Фото: aljazeera.com

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine led to radical changes in the lives of Ukrainians. Some people took up arms and heroically defend our Motherland on the frontline, others joined the volunteer movement and provide the army with everything necessary. Some entrepreneurs are developing their business to support the long-suffering Ukrainian economy even in war-time. Living conditions have changed a lot in Ukraine: some people lost their property due to Russian shelling of peaceful cities, others lost their jobs, health, security, and the opportunity to provide their children with a good education. Some Ukrainians have spent their entire lives in the occupied territories.

These changes prompted many Ukrainians to leave the country. According to the results of OPORA’s recent study, more than 8 million Ukrainians are currently living abroad – about 20% of the country’s population. Members of the general public have a mixed attitude toward those who went abroad: the majority understand and support their decision. But judging by online discussions and comments, some of our compatriots abroad have forgotten about their Ukrainian identity, so they can no longer be expected to come back home. Civil Network OPORA decided to cut this Gordian knot by asking Ukrainian immigrants about their interest in following the events in Ukraine and their plans to return home. For this purpose, we initiated an extensive research on socio-political activity and media consumption habits of Ukrainians abroad. The survey was carried out by Sociological group “Rating” during the period from April 8 to May 19, 2023, in 7 countries (Great Britain, Israel, Spain, Germany, USA, Hungary and Czech Republic).

As previously reported by OPORA, Ukrainian immigrants are doing a lot in an attempt to draw the Western community’s attention to the events in Ukraine. However, the decision on whether to return home or stay abroad depends not only on the willingness of those who left the country, but also on how Ukraine communicates with them. In this publication, we will explain how Ukrainians abroad consume news and where do they get their information from. The state government and civil society will be able to maintain stable contacts with those who have left Ukraine, only if they get an understanding of these subtle aspects.

Where do Ukrainians abroad get their news from?

We asked Ukrainians abroad if they are interested in following the events in Ukraine and received a clear-cut answer: 82% of respondents are keeping track of political events in Ukraine on a constant basis, 74% are following the events taking place in their hometown or village. The respondents are mainly interested in following the events related to full-scale Russian invasion. They monitor the situation on the frontline and shelling reports on a regular basis, as well as follow the news about political and economic matters in Ukraine. The respondents also take a keen interest in the lives of their close ones that stay in Ukraine, 79% communicate with their relatives and friends on a regular basis. At the same time, only 24% of respondents display unfailing interest in the political life of receiving country.

We also asked Ukrainians abroad if they are tired of following the news in Ukraine. As it turned out, 95% of the respondents received information about Ukraine on the day preceding the survey day, of which 61% obtained a large amount of information. Although some participants of in-depth interviews complained of news fatigue due to excessive consumption of media content, they continue tracking Ukrainian news on a daily basis.

Social media and messengers serve as the main sources of news for Ukrainian immigrants in all 7 countries – 50% and 47% correspondingly. They are especially popular with the youth, but the older the respondents, the lower the intensity of use of these media platforms. Half as many respondents visit the news websites (23%), watch YouTube (22%) and ask their relatives, friends or acquaintances for information (22%). These news sources are more actively used by the older audience (aged 51+). Only 8% of Ukrainians abroad receive the news from TV channels. By comparison, according to the results of another OPORA’s research, 62.5% of respondents that live in Ukraine have been watching TV news in 2023. Radio, printed newspapers and magazines are seldom used by Ukrainian immigrants: only 1% of respondents receive the news from these sources.

Ukrainians abroad prefer to view different types of content on different platforms. In particular, television, messengers and news websites are mainly used for consuming the news by more than 60% of respondents. They seldom watch interviews and read analytical articles on these media platforms. At the same time, 33% of social network users watch news channels of media outlets and authorial channels of experts and bloggers: they take interest in interpretations of information provided by specific opinion leaders. This trend is especially evident on YouTube. 67% of YouTube users watch authorial channels, and only 23% watch the news on this platform.

Furthermore, we asked Ukrainians abroad how much do they trust various sources of information.

Social media enjoy the highest level of credibility with Ukrainians abroad: 85% of respondents fully trust or rather trust this source of information. A somewhat smaller portion of respondents (77%) have confidence in news websites. Radio is considered as a reliable source of information by 46% of respondents, 43% of respondents put their trust in television, and 40% trust print media. It is worth noting that TV and print media news have the highest levels of distrust – 36% and 22% correspondingly.

Telegram, Facebook, Sternenko and other sources of information

Since messengers are the most popular source of information for Ukrainians abroad, we asked them what media platform do they use most often. Quite unsurprisingly, Telegram is the most frequently used messenger: 89% of messenger users follow the news on this platform. Telegram ranks first in terms of popularity in all 7 countries: the highest intensity of use was recorded in Spain (92%), the lowest – in Czech Republic (85%). According to the respondents, agility and user-friendliness are the key advantages of Telegram. The so-called  news aggregators are the most-viewed Telegram channels: 39% of respondents are using them. Top 5 most popular news aggregators are: Igor Lachenkov’s channel “Lachen pyshe” (Лачен пише), “Insider UA”, “Trukha” (Труха), “Realna viyna” (Реальна війна) and “Novinach” (Новинач).  25% of respondents follow the news channels of specific media outlets: “TSN”, “UNIAN”, “Suspilne”, “Kyiv” and Belarusian periodical “Nexta” are the most commonly mentioned ones. Authorial Telegram-channels serve as a source of information for 22% of respondents.

Viber is the second most popular messenger: it is used by 6% of respondents. This messenger is most frequently used in the United States (13% of respondents), while the respondents in Spain and Great Britain are the least active Viber users (4% each). By contrast to media consumers on Telegram dominated by news aggregators, Viber users give preference to news channels of specific media outlets: 37% of the respondents follow them. Meanwhile, news aggregators rank second in terms of popularity among the respondents (23%). It is telling that Viber users are more likely to receive the information from friends and relatives (16% of respondents) or special interest groups and communities (12%). “Blyskavka”, “Kraina info” (Країна інфо), “TSN” and “Suspilne” are the most popular news channels amongst Viber users. Other messengers are rarely used by respondents.

47% of Ukrainians abroad follow the news on social media platforms, of which the most popular one is Facebook: it was chosen by 43% of social media users. Instagram ranks second in terms popularity (22%). More than 30% of Facebook and Instagram users are primarily interested in receiving the news about Ukraine from media outlets. A somewhat smaller portion of respondents (nearly one-third) give preference to social media posts published by experts, politicians and bloggers. Only 7% of Ukrainians abroad receive information from TikTok (by contrast, nearly 25% of respondents in Ukraine follow the news on TikTok), while Twitter serves as a source of information for 3% of respondents. More than 50% of TikTok and Twitter users prefer to watch videos or read the tweets published by experts, politicians and bloggers, while only 25% follow the news of specific media outlets. 18% of respondents consume news content on other social media platforms.

News websites serve as the main source of information for 23% of Ukrainian immigrants, of which 74% prefer to visit Ukrainian news sites, and 5% obtain information from international news sites or the news sites of receiving country. Ukrainians abroad avoid using Russian news sites. The majority of our compatriots that visit news sites prefer to consume news content (62%), 27% are more interested in reading analytical articles and investigation materials, while 5% give preference to interviews.

22% of Ukrainians abroad use YouTube as the main source of news. This social media platform differs from others in that the vast majority of its users (67%) prefer watching interviews and videos published by experts, politicians and bloggers, while only 23% watch news programs, and 6% watch socio-political programs. Serhiy Sternenko, Oleg Zhdanov, Roman Svitan, Oleksiy Arestovych and Mark Feygin are the most popular YouTube bloggers amongst Ukrainian immigrants.

Television is unpopular among Ukrainian immigrants. Only 8% of respondents watch TV, of which 63%  prefer watching the “United News” (“Єдині Новини”) telethon, 10% give preference to other Ukrainian TV channels. Only 1% of respondents watch Russian TV channels. 69% of those who use TV as the main source of information prefer watching news programs, 16% watch interviews and authorial channels of experts, politicians and bloggers, 9% show interest in socio-political programs.

How to identify the truth: official sources and fakes

It is no secret that Russia has been focused on spreading fake news in media space since the beginning of the war in 2014. Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, this trend has become even more evident: a large amount of Russian disinformation is circulating both in Ukrainian and international media space. That’s why it is critically important that Ukrainian immigrants know how to identify and debunk Russian propaganda stories, as well as obtain information from official Ukrainian sources.

We asked Ukrainians abroad how often do they come across fake news in local media space, and 23% of respondents said they detected false information about Ukraine yesterday. The smallest number of cases of false information were reported by respondents in Great Britain and USA, more cases were recorded in European countries, while the largest number of such cases were recorded in Israel. 40% of those who came across fake news detected them in Russian sources or in the resources of the so-called “LPR” and “DPR”. The respondents that live in Hungary and Israel identified fake news on state TV channels. In most cases, the respondents came across fake news in the international segment of social media (62%). As for Ukrainian sources, the bulk of false information was detected in Ukrainian messenger groups and channels (50%) and on social media (47%). When it comes to Russian sources, social media rank first in terms of the amount of false information (53%). Fake news about Ukraine are mostly related to Ukrainian army (53%) and state government (38%). False information about Ukrainian immigrants is less widespread abroad, and it’s mainly aimed at foreign audience.

54% of respondents obtain information from the official authorities. Interestingly, young people do this more often than older respondents.

Information from official authorities is mainly received through the channels and groups in messengers (48%) and on social media (46%), while 16% of respondents obtain official information from news websites and YouTube. Official websites of state bodies are unpopular: only 9% of respondents visit them. About half of those who receive official information from messengers follow the channels of state authorities or their representatives, while the rest of respondents read reposts of their messages on other channels. Social media pages of official authorities enjoy higher level of popularity: they are followed by 61% of respondents, while 33% of respondents read reposts of official information. The official channels of the President, Office of the President, General Staff of AFU, State Emergency Service of Ukraine,  and local authorities are the most mentioned ones. There were hardly any mentions of the official channels of Ukrainian ministries, government and parliament.

The thread of Ariadne: is it possible to bring Ukrainian immigrants home

Currently, the government of Ukraine is engaged in active dialogue and communication with both Ukrainian immigrants and international community. The support of the Ukrainian society for policies and actions of state authorities is important for maintaining stability in our country while keeping the foreign audiences informed about the events in Ukraine is critical for ensuring further military supplies and financial support from our international partners. However, we must remember that it takes more than a military defeat of Russia to achieve a victory. A complete victory is impossible without political, social, and economic recovery of Ukraine as well as demonstrating the benefits of living in a democratic state. This goal can be achieved only if Ukrainian immigrants, who ran away from war, return home.

According to the results of our research, a large part of Ukrainians abroad, who wait for the war to end, have been gradually adapting themselves to local conditions. They are making efforts to find employment, learn local languages, send their children to schools, enter universities. In other words, they have started a new life. At the same time, restoration and welfare of our country is impossible without bringing them home. That’s why it is critically important for the Ukrainian authorities to keep in touch with these people and show them, in word and deed, that every Ukrainian citizen matters and plays a role in securing the future of Ukraine.