A year before the full-scale invasion, in February 2021, Zelensky unplugged three pro-Kremlin television networks and, a month later, launched a Russian-language state TV channel. Then, in November 2021, after the biggest peacetime political battle of his presidency, he pushed through the “anti-oligarchic” law, primarily aimed at crushing the influence of oligarchs on the media. In parallel with these developments, the digitalization of state services under the auspices of Mykhailo Fedorov was not only making the lives of Ukrainians more convenient but also created a novel sphere of state control.
Aleksander Palikot argued that the never-ending crisis of the full-scale invasion allowed Ukrainian authorities to employ traditional war censorship and psychological warfare, making their media apparatus more powerful than ever. The main channels started to broadcast the same shared content––round-the-clock programming known as the United News Telemarathon––which they coproduce in coordination with top state officials. At the same time, Ukrainians started to rely on decentralized media technologies, including crowdfunding, to sustain the army and self-organize. They also largely switched to social networks, especially Telegram, where information is not curated, and started to prefer YouTube to television.
In his presentation, Aleksander Palikot explored whether the delicate balance between the need to preserve unity and mobilize resources, and the protection of democracy is under threat: What will Zelensky do with the media-political machine he created? What state will emerge from the security-first digitalized regime that now flourishes in wartime Ukraine? How will this experience reshape what used to be called the post-Soviet sphere, including Russia?
Aleksander Palikot is a journalist based in Ukraine. He specializes in reporting on politics, history, and culture. His articles have been featured in publications such as Krytyka Polityczna, New Eastern Europe, Jüdische Allgemeine, and more. Aleksander Palikot is currently a Milena Jesenská Visiting Fellow at the IWM.
Mariia Shynkarenko, Research Associate: Ukraine in European Dialogue at IWM, introduced the speaker and moderated the colloquium's discussion.