Gesturing to the artillery shell lodged in the ground and a rocket protruding from the wall, Maksym Katerynyn was in a rage. These were Ukrainian munitions, he shouted. And it was Ukrainian artillery that struck his home the day before and killed his mother and stepfather.
“The Russians are not hitting us!” Mr. Katerynyn barked. “Ukraine is shelling us!”
But that was next to impossible: There were no Russian soldiers for the Ukrainians to shell in the eastern city of Lysychansk, and it was clear that the projectiles had come from the direction of Sievierodonetsk, a neighboring city, much of which has been seized by Russian forces.
The fact that Mr. Katerynyn believed this, and that his neighbors nodded in agreement as he careened through his neighborhood condemning their country, was a telling sign: The Russians clearly already had a foothold here — a psychological one.
“I will ask Uncle Putin to launch a rocket where these creatures launched their rockets from,” Mr. Katerynyn said, standing next to the backyard graves of his mother and stepfather, referring to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. He wanted the Ukrainian military to get out, he said heatedly, using an expletive.
It was not always like this in Lysychansk, an industrial city with a prewar population of 100,000. Now it is isolated from most of the world, with no cell service, no pension payments and intensifying Russian shelling. But some residents have turned into receptive audiences of Russian propaganda — or they have taken to spreading it themselves.
They are able to listen over the radio, both hand-held and in their cars, and to watch pro-Russian television channels when generator power allows. Given Lysychansk’s proximity to Russia, those channels appear to have a stronger hold in some neighborhoods than their Ukrainian counterparts do.
“When you’re hit over the head with the same message, you just drown in it,” said Nina Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York, who teaches a course on the politics of propaganda. “After awhile, you don’t know what the truth is. The message takes over your reality.” [Continue reading…]