be available, for example, in higher education institutions. Basic training will be required for civil service roles, unless the conscript is deemed unfit for service.

Notably, the term "partially fit" has been removed from the legislation. Citizens with this status, as well as those who received a II or III disability group after February 24, 2022 (excluding military personnel), must undergo a repeat medical examination within nine months of the law's enactment.

The law also includes a "motivational package" for male and female service members. For instance, the defense committee added monetary rewards for the military, offering payments ranging from 12,112 to 908,400 hryvnias (USD 310 – 23,041) for destroying enemy equipment, along with additional vacation time of up to 15 calendar days per year.

In terms of contracts, military personnel who sign up will be entitled to a 50% subsidy for the first mortgage payment through the "eOselia" program. Additionally, within the first three months of the contract date, they may receive a voucher worth 150,000 UAH (3,800 USD) for the purchase of a car or other type of vehicle.

Additionally, service members and their spouses will not face interest charges or penalties on loans from banks or other institutions, except for car or real estate loans. Conscripts also have the freedom to choose the unit they wish to serve with, and they can later sign a contract with the Ministry of Defense. The government has set the compensation amount for the families of fallen soldiers at no less than 15 million hryvnias (3,8 million USD).

However, these provisions in the "motivational package" have sparked discussions about the state's ability to finance them and whether they are fair to those who have already been defending Ukraine for over two years since the full-scale invasion began. Questions have also arisen about why such incentives are being offered now and only to those who will be mobilized after the law's adoption.

Dmytro Lubinets, the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights, called the law "the best option possible during a war." He noted that the mobilization process outlined in the law is "as democratic as possible" and free from coercion. Conscripts undergo checks in the registers regarding their data, and those who do not comply with legal norms will face legal procedures, including possible court actions. The TRC will coordinate with the police to establish identities, and the police will aim to cooperate in the future: "We must all understand that intense battles are currently taking place on the front lines," Lubinets said: "The military units stationed there need to be able to rotate, and to do that, the size of the Ukrainian Armed Forces must be increased."

General disinformation trends regarding the discrediting of mobilization

According to the Center for Countering Disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, the goal of the Russians is to "disrupt recruiting, deprive the Defense Forces of reserves and weaken the ability to resist." We have systematically observed these attempts as part of the #DisinfoChronicle, where we record Russian propaganda in real-time. This campaign has several components and is characterized by the multi-layered nature of its theses. The first component is the imposition of a hostile attitude towards mobilization and the normalization of "draft evasion"; they say, getting into the ranks of the Armed Forces means certain death, meeting the military on the street is almost guaranteed to receive a subpoena, so these "dangers" should be avoided at all costs. Propagandists are trying to create a stable association that protecting the Motherland is a punishment, not a constitutional duty.

The second thesis is the manipulation that the mobilized do not undergo training, get to the front almost immediately from the military commissariats, and die en masse; they say, the Ukrainian authorities do not care about the population, Ukrainian men massively become mobilized "cannon fodder".

The third thesis is the discrediting of the work of the command, the TRCs and the defense sector in general; highlighting "distortions" in the work of the TRCs and extrapolating them to the entire system: they say, men are "raked" indiscriminately on the streets of cities and villages of Ukraine; military commissars are totally corrupt, they take bribes from evaders and they go abroad. This cluster also includes a number of reports that we recorded over the course of several months in the fall of 2023 and the winter of 2024 about an acute "conflict" between the military and political leadership of the state, which was also highlighted by manipulators as discrediting the state bodies of Ukraine responsible for defense (in particular, mobilization processes).

The fourth thesis is the carnivalization of the recruiting process, which propagandists claim should create total distrust in the mobilization process and cause people to associate recruitment to the Defense Forces with a poor and ultimately unsuccessful step. This is based on outright falsehoods that Ukraine will mobilize pregnant women, people with disabilities, minors, pensioners, and even animals. These statements may initially seem absurd, but after reading them, ordinary Ukrainians may start to view mobilization as something frivolous and shameful to participate in. The analysis included at least 155 publications on the mobilization of women.

To learn more about the debunking of fakes and manipulations regarding mobilization in Ukraine, you can find more information here.

Description of the analyzed sample, dynamics, channels, speakers

The LetsData team used automated algorithms to identify a data set of disinformation messages on the topic of mobilization distributed by pro-Russian actors on four social networks across eight countries: Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Ukraine. Following methodological guidelines developed by the LetsData team, the sample included Telegram and YouTube channels, X (Twitter), and Facebook accounts, as well as Facebook groups, where over 60% of their content contained disinformation messages and could be part of targeted pro-Russian information campaigns. The fixed sample provided by LetsData was analyzed by the Detector Media research center to study the dynamics and thematic trends related to the topic of mobilization in Ukraine.

According to Detector Media’s analysis, the mobilization in Ukraine has been a subject of propaganda speculation for at least the last four months. The peak of discussion about mobilization took place in Telegram channels during the winter of 2023–2024, when legislative changes on mobilization were being considered and a public discussion on the topic started within Ukrainian society. It is worth noting that the government bill "On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Regarding Certain Issues of Military Service, Mobilization, and Military Registration" was introduced to Parliament on January 30, 2024. Members of Parliament passed the bill in its first reading on February 2 and approved it in its second reading on April 11.

Dynamics of publications about mobilization in Ukraine in pro-Russian telegram channels

From December 19, 2023 to April 16, 2024

Dynamics of publications about mobilization in Ukraine in pro-Russian telegram channels

According to data on the structure of publications about mobilization, manipulative statements not only spread in Ukraine's information space (accounting for 90.9% of all posts) but also in the information spaces of some neighboring countries. This can be attributed to the connection between the networks spreading pro-Russian propaganda on Telegram across different countries. In the Telegram segment of Moldova, Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and other countries, narratives have been spread claiming that Ukrainians living in these countries may soon be conscripted and possibly deported to Ukraine in a brutal manner.

"For instance, it is alleged that Kyiv may revoke the foreign passports of citizens residing in Europe, which could lead to mass deportations of Ukrainians. At the same time, experts caution that increased mobilization may deepen divisions within Ukrainian society," stated a Telegram channel with 183,000 subscribers.

Structure of publications about mobilization in Ukraine by countries

From December 19, 2023, to April 16, 2024

Visualisation by Detector Media, data provided by LetsData on Telegram posts in Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Hungary and Ukraine

The structure of publications about mobilization in Ukraine

Another cluster of messages from "foreign" pro-Kremlin Telegram channels involved attempts to intimidate residents of countries neighboring Ukraine, suggesting that if the West does not stop supporting Ukraine and if Kyiv does not cease its fight, military operations will spill over into neighboring territories. The residents of these territories, it was claimed, would return to their families "in coffins." For instance, several Romanian Telegram channels quoted far-right senator Diana Șoșoacă, known for her pro-Russian stance: "There is a genuine risk that Romania will become a victim of such maneuvers and that Romanians will become cannon fodder, the next victims after the Ukrainians, who were also misled and pushed towards self-destruction." Our February monitoring report on Russian propaganda in Ukraine's neighboring countries provides further details about similar intimidation tactics in the information space of Central and Eastern European countries.

30 Telegram channels most frequently discussing mobilization in Ukraine

From December 19, 2023, to April 16, 2024

Malign narratives regarding the new law on mobilization in Ukraine

"The authorities deceived both civilians and the military"

Since enemy agitprop has been discrediting mobilization for a long time, propaganda had to create new and updated messages to remain effective in light of recent developments. One such claim was that the law misled both civilians, who were allegedly promised softer mobilization terms, and soldiers, who were promised demobilization that never materialized.

The removal of demobilization provisions from the final version of the law was met with disappointment by some civilian and military Ukrainians. Volunteers and conscripted soldiers were left without the prospect of being replaced in the ranks of the Armed Forces before the end of the war, which may last for years. Meanwhile, given the ongoing large-scale war and sluggish mobilization, the military command faces challenges finding replacements for hundreds of thousands of the most experienced and trained soldiers.

Propaganda aimed to exploit this sensitive and complex issue to demoralize both the military and civilians. "Today, the MPs voted for a 100% anti-people law. Why anti-people? Because it does not support the army—no demobilization allowed—and it disregards the people by introducing harsh mobilization measures!" said an anonymous Telegram channel with over 400,000 subscribers about the new mobilization law. Another anonymous channel with more than 1 million subscribers echoed this sentiment: "There will be no demobilization. The military have been deceived. The authorities decided to treat them as serfs. Now the borders will be tightened to stop the influx of those who wish to escape 'slavery.'"

To promote the idea of deception, propagandists use inconsistent statements from individual MPs, which are then generalized as evidence of the entire government's inconsistency regarding communication on this topic. Additionally, discussions around previous versions of the draft law—which naturally underwent numerous changes in the democratic legislative process—are used to support this thesis.

For example, the inconsistency of MP Mariana Bezugla from the "Servants of the People" faction was exploited for this purpose. In mid-January, Bezugla had promised to block the parliament if the demobilization provision was removed from the draft law. Yet, by April, she supported the bill, which propagandists highlighted as an instrumental inconsistency on a sensitive topic. "Literally in the middle of January, MP Bezugla assured that the demobilization provision would not be removed from the law; threatened to block the Verkhovna Rada if this happened; and promised answers and justice to the people," stated a Telegram channel with 400,000 subscribers, dramatizing and exploiting this inconsistency.

Propaganda also focused on the issue of men without military registration documents facing restrictions abroad. They claimed these individuals had been misled. A Telegram channel with 1 million subscribers depicted the problem: "Our source from the President's Office reported in January that the validity of passports for Ukrainians abroad would be limited, and there was even an initial plan to cancel them altogether, but Western partners intervened and warned of the consequences. Ukrainians did not believe the authorities would take such actions because propaganda assured them the mobilization bill would be lenient. Now, all across Europe, queues of our men who believed the propaganda are forming."

"Only the dead and wounded are demobilized"

As previously mentioned, the provision regarding demobilization was excluded from the final version of the draft law that MPs approved on April 11. Instead, the government will develop a separate law to regulate the discharge of military personnel who are actively engaged in combat. Roman Kostenko, secretary of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense, and Intelligence, noted that demobilization was the most contentious issue in the law, prompting the decision to address it in a separate (yet to be created) draft law.

A propaganda source with 400,000 subscribers painted a grotesque picture of the demobilization situation, claiming there are only two paths out of the army: desertion or death. "There will be no demobilization; everyone will fight to the end. But with the lack of weapons in the Armed Forces, the outcome is predetermined. In the current circumstances, this means those on the frontlines face either desertion, severe injury, or death."

A propaganda Telegram channel with an audience of one million addressed the issue of demobilization as follows: "Our source reported that, according to the General Staff, the war will last 5-7 years, which is why there will be no demobilization... The bill on mobilization was necessary for a protracted war, allowing the Territorial Recruitment Centers to draw reserves of up to three million men during this time." Such statements are designed not only to discredit the mobilization law as ineffective but also to instill a bleak outlook for those currently serving, suggesting a war with no end or purpose.

The channel also claimed that the absence of a demobilization mechanism was due to the personal preferences of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Oleksandr Syrskyi, who is portrayed as dismissive of human resources: "Our source in the General Staff said that the military despises the new commander, who has been dubbed the 'butcher' for his ineffective defense of Bakhmut and subsequent counterattacks. Syrskyi's decision to exclude demobilization from the law became a catalyst for widespread discontent among the military, who ultimately lost faith in the command." We provided a detailed analysis of what agitprop has said about the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, in this article.

"The mobilization has failed, and the new law will only worsen the situation"

An anonymous pro-Russian Telegram channel with 150,000 subscribers claimed that the mobilization would lead to a mass exodus of the population from Ukraine and a collapse of the economy. To support this argument, the channel used unsubstantiated "rumors on the sidelines" circulating in disinformation channels: "There were rumors suggesting that the mobilization bill would cause a significant increase in the outflow of the population from Ukraine. Over half a million people are expected to leave in the summer alone. This will inflict further harm on Ukraine's economy."

Another channel with over 1 million subscribers labeled the law as a historical blunder by President Zelenskyy in a post that garnered more than 300,000 views. This assertion was made based on an "anonymous source": "According to our source, historians will identify this as one of Zelenskyy's major mistakes, believing that everyone in Ukraine was a serf and he was a 'leader.' This will serve as a catalyst for future significant setbacks on the front lines."

"Mobilization concerns only the poor - it is a manifestation of class exploitation"

Propagandists often present the mobilization in Ukraine and efforts to evade it as an example of a "class struggle." This approach seeks to create divisions between those who are mobilized and those who are not, portraying the government as neglecting the needs of the people while those suffering from the "grind" of war face oppression. By emphasizing disparities between different economic groups, such as the poor and disadvantaged versus the wealthy and connected, agitprop aims to stir up tensions and incite rebellion against the government.

On April 9, pro-Russian blogger Anatoliy Shariy (1.2 million followers) wrote about the arrest of one of his associates, who was accused by the SBU of attempting to disrupt mobilization in the Defense Forces: "This is a disgraceful, corrupt state that mercilessly impoverishes its own citizens. Flee from this disgraceful country. Renounce citizenship of this cesspool. Teach your children to avoid this pit. Everyone knows only two groups are affected by mobilization: either the disenfranchised serfs or the poor. If you're not poor, you won't be sent to the meat grinder."

Another pro-Russian anonymous Telegram channel with 150,000 readers attempted to ignite class animosity among the already mobilized military: “While you are fighting and enduring all the hardships, the privileged elites are enjoying life. Everyone knows that under the new mobilization law, these elites will once again obtain a 'white ticket' because they have the funds to pay for it. Meanwhile, you, a simple worker or a disabled person, will be sent to the front lines to fight for the future of these elites."

"Demons from the TRC hunt the souls of conscripts"

Propagandists often attempt to incite civil discord by spreading false information about confrontations between employees of Territorial Recruitment Centers (TRC) and people subject to mobilization. In January 2024, a fake video circulated in Russian and pro-Russian Telegram channels claiming that an employee of the TRC had been shot in Ukraine.

"A military commissariat employee was killed in Ukraine. It seems the nationwide hunt for men by Ukraine's military commissars is becoming a very dangerous activity," reported a Russian Telegram channel with 283,300 subscribers. However, the National Police of Ukraine clarified that the video was staged, featuring a fake police logo, TRC employees not wearing reflective vests, and ballistics experts finding no evidence of gunfire.

Local pro-Russian Telegram channels depict mobilization as the forced recruitment of conscripts primarily from the territories targeted by the respective channels. "A day in the life of forced mobilization in Ukraine. Footage from an empty village in the Kirovohrad region," stated a pro-Russian Telegram channel with 283,000 subscribers.

In pro-Russian Telegram channels, the constant epithets "total mobilization", "violent", "moron", "lottery-mobilization" are attached to the mobilization in Ukraine. They are also called to rally and transmit information about the movement of military personnel, who can serve summonses, to special telegram channels. These Telegram channels are as anonymous resources as most of the popular Telegram channels in this messenger. In March 2023, law enforcement officers blocked the operation of 23 such Telegram channels, but new ones appeared instead. According to the Telemetrio Telegram channel information database, there are at least 60 channels in the Ukrainian segment of the messenger with the word "summons" in Ukrainian and Russian. There, Telegram users share information about the movement of military personnel in various populated areas of Ukraine, who can allegedly issue summonses. In September 2023, the "Texts" publication published a study of Telegram channels, which talk about the alleged serving of subpoenas, and concluded that they work more for mutual panic and disinformation than for raising awareness.

"Being an evader is cool"

Before the adoption of the law on mobilization, pro-Russian groups promoted a trend on TikTok and other social media platforms that glorified evading mobilization. The thematic videos feature individuals showcasing their luxurious lifestyles and status as "evaders." A disinformation-prone channel with 150,000 subscribers described these videos as: "Being evasive is now prestigious, fashionable, and youthful." The Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) of the Ministry of Defense called this trend in TikTok and other social networks a Russian information operation against Ukraine.

These videos often show purportedly Ukrainian men who identify as "evaders" and boast about their lives abroad. Such content quickly attracts views and comments from audiences, whether positive or negative, thus pushing the videos into trends. Popular songs were also created for this type of content, with lyrics that praise "evaders," according to the GUR's press service.

It is worth noting that some pro-Russian groups acknowledged the signs of a coordinated hostile information attack based on the distribution of these videos. Despite admitting the videos were distributed by pro-Russian bots, propagandists argue that the important aspect is the legitimate problem raised by these videos. An anonymous pro-Russian Telegram channel with over 400,000 subscribers justifies Russian information operations by stating: "The videos are similar in style and theme, but the underlying issue still exists and will continue to grow. If elections were held today, the 'party of evaders' would win. As the norms of the new law take effect, their numbers will rapidly increase, creating fertile ground for PSYOP."

“Newly mobilized soldiers go to the frontline and die”

Propagandists attempt to use the tragic deaths of Ukrainian recruits as evidence that the Armed Forces of Ukraine send newly mobilized soldiers directly to the front line without proper military training. They use such situations to propagate the idea that Ukrainian recruits face a high risk of death shortly after being mobilized.

For instance, the Berdyan occupation Telegram channel with 12,500 subscribers published an example of a recruit from the Rivne region who allegedly died shortly after being conscripted. According to the publication, the recruit, Ihor Melnyk, left home for a doctor's appointment due to feeling unwell. He later contacted his relatives, informing them that he was undergoing a medical examination, and on February 16, his relatives were informed of his death while serving in the 14th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Although there have been isolated cases of the death of new recruits on the contact line in spring 2022, February 2023, and February 2024, enemy propaganda seeks to portray these incidents as a widespread problem. Ukrainian law enforcement, officials, and community representatives are working to investigate these events and hold those responsible accountable.

In an interview with Suspilno on April 4, 2024, Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets, emphasized the importance of investigating these cases. He also called on the military to ensure that new recruits receive proper training after mobilization to prevent further unnecessary loss of life.

According to the survey data of the Razumkov Center, as of the end of March 2024, among state and public institutions, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are most often trusted - 96% of respondents trust them. 86% of respondents trust volunteer battalions, 67.5% trust the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. As we can see, the support of the army and state institutions responsible for the defense of Ukraine is high.

Propagandists are honing in on fears about mobilisation. Uncertainty about how a person will be mobilized, what type of troops the mobilized will be assigned to, what training they will undergo, how quickly he will enter the combat zone, what support he can expect from the state, etc. — all this becomes the subject of exaggerations and fakes in pro-Russian Telegram channels. Russian propaganda tries to play on fears, stereotypes and lack of information. For the sake of spreading panic among the Ukrainian population and disrupting military recruitment, it manipulates the topic of recruiting, highlights the problems as much as possible, so that a false impression is created that this is how the entire process of mobilization takes place.

Illustration and infographic: Natalia Lobach

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