In the early morning hours of Feb. 24, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced the start of a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine. It was a euphemism. The land, sea, and aerial attacks amounted to what Reuters called the largest military invasion in Europe since World War II.
Just after midnight local time, as the conflict rolled into a new day, the Ukrainian government’s official Twitter account sent a message to the world. It posted a political cartoon of an oversized Adolf Hitler staring deeply into Putin’s eyes, his hand touching the Russian president’s face, like a father admiring his son. The cartoon was uncredited. Its meaning was clear.
Two hours later, the same account replied with an additional message, underscoring the severity of the moment: “This is not a ‘meme’, but our and your reality right now.”
Ukraine’s posting didn’t stop with the cartoon. “Tag @Russia,” it tweeted in English, “and tell them what you think about them.”
Ukraine has repeatedly posted memes and other tongue-in cheeks comments:
Ukraine’s meme warfare comes in stark contrast to the Russian government’s well-documented propaganda efforts: Disinformation about Ukraine, the US, and NATO have steadily flowed from Moscow-controlled news outlets like Russia Today, as well as state-owned agencies like Sputnik, and fake social media accounts, Politico reported in January.
The Ukrainian government insists the tweet comparing Putin to Hitler is decidedly not a meme. But the country demonstrated that its resistance to the ongoing war will, in part, include pleas to the world on social media—a modern show of soft power, an appeal to humanity, as missiles rain down on Ukraine and violence erupts along its borders.
Maybe memes can help with that.