Media and the War in Ukraine

by Mette Mortensen (Volume editor) Mervi Pantti (Volume editor)
©2023 Textbook XII, 238 Pages
Series: Global Crises and the Media, Volume 29


This volume aims to deepen our understanding of the dynamic intersections of war and media in the rapidly transforming media ecology and the reordered geopolitical context. Since Russia’s fullscale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a new set of media practices and actors have entered the field of contemporary war. The volume examines the ways in which the digital media and communication environment is involved in and shape the war in Ukraine. The chapters in the volume analyse the expanding mesh of media—from mainstream broadcasting and press to social media platforms, and the latest digital technologies—and address four key themes: media infrastructures and the interplay between platforms, technologies, institutions and civic actors; open-source intelligence contributing to (dis)information about the war; the everyday life of war performed and documented on social media; and different interplays between the local and the global in the news coverage of the war.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part One: Media Infrastructures
  • Chapter 1. Understanding the Ukrainian Informational Order in the Face of the Russian War (Göran Bolin and Per Ståhlberg)
  • Chapter 2. Swarm Communication in a Totalising War: Media Infrastructures, Actors and Practices in Ukraine during the 2022 Russian Invasion (Kateryna Boyko and Roman Horbyk)
  • Chapter 3. Social Media Platforms Responding to the Invasion of Ukraine (Mervi Pantti and Matti Pohjonen)
  • Part Two: The Use of Open-Source Intelligence
  • Chapter 4. Open-Source Actors and UK News Coverage of the War in Ukraine: Documenting the Impacts of Conflict and Incidents of Civilian Harm (Jamie Matthews)
  • Chapter 5. Faking Sense of War: OSINT as Pro-Kremlin Propaganda (Marc Tuters and Boris Noordenbos)
  • Part Three: Everyday Media in War
  • Chapter 6. TikTok(ing) Ukraine: Meme-Based Expressions of Cultural Trauma on Social Media (Tom Divon and Moa Eriksson Krutrök)
  • Chapter 7. ‘Grandma Warriors’ on YouTube: Negotiating Intersectional Distinctions and De/legitimisations of the War in Ukraine (Marja Lönnroth-Olin, Satu Venäläinen, Rusten Menard, Teemu Pauha and Inga Jasinskaja-Lahti)
  • Part Four: News and Geopolitics
  • Chapter 8. The Emotional Gap? Foreign Reporters, Local Fixers and the Outsourcing of Empathy (Johana Kotišová)
  • Chapter 9. Indian Press Coverage of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine (Antal Wozniak and Zixiu Liu)
  • Chapter 10. Reporting the War in Ukraine: Ecological Dissimulation in a Dying World (Simon Cottle)
  • Participative War: The New Paradigm of War and Media
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


We are grateful to the authors of all chapters who made this book possible. We would especially like to thank the Global Crises and the Media Series Editor, Professor Simon Cottle for his continuous support and Professor Andrew Hoskins for generously sharing his insight and time to write the Afterword for this collection. We are grateful to Photographer Rio Gandara and Helsingin Sanomat for the permission to use the poignant photo of the war in Ukraine on the cover of this book.

This book was supported by the Academy of Finland under grant No. 332751.


Media perspectives on Russia’s war in Ukraine: Infrastructures, practices and everyday life

As we are writing this in March 2023, no end is in sight for the horrendous war in Ukraine despite the motivated Ukrainian resistance supported by Western arms and the ‘unexpected’ weakness of the Russian military. This war has been defined as ‘the most connected’ in history (Ford and Hoskins 2022), echoing how every war from the twentieth century into the twenty-first has been represented, shaped and defined by the prevailing media technologies at the given point in history. Since the invasion in February 2022, we have seen how popular social media platforms have become crucial arenas for information warfare but also for mobilising support and narrating the war. For example, at the outset of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed directly for international help through selfie videos taken on the war-ridden streets of Kyiv. More mundane social media forms are also proliferating. For example, as ‘part of modern folklore’, memes using playful and dark humour are circulated to comment on the hardship of the Ukrainian people and Russia’s atrocious conduct (Antoniuk 2022).

We have also seen how disinformation, augmented by platforms and their algorithmic designs, has become an integral and systematic part of war propaganda. This takes the form of, for instance, conspiracy theories claiming that there is no war in Ukraine or that the Ukrainian government is infiltrated by Neo-Nazis (OECD 2022). And we have seen how generative AI tools are deployed by both state actors and citizens to verify information, detect locations and identify individuals; for example, software from the controversial company Clearview has been used to identify fallen Russian soldiers (Hagerty 2023). At the same time, examples abound of attempts to control and tame ‘the most connected war’: State censorship has intensified, and regulations such as the Digital Services Act (DSA) have been implemented to ensure a more accountable online environment.

Media and the Ukraine Crisis: Hybrid Media Practices and Narratives of Conflict was the title of our first volume on media and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine (Pantti 2016). It was published in 2016, following events that shook the foundations of the European security order. The annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the involvement of the Russian military on Ukrainian territory brought back military aggression, which Europeans had thought was a thing of the past. The aggression was seen as a breach of international law and was followed by a series of economic sanctions against Russia by the EU and the United States, as well as Russia’s expulsion from the G7. European news media aligned with the frames of the EU and brought the term ‘new cold war’ into the lexicon (Boyd-Barrett 2017; Ojala and Pantti 2017). This new volume examines media and the war in Ukraine in the rapidly changing media ecology and the reordered geopolitical context.

The ten chapters and the afterword included in this volume address a wide range of media forms, platforms and content as well as a new set of media practices and actors that have entered the field of contemporary war. Taken together, chapters investigate the war in Ukraine as it is framed, responded to and enacted in and through various media in different national and transnational settings. In this introduction, we first present the information war that has been amplified with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, before introducing four key themes that are studied throughout the book: (1) media infrastructures and the interplay between platforms, technologies, institutions and civic actors; (2) open-source intelligence contributing to (dis)information about the war; (3) the everyday life of war performed and documented on social media; and (4) a critical revisiting of a classical issue in scholarship on war and media, namely how news coverage of conflict is framed and conditioned by different interplays between the local and the global.

Information war

During the first year of the war, claims of Ukraine winning the information war, the battle for (Western) hearts and minds, continuously made the headlines of international news media (see e.g. Aral 2022; Butler 2022). Since the invasion, Ukraine’s self-defence has dominated the information space in the West, not only gaining political, economic and military help but also mobilising moral support and wide compassion. The invasion has united Western democracies, at least temporarily. The European Council, in a statement at the outbreak of the war on 24 February 2022, strongly condemned Russia’s ‘unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine’ with which ‘Russia is grossly violating international law and the principles of the UN Charter and undermining European and global security and stability’ (EC 2022). Following up on this stance, the EU has introduced expanded economic and individual sanctions against Russia, and many EU and North American countries have supplied arms to Ukraine. In the Western governments’ framing, the war has been seen as defending democratic values against actions taken by an authoritarian regime. This framing echoed President Zelensky’s (2023) narrative of Russia’s war against Ukraine being between evil and good, with his country protecting democracy and freedom.

It is not surprising that the Russian narratives used to build an enemy- image and legitimate the invasion, including Kyiv being overrun by ‘Nazis’ or Ukraine threatening ethnic Russians (Grigor and Pantti 2021; Splidsboel Hansen 2016), have not gained ground in Europe, as they defied observable reality. A further justification of the invasion purported by Russia has been that the West is to blame for the start of the war due to its hostility towards Russia. Moreover, despite great human and material losses in the war, the Russian narrative has enduringly been that Russia’s victory is inevitable. For example, President Vladimir Putin delivered a televised state of the nation address on 21 February 2023, three days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in which he expressed confidence that Russia would prevail on the battlefield. Yet all these communicative and political attempts at winning the war narrative have failed to stop Western support to Ukraine’s effort to fight the Russian aggression. In the West, the war has unanimously been regarded as an unjustified and unprovoked military aggression against a sovereign state.

Since the invasion, disinformation has increased on social media platforms (OECD 2022). War propaganda has proliferated by using digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and TikTok to misrepresent the war in Ukraine. TikTok became a dominant channel for disinformation, partly because of its inadequately resourced moderation policies (Frenkel 2022). While for many Ukrainian TikTok users the platform provided an arena to narrate the reality of war, out-of-context video manipulations and disinformation seeking attention or profit also proliferated. The current information war points to the ongoing development of forms of disinformation and tactics such as fake debunking videos, social media influencers being paid to promote propaganda and audio misinformation on TikTok (reusing audio tracks on top of unrelated videos).

At the same time, Ukraine has made a substantial and systematic effort to counter malign narratives and disinformation, while also promoting its own narrative. Ukraine’s ‘winning’ of the information war is partly due to various actors’ preparation for Russian interference. Since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian civil society organisations, such as the fact-checking website Stopfake (Bolin et al. 2016; Khaldarova and Pantti 2016), the Disinformation Coordination Hub and the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, have attempted to battle disinformation and sustain Ukraine’s resilience to Russian information campaigns with the help of international funding and collaboration with international civil society organisations that specialise in fact-checking, media literacy and governmental agencies (NED 2023). Moreover, the Ukrainian IT Army, composed of international and Ukrainian volunteer hackers, work in collaboration with officials from Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence to target Russian infrastructure and websites.

Media infrastructures and the shaping of connected war

It is a continuing and critical task for scholars from different disciplines to examine how media and information technologies create the infrastructures that shape how wars are represented and played out. Studies of the relationship between media and war have investigated the impact of broadcast and print journalism on public opinion and, consequently, policymaking (e.g. Cottle 2009; Hallin 1986; Robinson 2002; Thussu and Freedman 2003; Taylor 2003). Starting with Harold D. Lasswell’s (1927, 1938) pioneering propaganda research in the interwar period, scholars have paid attention to how media framings of war have been conditioned by states’ efforts to control and curate information from the frontline. Media serve as tools of war in the hands of a wide array of state and non-state actors. They constitute a channel for making conflicts knowable and visible for local and global audiences and as one of the environments in which war is waged and shaped – as understood in scholarly discussions concerning ‘mediatized conflicts’ in reference to media as an entity that is actively involved in co-structuring conflict (Cottle 2014; Eskjær et al. 2015; Hoskins and O’Loughlin 2010).


XII, 238
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2024 (February)
War in Ukraine Social Media Media and War Journalism Information War Disinformation Digital Platforms Open-Source Intelligence Mette Mortensen Mervi Pantti Media and the War in Ukraine
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, Oxford, 2023. XII, 238 pp., 4 b/w ill., 1 color ill., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Mette Mortensen (Volume editor) Mervi Pantti (Volume editor)

Mette Mortensen is Professor at the Department of Communication, University of Copenhagen. Her research is concerned with media and confl ict, visual media studies, and popular culture and populism. Mervi Pantti is Professor in Media and Communication at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. Her research is concerned with confl ict and disaster journalism, emotion in media, media and immigration, digital platforms, disinformation and media accountability.


Title: Media and the War in Ukraine