Spilnota Detector Media

Українською читайте тут.

As part of the study on online xenophobia against vulnerable groups, Detector Media team investigated disinformation against children, as well as the misogynistic dimension of agitational propaganda. This text concludes a study of the "Children, Women, Older People" cluster, a most vulnerable citizens' triad during the war.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the presence of older people among the victims of armed conflicts is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back only to the Second World War, where of the 50 million killed, 26 million were military and 24 million civilians. According to international humanitarian law, older people are protected as persons not participating in hostilities. However, armed conflicts increase the vulnerability of older people because they are often left without any means of living and may suffer from various forms of ill-treatment — looting, destruction of their property, and physical violence. They become lonely because they cannot or do not want to leave the places where they were born or live. The older generation is disproportionately more likely to die from Russian aggression against Ukraine. According to the UN, the older people accounted for about a third of the civilians killed in the first year of the full-scale war. At the same time, some died because they were forbidden to bring medicine or leave the basements.

According to our observations, the disinformation against older people nowadays is mainly related to war-time issues: evacuation, life under occupation, receiving humanitarian aid, social payments from Russia or its puppet states, etc. Read more in our research on what key propaganda messages are spread by Russian agitational propaganda in the Ukrainian segment of Facebook, YouTube, Telegram, and X (former Twitter).

The research was conducted by Lesya Bidochko, Yehor Brailian, Kostyantyn Zadyraka, Vitaliy Mykhailiv, Oleksiy Pivtorak, Pavlo Rud, Orest Slyvenko, Oleksandr Syedin. Visualizations were prepared by Natalia Lobach.

According to the World Health Organization, those aged 60–75 are considered the older persons, the oldest old people group is classified as 75–90 years old, and those who have reached 90 years and older are called centenarians. Cognitive changes associated with aging such as memory decreases and information processing speed — can make seniors more susceptible to misinformation and fraud. The social isolation experienced by some older people may contribute to increased vulnerability, as they may lack a support network and diverse sources of information. They are also often gullible, which makes them more susceptible to deception. Older people have less media representation because they use gadgets much less than younger age groups. Therefore, their voice is relatively weak in social media and thus becomes the subject of manipulation.

Russian propaganda is all about manipulating the issues of older adults, spreading misinformation aimed at them, and trying to play on emotions. It tries to stereotype the image of an older person as an impoverished pensioner who expects "handouts" from the state or corrupt politicians and is socially isolated. Propaganda, on the one hand, tries to evoke emotions of sympathy, pity, and empathy for this social group. On the other hand, it instrumentalizes older age, using it for its purposes. In particular, the ideology of "Russian peace" is based on the message that "our grandfathers have fought", appealing to the positive experience of military victory. But we also see a general disdain for older age, in particular, by undermining the authority of American politicians with a respectable age. Therefore, "empathy" for older people's issues is intertwined with gerontophobia.

In Ukrainian society, the topic of gerontophobia also emerges in public discourse — for example, in 2018, provocative billboards with Yulia Tymoshenko appeared on the outskirts of Kyiv, focusing attention on her age: the 2019 presidential election is "grandmother's last chance". Moreover, Tymoshenko was depicted as excessively old.

However, as our sample shows, the most systematic ageism in the Ukrainian segment of social networks affects the figure of Putin, who is called the "bunker grandfather" or "Kremlin pensioner." Meanwhile, the Russians are projecting their gerontophobia on the USA.


Detector Media analyzed 23,728 posts in the Ukrainian segment of Facebook, YouTube, Telegram, and X (Twitter), which the Semantrum and LetsData companies provided. Monitoring period: June 26 — October 26, 2023. Read more about the data collection and processing methodology here.

In this study, DM reports on the characteristics of xenophobic messages directed at older people. By the Ukrainian segment, we describe the posts of profiles, pages, groups, and channels that are located in Ukraine or have indicated Ukraine as their location or were identified by the data providers as Ukrainian. Pro-Russian users of social networks are those accounts or communities that regularly spread Russian propaganda or spread an agenda beneficial to Russia in a hidden form.

Pro-Russian social media users appeal to the image of "Donbas pensioners", whom the "Kyiv regime" allegedly has been killing for eight years, refused to pay pensions, and also constantly suspected of disloyalty. In addition, the enemy’s agitational propaganda uses many reports that the occupying power ensures a dignified older age living. At the same time, the everyday conditions in the occupied territories are much more comfortable. Instead, in the pro-Ukrainian segment of social networks, there are many stories about how older people are evacuated from frontline areas, how volunteers help to organize their lives after arrival [to unoccupied territories] and bring them all the necessary goods, and how the state tries to take care of older people in the de-occupied territories.

Older people as pensioners

In most pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian social network users’ publications, older people appear as non-independent members who will not survive without external help. The most often used word when discussing issues related to them is "pensioners". The posts by pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian social media users are generally similar: pension payments, indexation of pensions, humanitarian aid, discussion of the presence of older people in the army, and stories about life on the other side of the front.

"They have been killing women, children, and the older people for eight years"

The main message spread by Russian propagandists and pro-Russian social media users to older people living in the occupied territories is the same one they use for children. "The war in Ukraine was started by Kyiv in 2014; Ukrainians have been killing women, children, and the older people for eight years" — Russian President Vladimir Putin often repeats this thesis. The Russians use the dead residents of the occupied territories as justification for full-scale aggression against Ukraine. Propagandists publish contradictory numbers of children killed in the territories occupied by the Russians, and representatives of the occupation administrations hold events and build memorials and avenues in memory of these children. Compared to children, representatives of the older generation and women receive less attention from representatives of occupation administrations or propagandists. Older people are mentioned to reinforce the "threat to civilians from the Ukrainian military" in messages such as: "Ukrainian bastards struck a private house in Makiivka, where were children and pensioners".

Pro-Russian users of social networks and propagandists ensure that representatives of the older generation unconditionally support Russia and participate in all pseudo-referendums and pseudo-elections that take place in the occupied territories. Propagandists use the following messages to discuss how Russia worries about the right of older people to "democratic choice":

"We have organized all [electoral] conditions for voters with reduced mobility in the region. Members of the Electoral Commission come to the homes of residents who cannot arrive at the polling stations themselves. But many people of respectable age want to visit the polling stations in person and cast their vote for the future of the Kherson region,"  propagandists reported in September 2023 during pseudo-elections of deputies of the State Duma of Russia in the [Ukrainian] occupied territories. During those pseudo-elections, representatives of "election commissions" with machine guns went around people's homes, used a bunch pro-Russian "experts" passing them off as independent international observers. The UN condemned conducting those pseudo-elections.

Like children, representatives of the older generation of Ukrainians are victims of deportations by the Russians. Stories about shelling by the Ukrainian military are presented here as the reason for deportations and the achievement of "peace" in Russia: "Today, the Ukrainian soldier does not care who he aims at. They shoot blindly following orders. The homes and lives of children and older people were destroyed. They are safe now. They were evacuated. They will live in Russia", stated an anonymous Telegram channel.

Pro-Ukrainian users of social networks discuss the murders and deportation of civilians as crimes caused by Russia. Among pro-Ukrainian users of social networks, representatives of the older generation often come in the same associative row with children and women: "As usual, in response to precise strikes on their expensive equipment, Russian military hysterically hit civilians in Sumy, Zaporizhzhia, and Kryvyi Rih. They take out their anger for their incompetence on women, children, and pensioners", stated a Facebook post.

Pro-Ukrainian users of social networks draw attention to the fact that the Russian military often violates the laws and customs of war, for example, when they seize premises where older people live. In this way, pro-Ukrainian users do not let people forget about the problems of those who remain living in the occupied territories.

Pro-Russian users of social networks do not talk about the use of older people by the Russian military. On the contrary, they create the impression that being retired in the occupied territories is easy and fun. It is delightful for older people, according to them, to be taken care of by the occupation authorities in boarding houses, according to Russian propaganda Telegram channels: "The Donetsk Cossack Song Ensemble gave a concert in the Mariupol home for the older people." In response, pensioners also showed "fun theatrical skits of their production, sang songs about people of respectable age, and danced Russian folk dances. At the end of the event, all participants were given gifts."

Pro-Ukrainian users of social networks with quotes from those who stayed in those boarding houses describe other realities. Here is one such story as told by Oleh Andreev, a resident of Mariupol, who visited the Makiyivka boarding house for the older people: "I was humiliated, and 70% of my pension was taken away. I managed to return to Ukraine and meet his daughter... But my friend Ihor died of diseases due to poor treatment in the occupied territory", as stated in the YouTube video.

Russians and pro-Russian social media users use messages about nursing homes to highlight other propaganda messages. For example, to transfer responsibility for hostilities to Ukraine. In the summer, a pro-Russian Telegram channel reported that older people had settled in a boarding house because "they were fleeing from shelling... escaping from flooding caused by the explosion of the Kakhovska Hydro Power Plant." Thus, these favorable conditions for Russia are "stitched" into reports on domestic issues.

"Submit an application to the local administration or the Russkiy Mir LLC's (Russian World) call center"

Older people who remained in the occupied territories became objects of "concern" of the Russian authorities. Propagandists present as success stories the establishment of control by the occupiers over the lives of older people, the coercion of obedience by threats of deprivation of humanitarian aid, medicines, and social benefits to people without Russian passports, manual management of the distribution of benefits, and establishment of control over the information space. The deficit creation may sometimes look like a deliberate plan aimed at controlling the inhabitants of the occupied territories and presenting the occupiers as saviors. In particular, it is how occupation administrations and representatives of Russkiy Mir LLC deal with distributing free satellite television connection packages. The news about the older people who received the equipment was used for publications advertising how much the occupation authorities "care" about the people who apply for help.

Here is an example of such a message: "Nina Shap, a resident of Siversko-Donetsk, asked to install Russkiy Mir satellite equipment." As part of the Republic's socio-economic development program, specialists installed a set of subscriber equipment for a pensioner free of charge", stated the Telegram post.

From the Russkiy Mir website, which installs free TV signal receivers in the occupied territories of Ukraine (Archived November 13, 2023)

Moreover, representatives of the occupation administrations are engaged in the manual management of processes that, even in propaganda Telegram channels, do not seem to be the coordinated work of the Russian authorities in the occupied territories: "Local pensioners appealed to the Administration of the city of Lysychansk with a request to improve the work of the Pension Fund Office in the Luhansk People’s Republic, to relieve social tension and reduce the queue for re-registration of pensions. The Administration and personally Chairman Eduard Sakhnenko, together with the Pension Fund, promptly responded to population’s requests and improved the organization's work", stated the propagandist Telegram channel.

In addition to representatives of the occupation authorities, representatives of the ruling Russian party "United Russia" receive philanthropism laurels regarding older people's issues. The work of party representatives who "help" older people in the occupied territories looks like a vertically organized service, while the volunteer groups have military titles. These are the words used in the pro-Russian Telegram channel to announce the arrival of the Russian woman Olga Gorsheina to the occupied territories on October 11, 2023: "An activist from Prokopievsk helps the residents of Mariupol. Olga Gorshenina arrived in the city the day before. For two weeks, she will work in the pension fund: she will accept documents and applications from pensioners for pension recalculation and enter them into the database. The girl went to the Donetsk People’s Republic to work as a volunteer in the 46th volunteer detachment in the "Young Guard of United Russia" and the "Volunteer Squadron".

Representatives of the occupation administrations and "United Russia" in the occupied territories also distribute humanitarian aid and hand out cards for food and medicine. However, access to all the listed benefits is not free. In aid announcements, they often write: "You should bring your Russian passport — an original copy and a scanned photocopy." Therefore, without Russian documents, access to charitable assistance is impossible. It applies not only to older people but to all residents in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Russians created the requirement to obtain Russian documents for access to public goods and humanitarian aid in the occupied territories after September 2023, when they held a pseudo-referendum on the annexation of the occupied territories of Ukraine.

Pensions from Russians: "Putin saves up not on missiles and tanks, but on doctors, teachers, and pensioners"

Pro-Russian users of social networks present the pensioner status in the occupied territories as a financial gain. Sometimes, social networks mention pensions as a measure of why one should identify with Russia. Here is a quote from Nina Volkova, a pensioner from Kalanchak, that was shared by a pro-Russian Telegram channel in September 2023: "Well done Volodymyr Volodymyrovych [referring to Zelenskyy], keep it up... I identify as Russian and have always been for Russia. They built a new road in the center, and my pension has increased thrice!". In this quote, the sense of well-being of a Russian woman is tied to the wealth of the Russian state and the budget expenses it incurs.

The Russians used arguments about the supposedly higher standard of living and high Russian pensions before the annexation of Crimea and the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In absolute numbers reported by the Russian authorities, the average Russian pension is higher than the Ukrainian one. According to the Russian Ministry of Labor and Social Protection data, by the end of 2022, the average pension in Russia amounted to almost 20.7 thousand rubles or 10.5 thousand hryvnias per rate as of December 31, 2022. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the average pension at the end of 2022 was 4.6 thousand hryvnias. However, these figures do not report the prices of goods and services in Ukraine and Russia.

Despite the absolute amounts of average pension payments reported by the state bodies of Ukraine and Russia, the pension systems of both countries have the same problems caused by the solidarity system, and in the solidarity pension system, employed persons finance payments to pensioners. Such a pension system works best when the population in the state increases due to the preponderance of births over deaths. However, Ukraine and Russia have had no natural population growth since the second half of the twentieth century. Governments aim to solve this issue by raising the retirement age and increasing budget spending on pension financing. Russia can pay higher pensions due to more generous deductions from government funds received from energy sales, while Ukraine has fewer opportunities to restitute the pension increases. Accordingly, Ukraine reformed the joint pension system to reduce the burden on the state budget, payments from which cover the permanent shortage of funds in pension funds. Ukraine plans to implement a three-level pension system starting in 2024. As a result of this reform, those who work will pay contributions to the pension fund to finance the pensions of those who became pensioners before the reform or will not have time to save for retirement. There will be mandatory retirement pension deductions for those currently working and the opportunity to save for pension in non-state pension funds.

Issues with public finances in Ukraine and Russia appear as messages from pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian users. Pro-Ukrainians discuss sanctions against Russia, which led to an increase in the deficit of the Russian budget. Often, they add an argument about the financing of military actions against Ukraine to the debates about the pressure of sanctions on Russia, which became the cause of sanctions against Russia: "The deficit of the Russian budget due to the war and sanctions has already exceeded three trillion rubles, and Putin is forced to cut spending. However, he saves, of course, not so much on missiles and tanks as on doctors, teachers, and pensioners", stated a Telegram post).

Pro-Ukrainian users of social networks draw attention to the fact that the Russian state cannot cope with the restoration of order and social payments in the territories occupied by it: "Mariupol pensioners wait in line for a Russian pension — local pension branch on Kuprin str. They fight, push each other, and probably rejoice since that's how much they wanted to be in Russia", stated a Telegram post. The existence of queues and delays in the payment of pensions and other payments in the occupied territories is also confirmed by Russian propagandists. For them, the queues look almost like a mandatory attribute of the establishment of the Russian government: "It's strange how in Yenakiieve, the queues for obtaining a passport of the Russian Federation smoothly moved to the "state services" to the Pension Fund... One older woman hit another on the head with a cane for trying to go outside the queue to the Pension Fund building. The disabled woman was taken away by an ambulance, the woman died in the hospital, and the queue continued to stand", mentioned a Telegram post.

Propagandists and pro-Russian users of social networks rarely acknowledge the issues with the occupation authorities' functioning and the delay in payments to representatives of the older generation. They often emphasize the ease of interaction with the Russian state machine. In contrast, Russian propagandists and pro-Russian social media users present the situation in Ukraine with pension payments as a disaster, use out-of-context examples, and invent issues to reinforce the main points of Russian propaganda about:

The dire state of the economy and the alleged lack of care for older people "if Ukraine feeds everyone... why are pensioners scraping pennies for bread for 37 hryvnias?";

Detachment from the life of Ukrainian officials: "While the shiny faces of officials and oligarchs have pathetically "commemorated the victims of the Holodomor", a hungry pensioner ate bread left there directly from the memorial, without waiting for the video cameras to leave";

Alleged Western coercion of Ukraine to fight with Russia and fatigue from Ukraine: "The West is putting Ukraine under fire to subsequently refuse to sponsor Ukraine, into which Americans pour billions of tax investments. It already causes negativity not only among the representatives of the authorities but also among the US residents themselves";

Coercion by international institutions to stop financing social benefits: "The memorandum with the IMF provided for the reduction of social benefits for Ukrainians is now being actively implemented by the Cabinet of Ministers."

Pension from Ukraine: "Will retirement tourism recover?"

After Russia occupied Crimea and part of the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014, Ukraine faced issues with the possibility of paying pensions and other state payments to Ukrainians who remained under occupation. In Ukraine, since 2014, there have been several options for ensuring pension payments, considering the characteristics of various occupied territories. For the residents of Crimea, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine in July 2014 approved the procedure for paying pensions by postal transfers. At the same time, there was a rule that only those who did not receive Russian pensions could receive pensions from Ukraine. It was established by paragraph 2 of Article 7 of the Law "On ensuring the rights and freedoms of citizens and the legal regime in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine".

Another rule was created for residents of the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. According to it, they could receive pensions only in unoccupied territories after registering as internally displaced persons. Some older people have registered as IDPs and crossed the dividing line every month to receive pensions. This practice has been called "pension tourism" among Ukrainian media and politicians.

After the Russian full-scale invasion, the practice of pension tourism and receiving a pension in the occupied territories through remittances became impossible due to active hostilities. There is also a rule about paying pensions to all those who do not receive Russian pensions. Accounts were opened for pensioners from the occupied territories in Oschadbank, from which they could transfer money to other accounts or transfer it to cash. Following this rule, several schemes arose, such as converting hryvnias into Russian rubles and obtaining online access to bank accounts in Ukraine with commissions of 10 percent or more. The state’s take on this after February 24, 2022, claimed that pensions for residents of the occupied territories will be kept in bank accounts. In April 2023, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved a new rule verifying the person receiving a pension. Deputy Prime Minister-Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories Iryna Vereshchuk justifies verifying pensioners as necessary to avoid misuse of other people's funds by fraudsters or occupiers. The pensioner verification procedure is conducted online, through video communication using the "Diya" service, and when receiving pensions in diplomatic institutions of Ukraine, banks abroad, or in the unoccupied territories of Ukraine. Persons who have not withdrawn funds from a pension account within six months can lose payments, with the possibility to be restored later.

Pro-Russian users of social networks present the procedure for verifying pensioners as a threat: "Thousands of Ukrainian pensioners will stop receiving pensions... The Kiev [original transliteration from Russian] regime is depriving thousands of pensioners who went abroad to escape hostilities. It means that pensions in Ukraine will now be received only by those physically present on the country's territory, and God forbid they forget to confirm their identity — their card will be immediately blocked", stated a propagandist Telegram channel.

In practice, the verification procedure has worked adequately and has not caused scandals or mass suspension of pension payments. On the unoccupied territories, human rights defenders criticize the most for terminological and administrative gaps that the Government and the Verkhovna Rada need to settle.

"Zelenskyy’s mobilization of pensioners is part of the genocide against Ukrainian people"

The thesis about the genocide of Ukrainians, which the Ukrainian government itself carries out, allegedly sending everyone to war against Russia, has existed since 2014. Russian propaganda cynically and unprincipledly manipulates that "the Kiev regime [original transliteration from Russian] has decided to fight to the last Ukrainian alive".

Invented explicitly by Putin, the "genocide of Donbas", allegedly committed by Ukraine in 2014-2021, was the justification for a full-scale invasion. In the Russian propaganda view, the Ukrainian government is a puppet of the West, and the war is almost fratricidal. The Ukrainian authorities do not seem to count their losses at the front, so they throw even pensioners to the front.

After February 24, 2022, Russian agitational propaganda began to spread the thesis about "Bankova’s genocide of Ukrainians". It seems that the Ukrainian authorities took their children and relatives abroad on the eve of the invasion and left the rest of the Ukrainians, all of whom are being mobilized without exception, to the Russians’ killing.

According to the logic of Russian propaganda, almost half of the Ukrainian population left the war after the invasion. Only young people and pensioners remain.

In the summer of 2022, Russians spread a fake about mobilizing retired men through social networks. At that time, Russian propaganda manipulated the statements of the ex-head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, Mykola Malomuzha. Although he did not mention pensioners directly, he spoke about the need to "prepare mighty reserves of reserve servicemen with military experience."

  • Read also: Ukraine mobilizes fake pensioners

VoxCheck refuted the fake, explaining the peculiarities of mobilization in Ukraine under martial law conditions. Men between 18 and 60 are mobilized, with a separate rule for up to 65 for senior officers in the reserve. Men's retirement age in Ukraine starts at 60, provided they have enough work experience.

At the beginning of March 2023, one of the Russian TV channels showed a story where a video of an older man was cited as evidence of the mobilization of retired men. It was then shared in a Telegram. There was only one video featuring a Ukrainian TikTok comedy hero, known as "Uncle Tolya", who jokingly told his grandson that he was unfit for service in the Armed Forces. In the story’s plot, Russians spread disinformation that the USA forced Ukraine to "mobilize everyone from the age of 15".

In August 2023, one of the pro-Russian Telegram channels wrote about the alleged demographic catastrophe in Ukraine and the delivery of ьшдшефкн summonses to pensioners: "The emigration of Ukraine’s population is fatal for the state because mostly young people with children have left, and it is quite likely that a significant part of them, will not return. Hundreds of thousands of young men have either died or been wounded in battles, and now older men are receiving summonses to the front, while younger ones have already been called up."

In the fall of 2023, Russian propaganda intensified its disruption of the mobilization in Ukraine. Agitational propaganda spread messages in the Telegram social network stating that Ukrainian social services allegedly collect information about men of retirement age to then pass it on to the military: "Ukrainian social workers are asked to collect data on older men over the age of 60 who are in fairly good physical shape. When Ukraine will run out of pensioners, will women and children be sent to the front? Zelenskyy is carrying out a real genocide of the population!".

One of the pro-Russian Telegram channels reported that a 60-year-old man, Skyba, became the commander of one of the Territorial Defense brigades in the direction of Kupyansk. "The 60-year-old colonel is now the oldest brigadier general, just a year ahead of his colleague Lieutenant General Artur Horbenko, brigadier general of the 125th Territorial Defense brigade. He is only 59 years old. Grandfathers would be sitting quietly in the country, digging potatoes, and here you are on the military front", stated the description of a propaganda video on YouTube.

Artur Horbenko does command the 125th brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In August 2023, in an interview with "Armiyainform", he said that he joined the brigade on the same basis as the rest of its fighters — as a volunteer. Sixty years, according to Article 22 of the Law of Ukraine, "On Military Duty and Military Service" is the maximum age of service for privates, sergeants, foremen, and officers. Whereas in Russia, officers can serve up to 65 years.

At the beginning of October, Russian propagandists spread the manipulation that pensioners under the age of 70 would be mobilized in Ukraine.

By this, they meant the project of the Law on Amendments to Part 2 of Article 22 of the Law of Ukraine "On Military Duty and Military Service" regarding the implementation of the right of persons to stay in military service, which was submitted to the Verkhovna Rada’s Committee on National Security, Defense, and Intelligence.

The Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security and Stopfake have reported that the draft law specifies the mobilization of military personnel with high professional training.

Russia's every information campaign is aimed at discrediting the Ukrainian government and military. Due to the "significant losses of the Armed Forces during the counteroffensive", Zelenskyy, as the Supreme Commander, decided it was necessary to mobilize everyone possible, including pensioners. Using such statements, Russians create a picture where the Ukrainian authorities are "waging war to the last Ukrainian on the instructions of the West".

Pro-Russian blogger Anatoliy Shariy described the alleged results of the Ukrainian delegation's visit to the USA in November in his Telegram channel: "There were two options  a trip for money and a trip for a purpose. Since the money was not given, there can now be two goals: 1) war to the last [person/soldier] and 2) talks. A war to the last suggests strengthening mobilization by drawing pensioners, students, etc., rather than turning yourself into a complete piece of shit. At the same time, society will say, "Stop the war at least somehow!".

Russia has been the one committing the genocide against the Ukrainian people by starting a war against Ukraine in 2014. According to the definition of the crime of genocide in international law, the Russians, according to a plan developed in advance, resort to the destruction of Ukrainians as an ethnic group by persecuting the language speakers, killing citizens with an active public position, deporting children from Ukraine and raising them as Russians.

"Let us participate in the special military operation" — how Russian military pensioners are encouraged to kill Ukrainians

Due to the heavy losses of the Russian occupation army in Ukraine (more than 319,000 soldiers as of the morning of November 20, 2023, according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine), the aggressor country, in addition to the partial mobilization officially announced by Putin, is also undergoing permanent covert mobilization. Mobilization takes place in various ways: building a military recruiting system, forcing conscripts to sign contracts for military service, recruiting prisoners in colonies with promises to cancel criminal records, etc. Putin's signing of the decree dated September 11, 2023, was another option to attract additional power to his army; the document allows Russian military pensioners who have been mobilized or entered into contracts to receive "combat pay" and their military pensions in parallel. Moreover, the latter will be added for the previous service period, starting from the corresponding dates when military pensioners temporarily stopped receiving them. Pro-Russian Telegram users have also discussed it: "Vladimir Putin signed a decree on 100% compensation of military pensions to the participants of the special military operation. The decree preserves the increased pensions for those servicemen who have already become military pensioners but were mobilized after that. Servicemen who have signed a contract will receive their compensation starting from February 24, 2022, and for those drafted into the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation ranks as part of mobilization from September 21 of the same year".

There is no publicly available data on the number of Russian military retirees who joined the army after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Yet, such cases have existed since the issue of returning their military pensions was raised in Russia at the beginning of 2023. In some cases, military pensioners are not older people. In Russia, you can become a retired military officer at 40, and even earlier, depending on your health. Those not fit for combat by age or health can work as military instructors. Therefore, with the help of additional payments, the Putin regime will be able to obtain a certain number of relatively well-trained and ideologically loyal fighters. DM has recorded an almost anecdotal and revealing situation in Russia with a military pensioner. The liberal Russian opposition Telegram channel discussed it as well: "On September 3, a military pensioner in the suburbs of Moscow committed suicide because he was not drafted into the war. A 57-year-old man complained to his acquaintances that he wanted to fight, but he was not accepted into the army due to his health. At the same time, the neighbors last talked to him on the evening of September 2, and the retiree said that he drank two bottles of vodka. A 57-year-old man. Alcoholic. Eager to kill Ukrainians. Military conscription services did not accept him. Following this grief, he gets drunk. And dies. Much of Russian society lives in this unimaginable, idiotic sur as part of their reality." Pro-Ukrainian users of social networks write that there are older people in the occupation army, and not always those with appropriate military training: "A 60-year-old Russian prisoner tells how their BMP crew was formed with only older people, among whom there was no one who would have any experience and knowledge...".

The Russians are also building a pension system for veterans in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Moreover, it does not matter to the invaders that these people served in the Ukrainian army, with which they are currently fighting: "Citizens who permanently reside as of September 30, 2022, in the territories of the new subjects of the Russian Federation will be able to receive the payment, which must be confirmed by a mark in the passport. According to Russian norms, citizens of the Russian Federation can receive a pension for completing military and equivalent service, as well as military pensioners from these regions who left for the territory of the Russian Federation, in particular through third countries from 2014 until September 29, 2022", as stated the occupational Telegram channels. Therefore, through this system and the new order of payments, which was discussed above, the occupiers probably expect to attract to their army Ukrainian military pensioners who live in the temporarily occupied territories because the socio-economic crisis due to the war unleashed by Russia and their occupation has deepened.

"Ukrainian intelligence recruits Russian pensioners to set fire to military conscription offices"

In the summer of 2023, a wave of arson and attempted arson swept through Russia at the facilities of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Russian Railways, and the Sberbank of Russia. Most of the affected buildings were the so-called "military conscription offices", and, according to Russians, they were set on fire mainly by older people or very young students. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia even had to issue an appeal to the public regarding this practice: "The attacks on military commissars have become more frequent in Russia: in the last week alone, there were more than 20 cases. People arrested for arson, from whom you would not normally expect such actions, were pensioners, a young teacher, and a factory worker. Almost all of them claim during interrogations that they received instructions from unknown people who called them, calling themselves FSB employees. The "military commissars" were attacked in Russia in 2022 as well, but then they were completed mostly by the ideological opponents of the war against Ukraine. According to propagandists, in 2023, people are being persuaded to do it by "unknown telephone scammers", who, in the meantime, extort considerable sums of money from older people. According to the agitational propaganda version, fraudsters mainly call themselves employees of the Russian Federation’s FSB, the police, or the Central Bank and sometimes threaten older people.

According to the Russian publication Mediazone (Медиазона), which has the status of a foreign agent, during the period from February 24, 2022, to April 1, 2023, there were 113 attacks on buildings of Russian security agencies (FSB, police, Rosgvardiya). Among them, 84 were military conscription points in Russia.

In the summer of 2023, attempts to destroy Russian military conscription offices by fire significantly increased. Only from July 29 to August 2, 2023, according to Russian media, there were 30 arsons. Most of those blamed were older people. Likewise, an 82-year-old pensioner from Volgograd came to the military conscription office with a Molotov cocktail.

Some of the detained Russians allegedly reported that fraudsters "forced" them to set fire to the military conscription offices. Those called them anonymously and were forced to take out loans. After the military conscription offices were destroyed, they were promised to close their loans. Russian propaganda blamed the Ukrainian special services for all of it. According to the deputy chairman of Sberbank of Russia, coordination of "terrorist attacks" was carried out through a network of call centers — thousands of which were found in Dnipro alone.

The FSB of Russia explained the "Ukrainian trail" using the statement: "Ukrainian special services are behind the arson at Russian Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and RZ (Russian Railways) facilities in Russia, which place ads offering "quick money" on the Internet. Ukrainian special services are betting on the youth, the older people, the marginalized, and the mentally ill. The recruiters inform their wards that their actions will be classified as crimes of minor gravity, and all costs will be covered by the promised fee, usually from 10 to 20 thousand rubles, and the return of the money spent [on arson]."

Moreover, pro-Russian users of social networks accuse Ukraine of training saboteurs to commit terrorist acts in the temporarily occupied Crimea. According to their version, the British-American organization "Halo Trust" (HT) helped Ukraine in this and since 2014 has been engaged in civilian demining in the frontline territories of Ukraine and allegedly prepared the older people to become saboteurs: "DM recalls that the British-American organization Halo Trust, which allegedly prepared "deminers", in fact, trained saboteurs in mine-explosive matters on the territory of Ukraine. Similarly, the instructors of the alleged HT charity fund were also engaged in such activities during the conflict in Chechnia. As part of the "Resistance" program in Ukraine, women, children and the older people, who live mainly in the territory of Donbas and the south of Ukraine, were trained to participate in the subversive activities" (from the propaganda Telegram channel).

The representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Vadym Skybytskyy, commented on the arson attacks: "The responsibility for the massive arson of military conscription offices in Russia lies solely within Putin's criminal regime. One can assume that the Russians are simply tired of the illegal and hopeless war started by their government and, in this way, express their disagreement with the Kremlin's aggressive policy.

The arsons are still taking place. On November 18, a 74-year-old female resident of Novosibirsk was arrested and accused of setting fire to the military military conscription office. According to the investigation’s version, a female resident allegedly acted "according to a priorly agreed conspiracy" and "aimed at destabilizing the authorities’ activities".

Fraud against the older people

Older people are considered an unsuspecting and vulnerable social group. They find it harder to distinguish lies from the truth.

Fraudsters, taking advantage of the plight of Ukrainian citizens in the war, adapted their deception schemes to modern times. Now, scammers promise people financial assistance from the state or pretend to be representatives of banking institutions and international and charitable organizations. According to the results of this year's large-scale October survey by the National Bank and Opendatabot, every ninth surveyed Ukrainian became a victim of fraudsters since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. It turned out that, quite often, criminals target people aged 65+.

According to the social networks’ messages that DM has analyzed as part of the study, scammers conned older people in person — under the guise of providing material or humanitarian assistance (calling themselves volunteers and saying they could buy medicine with their money, for example); online — by sending phishing links; using schemes such as "Your relative is in trouble"; or via phone calls from alleged bankers. Thus, a pensioner became a victim of pseudo-financial assistance in the Cherkasy region: "The man subscribed to fake financial assistance via the Internet, after which the money disappeared from his bank account. A woman contacted the police and said her husband had fallen into a fraudulent scheme. The pensioner followed a phishing link in one of the social networks and entered his bank card details. Later, about 9 thousand hryvnias disappeared from his account", mentioned a Facebook post.

To combat fraudsters, police officers in Ukraine teach older people how to think critically and protect themselves from such crimes. For example, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, the police discussed popular fraud schemes to protect older people from falling "on the hook" of criminals. The police of the Ternopil Region publish videos on its YouTube channel which discuss various scenarios used by scammers.

Evacuation from frontline areas

Russian propaganda claims that the Ukrainian authorities are indifferent to older people living in frontline areas. Allegedly, Ukraine does not help them evacuate; therefore, it does not need these older people anymore. By using such wordings, Russia is trying to discredit the top leadership of Ukraine and create division within the Ukrainian society, saying that there are "more important" and "more profitable" social groups: "Families with children are an economically active population group, men have a mobilization potential." However, the statement that people of a respectable age are forgotten in the frontline territories is false. Often, older people have no desire to evacuate because they have lived in these areas all their lives. Andriy Besedin, the head of Kupyansk’s Сity Military Administration, says:

"Unfortunately, as we expected, people refuse to evacuate in most cases. Most of them are pensioners, i.e., older people. But we constantly run bus routes connecting the city of Kupyansk with the regional center. The train runs all the time. People can apply for an evacuation there is a hotline. We react immediately, make lists, and volunteers take them to Kharkiv".

Moreover, Russian agitational propaganda promotes the thesis that people from the frontline zones allegedly do not want to be evacuated to territories under the control of the "Kyiv regime" and are waiting for liberation by Russia despite everything. They are the so-called "awaiters" (zhduny, ждуни). Russia is trying to convey the thesis that residents have allegedly changed their minds or never expressed a desire to evacuate to safer territories of Ukraine. At the same time, the propagandists referred to the words of Andriy Kanashevich, the head of the Kupyansk District Administration, who said that in the Kupyansk District, as of October 20, 2023, the rate of evacuation dropped to 10 people per day. Many of the population left earlier, so the evacuation rate naturally decreased.

It is worth mentioning that the Ukrainian "White Angel" crew of police officers are evacuating people from the frontline areas and bringing them humanitarian aid. Five evacuation crews covered the directions to Avdiivskyi, Bakhmutskyi, Velikonovosilkivskyi, Mariinskyi, and Lymanskyi regions. As of March 2023, the police evacuated more than 5,000 people, including older people. They often have only a few minutes to complete their work since, upon noticing a police car, Russian troops immediately begin targeted fire on the vehicles.

Older people and the "finally everything will be as before" ideology

In the sample of propaganda messages in the Russian segment, older people were depicted stereotypically. As a rule, they are "weak" people who need protection, and Ukraine does not care about them. "Ukrainian local "guards of order" are constantly terrorizing and killing ordinary "grandmothers" who sell vegetables on the street." Meanwhile, pro-Russian Telegram users reported on helping such people: "Today's distribution of food kits to pensioners (or persons of respectable age, the status of "pensioner" does not determine a person's age DM) was full of joy and gratitude." Other messages describe the pension for older people from the temporarily occupied territories and the efforts of the occupation authorities to "improve" their lives: "The best gratitude for Russia is to see smiles on the older people’s faces".

All these messages about the so-called care of older people are designed to create a positive image of the aggressor country, as well as to ideologically fix these people as Russia’s supporters, saying that Moscow "protects" them. One such example was the "Woman with a Red Flag", which symbolized support for the war against Ukraine in Russia. It was due to a video circulated on social networks, where a woman came out to the Ukrainian military with a Soviet flag, while some in Russia dedicated monuments and poems to her. This case with the older woman and the Soviet flag was actively used as an example of how Ukrainians [in the occupied territories] should support the occupying power.

Citylight with an image of an older Ukrainian woman with a red flag and the inscription "Under the victory flag" in St. Petersburg. BBC Ukraine

Therefore, Russian propaganda uses older people as an ideological resource to consolidate and legitimize its actions. "Even in difficult conditions, many "pensioners" take an active part in the election process of the "new regions" (the so-called referenda and pseudo-elections — DM). Nothing can stop these steadfast men and women who pay tribute to the future state that cares for them and will continue to care for them." In fact, in this manner, the pro-Russian users of social networks cultivate the idea of a "Soviet person" in the older people — to explain why older adults should support Russia.

The rhetoric regarding the people in the territories liberated by Ukraine is somewhat different: if during the occupation, people of a respectable age are glorified, heroized, and set as an example, then for the residents of the de-occupied territories, Russia constantly reports on the "inability" of the Ukrainian authorities to cope with the older people’s social security:

"The grandpa will be judged in Kharkov [original transliteration from Russian]; he prepared a firewood cart for the winter in the Kupyansk forest farm. The authorities do not care that there is no heating and people do not have money to buy coal or firewood. People are trying to prepare for winter on their own, but this is prohibited by law." Russians try to dispel panic reports about how people in Ukraine are in poverty, including older people, and the Ukrainian leadership only throws up its hands: "The standard of living for "pensioners" in Ukraine is catastrophically low compared to last year".

In general, DM recorded significantly more posts about older people in the occupied territories, who, according to anonymous Telegram channels, are more valued and respected under the Russian occupation than in Ukraine. In contrast, there are isolated posts about Ukraine, a failed country where vulnerable society groups do not receive proper help.

Gerontocracy and agitational propaganda: "sleepy Joe" vs. "bunker grandpa"

Gerontocracy is a form of authority where older people or the oldest persons hold power. In a gerontocratic system, older people dominate the decision-making process and occupy key positions of political influence. Such a situation arose in the 1970s in the Soviet Union when the average age of Politburo members was 70 years — General Secretary Brezhnev, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gromyko, Minister of Defense Ustinov, Brezhnev's successors Andropov and Chernenko.

Pro-Russian users of social networks are furious that if, in the late Soviet period, photos from parades and demonstrations in the USSR were a reason for foreigners’ irony, then now we see "Soviet gerontocracy in an American style." Propaganda relies on stereotypes and prejudices about aging, using them to undermine the credibility of the US leaders. Russian agitational propaganda often focuses on the age of US President Joe Biden and portrays the US administration as run by older people. These messages make the case that senior management is less effective and less flexible to change. Propagandists often emphasize the physical health of the American leadership. In particular, they call the American president "sleepy Joe" (originally, this phrase was coined by Donald Trump, and the Russians picked it up). Russian propagandists often mention the video where Biden tripped over the airplane ramp while climbing to board the airplane. In their opinion, it indicates his weakness and poor health.

In September 2023, Biden joined a United Auto Workers (UAW) union rally and, after hearing a sound resembling a body falling, joked that it wasn't him who fell. As a sign of solidarity with the workers, Biden wore a sweater with the organization's symbols, and a rally participant helped him put it on. In one of the anonymous Telegram channels, it was suggested that the US president has Alzheimer's disease because he is unable to cope with such an essential thing as dressing: "So what questions can there be to the nickname that stuck to the grandfather." For persuasiveness, agitational propaganda asks various "psychological doctors" for expertise, who assure that Biden has impaired essential cognitive functions and suffers from Parkinson's disease and multi-infarct dementia. They expressed the opinion that Biden's weakness is only a pretense to "confuse his opponents, and at the same time check the establishment’s reaction".

"Biden is ten years older [than Putin], but Putin is still the one being called a 'grandpa'", states one of the main agitational propaganda’s points. By calling Putin a "grandpa", pro-Ukrainian users of social networks try to emphasize Putin's inadequacy and detachment from reality. In 2021, the team of Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalnyy published an investigation into Putin's palace near Gelendzhik, with an alleged large bunker beneath it. Since then, Putin stuck with the "bunker grandpa" nickname. In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, "grandpa" was isolated in his bunker to avoid infection and unwanted health consequences. Already in 2022, after a full-scale invasion, the phrase "bunker grandpa" acquired a much more tragic meaning: he leads a "special military operation", killing the civilian population of Ukraine, while he is isolated, underground, cut off from reality and does not see the accurate picture neither on the battlefield, nor in his barracks, nor the country in general. Pro-Ukrainian users of social networks appeal to the image of Putin as a "bunker grandpa" not due to his biological age but in the effort to conserve the political system, expand conservative ideology, and establish a retrograde social order.

The so-called "Putin’s Squad", consisting mainly of older women, adds to the aura of Putin's old age.


It is crucially essential to cultivate the values of tolerance and respect for older age for Ukrainian society to become more resistant to the harmful effects of gerontophobia, stereotyping of older age, and manipulation of issues of older people, and for older people themselves to be less vulnerable to propaganda. The National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) survey of public opinion on the perception of disinformation in Ukraine, which was conducted in the format of focus groups in the period from August 30 to September 8, 2023, makes several recommendations on how, under the current media consumption in Ukraine, to neutralize public opinion vulnerability to misinformation. In particular, it is necessary to inform about the tactics of the Russian information war and the dangers of trusting anonymous sources of information. The recommendations also emphasized the importance of relying on the authorities’ official position to avoid contradictions and manipulations.

In times of war, vulnerable groups of people experience additional hardship due to their specific risks and special needs. For older people, such challenges have become the issues of pension provision and evacuation, weakness in the assimilation to the new technologies, and vulnerability to fraud and misinformation. Russian propaganda tries to take advantage of these difficult life circumstances, ignoring the fact that some of them arose because of its aggression against Ukraine.

Since 2014, the Ukrainian state has been faced with the dilemma of two options when it comes to paying pensions to residents of the occupied territories: to direct state budget funds to territories under the control of Russian militants or to set limits on such pensions’ payments. All the years before the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian state bodies, together with human rights defenders, tried to find the right balance. Paying pensions to the residents of the occupied territories meant not being sure that they would find an addressee and would not be partially or fully used by the militants. It also meant indirect financing of the occupied regions, which collected taxes from its residents. As a result, pensions were formally received only by pensioners registered as IDPs. Still, the state accepted that many such pensioners continued to live in their homes in the occupied territories. At the same time, Ukraine introduced procedures for verifying pensioners' actual places of residence to reduce payments. It gave rise to "retirement tourism", where older people regularly faced the difficulties of crossing the dividing line. Fraudulent practices against older people often accompanied such verification and tourism.

Although under international law, responsibility for the deterioration of the social and economic rights of people in the occupied territories rests with Russia. The procedure of verifying residents of the occupied territories was considered by lawyers and eventually recognized by the Supreme Court as discriminatory. These legal collisions also raise the problem of the controversies accumulated over the years of suspension of payments of Ukraine's debt to the pensioners of the occupied territories.

With the full-scale invasion, the issue of older people’s low mobility, which hinders their timely evacuation, became even more acute. At the same time, it is not only about the physical causes of low mobility but also about the reduced psychological readiness of older people to leave their homes. Low social security and low adaptive skills lead many older people to believe evacuation will mean destitute.

During the full-scale war, the issue of older people's inadaptability to new technologies became highlighted in a new way. In times of need, they are the least informed about the possible options for solving their problems and are vulnerable to various types of misinformation. In Ukraine, this problem was partially overcome by the launch of several educational initiatives for older people. These are public universities of the third wave, where older people adapt to modern social life by studying foreign languages and information technologies, and public initiatives that teach older people media literacy and digitalization. In the summer of 2023, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, together with the United Nations Development Program in Ukraine, presented a new educational series on the "Diya.Osvita" (Дія.Освіта) platform — Basic digital skills for people of an elegant age. The course contains ten series, teaching how to install messengers on a smartphone, use search engines, make an appointment with a doctor, top up a mobile account, and use "Diya.Osvita" digital education hubs. We recorded social network users' posts promoting and sharing their experiences with similar initiatives.

Therefore, older people face particular problems reflected in social networks. Meanwhile, Russian propaganda, using older people’s objective issues, the difficulties caused by the Russian aggression, and suddenly invented images of older people, justifies its aggression against Ukraine.

The response to such propaganda can probably be the purposeful work of the Ukrainian state and its society to develop older people’s social adaptation and the growth of their living standards.

Main page illustration: Nataliya Lobach / Detector Media

NGO “Detector Media” has been working for our readers for over 20 years. In times of elections, revolutions, pandemics and war, we continue to fight for quality journalism. Our experts develop media literacy of the audience, advocate for the rights of journalists, and refute Russian disinformation.

“Detector Media” resumes the work of our Community and invites those who believe that the media should be better: more professional, truthful and transparent.


Support us. Become part of the project!

Every day, our team prepares the freshest and independent materials for you. We would be extremely grateful for any support you may have. Your donations are an opportunity to do even more.

Support us