Russia’s war with Ukraine has generated its own fog, and mis- and disinformation are everywhere

by Sophia Chen
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Russia-Ukraine War

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has resulted in an ambiguous fog of conflict, wherein misinformation and disinformation are pervasive.

In Ukraine’s war zones, the murkiness of warfare is a constant challenge for the troops, while away from the frontlines, a similarly confusing haze confounds those trying to comprehend the large-scale conflict.

The common understanding among civilians is clouded by false, misleading and missing information. Accusations of sinister schemes prepared by the enemy are hurled from both sides but often fail to materialize. Unverifiable victories are proclaimed, while defeats are left unmentioned.

This phenomenon, however, isn’t exclusive to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. In times of war, all countries manipulate facts to elevate domestic morale, rally ally support, or sway their critics.

However, the largest land conflict in Europe in many decades — and the greatest since the advent of the digital era — occurs within an intensely charged information landscape. Instead of clarifying public knowledge, modern communication technology often exacerbates confusion as deceptions and untruths reach global audiences in an instant.

“Both the Russian and Ukrainian governments are attempting to shape a certain narrative,” notes Andrew Weiss, an analyst at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace. “Moreover, advocates for Ukraine’s cause also have viewpoints and are effectively using information to influence our perception of the war and its consequences.”


Even before the onset of the war, ambiguity and contradiction were rampant. Despite deploying an army of tens of thousands at the border, Russia denied any invasion plans. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continuously played down the possibility of war, a stance that startled some Western allies, even though the defense of Kyiv proved Ukrainian forces were indeed ready for such a possibility.

Disinformation spread rapidly within a day of the war’s commencement on Feb. 24, 2022, such as the “Ghost of Kyiv” story about a Ukrainian fighter pilot who allegedly downed six Russian planes. The story’s source remains ambiguous but received endorsement from Ukrainian official accounts before they conceded it was fabricated.

The second week of the war witnessed an egregious case of disinformation when a maternity hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol was bombed. The brutal attack directly contradicted Russian assertions of targeting only military sites and sparing civilian structures. Russia swiftly launched a multi-faceted, but inconsistent, campaign to dampen the global outrage.

Diplomats, including Russia’s U.N. ambassador, dismissed AP’s reporting and images as blatant fabrications. The Russian Foreign Minister alleged Ukrainian fighters were taking refuge in the hospital, rendering it a legitimate target.

The situation became more complicated when a patient, initially interviewed post-attack, later claimed she hadn’t granted journalists permission to quote her and suggested the hospital could have been shelled rather than bombed. Russian authorities utilized these statements to fortify their allegations, despite the patient’s confirmation of the attack.

Mariupol’s main drama theater was devastated in an airstrike a week later, resulting in as many as 600 casualties. Russia denied the attack, alleging instead that Ukrainian fighters were hiding inside and they had detonated the building.


The Russian ministry routinely asserts they have killed dozens or hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers, claims which cannot be verified and are widely considered exaggerated.

In January, the Defense Ministry boasted about killing up to 600 Ukrainian soldiers in a missile strike on buildings in Kramatorsk city, where soldiers were temporarily stationed. However, subsequent investigations by journalists found the buildings undamaged and no evidence of casualties.

Russia claimed the supposed attack was in retaliation for a Ukrainian strike on a Russian base, resulting in at least 89 fatalities, one of the highest known single-incident losses for Russia.

Occasionally, the fact of catastrophic destruction is irrefutable, but attributing responsibility becomes contentious. For instance, when a renowned cathedral in Odesa was extensively damaged in July, Ukraine blamed a Russian missile, while Russia attributed it to remnants of a Ukrainian defense missile.

The collapse of the Kakhovka dam in May, under Russian control, led to fiercely conflicting accounts from Russia and Ukraine. An AP analysis suggested that Russia had both the means and motive to demolish the dam, the last fixed crossing between Russian- and Ukrainian-controlled banks of the Dnieper River in the frontline Kherson province.

Both parties attempt to vilify the other by alleging cunning plans. One common strategy involves claiming the enemy is preparing a “false-flag” attack. The specter of a nuclear catastrophe has been invoked by both sides, but evidence supporting these claims remains elusive.


In this conflict, the fog obscures not only events that have or haven’t happened but also our understanding of what might happen next. It doesn’t sneak in subtly, but spreads instantaneously as Russia and Ukraine exploit social media, messaging apps, and the global demand for news to disseminate both truths and falsehoods.

Potential future developments are not off-limits either. At times, ominous allegations about the other side’s intentions progress further to complain about what supposedly won’t occur.

Following the death of a Russian journalist in a Ukrainian forces’ attack in July, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, hastily asserted that international organizations were unlikely to react. Contrary to her prediction, the journalist’s death was condemned by the head of UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalists in the following days.

Jim Heintz, who has been reporting on Russia for The Big Big News since 1999, contributed to this report.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Russia-Ukraine War

How is misinformation affecting the Russia-Ukraine conflict?

The conflict has generated a fog of war, with misinformation, disinformation, and missing information clouding public understanding. Officials from both sides propagate unverified claims of victories and tend to remain silent about defeats. This manipulation of information, facilitated by modern communication technology, makes it challenging for observers to discern the reality of the war.

What is the role of digital media in this conflict?

The Russia-Ukraine war, being the largest land conflict in Europe since the advent of the digital age, unfolds within an intensely charged information environment. Modern communication technology, which theoretically should improve public knowledge, often multiplies confusion as deceptions and falsehoods reach global audiences instantly. Both Russia and Ukraine use social media, messaging apps, and the world’s news demand to disseminate both facts and deceptions.

What kinds of disinformation have been propagated in this conflict?

One example is the “Ghost of Kyiv” story, about a Ukrainian fighter pilot allegedly downing six Russian planes. The tale was initially backed by Ukrainian official accounts before authorities admitted it was a myth. Another instance involved the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. Russian authorities quickly launched a campaign to deny their involvement and allege the hospital was a legitimate target due to the presence of Ukrainian fighters.

How are both Russia and Ukraine using claims of future threats in the war?

Potential future developments are also used as a part of the information war. Both Russia and Ukraine have made ominous allegations about the other side’s intentions, often involving threats of nuclear disaster. However, corroborating evidence supporting these allegations is usually absent, adding to the confusion.

Has the use of misinformation and disinformation in this war been challenged?

Yes, some instances of misinformation and disinformation have been disputed and debunked. For example, the Russian claim of a successful missile strike on buildings in Kramatorsk, allegedly killing 600 Ukrainian soldiers, was contradicted by journalists who found the buildings undamaged and no sign of casualties. Similarly, conflicting accounts of who destroyed the Kakhovka dam were questioned, with an AP analysis suggesting Russia had the means and motive to do it.

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