Disinformation intended to discredit and undermine support for Ukrainian refugees became more prevalent in mid-2022 as local far-right groups and populist politicians integrated it into the domestic political agenda. Refugees are accused of being spoiled, lazy, and ungrateful. Pro-Russian voices claim that they are a source of social ills, drain resources intended for actual citizens, and present a threat to national security.
The following summery analysis is based on extracts from the Interim Report (June-September, 2022) of the Ukraine War Disinfo Working Group, which represents a team of researchers from Debunk.org and our partners. The Interim Report collates insight drawn from the monitoring of narratives trending across pro-Kremlin sites and social media across eleven countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as they relate to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Over the summer of 2022, we observed a gradual but steady increase in anti-refugee messaging in EU member states.
In August, the average number of observed stories aimed at discrediting Ukrainian refugees increased by 60% compared to June or July. This trend extends beyond the figures: anti-refugee messaging has become part of several domestic political agendas.
In Poland, we can see it most distinctly: local far-right and pro-Kremlin groups, as well as political parties, have launched a series of anti-Ukrainian campaigns (like the Stop the Ukrainization of Poland project led by Konfederacja Korony Polskiej).
In the Baltic states, anti-refugee messages have also been picked up by far-right and populist political parties.
Ukrainians are no longer welcome in the EU states
Propagandists portray the domestic population as very much tired of Ukrainians. Frequent are stories intended to create the illusion that Ukrainians are no longer welcome in Europe.
These narratives were especially popular during the beginning of the summer but have since become somewhat less common.
Ukrainians are the same as Russians
This narrative most frequently appears in the Baltic states, especially Estonia. Pro-Kremlin voices claim that the Ukrainians who find shelter in the Baltics share the Russian language, mentality, and cultural code and are thus, for all intents and purposes, Russians. (Those who fled from the occupied territories are treated as de-facto Russians even more strongly.)
This increased presence of Russian “influence” in the Baltic states is claimed to be a threat to the countries’ national integrity and political stability. In this way, pro-Kremlin voices use anti-Russian sentiment in the Baltics against Ukrainian refugees.
Ukrainians are prioritized over the local population
Local populists lament the allocation of financial aid to Ukrainian refugees, claiming that they receive welfare, while thousands of local citizens are forced to starve.
The “privileges” afforded to refugees, like access to healthcare and the schooling system, are portrayed as zero-sum resources.
Any instances where locals have been unable to access a particular public resource are blamed on Ukrainian refugees. In Poland, a fake report that Ukrainians will receive voting rights has been circulating.
Ukrainians are spoiled and ungrateful
Pro-Kremlin voices have devoted some attention to creating a negative imagine of Ukrainian refugees.
Claims that they reject job opportunities or offers of food, shelter, and clothing are intended to portray refugees as ungrateful and spoiled.
Furthermore, lone incidents of inappropriate behaviour by Ukrainian refugees are frequently exaggerated and amplified in order to portray them as rude and disrespectful to their host countries.
Europeans are tired of hearing about the war
An excessive number of Ukrainian symbols on the streets of EU cities is claimed to be offensive to locals.
Pro-Kremlin voices have attempted to convince their audiences that Ukraine is being given too much attention and that European citizens are being forced into caring about the war.
These narratives of Western “war fatigue” are often targeted at Ukrainian audiences and intended to undermine public morale.
Ukrainians are a source of social ills
Pro-Russian voices claim that Ukrainian refugees destabilize their host countries by contributing towards crime, violence, and disease. Female Ukrainian refugees have been accused of engaging in prostitution.
The state budget can’t afford to support Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees
Kremlin-backed voices emphasize negative trends in the national economy (real or invented) and point at social groups that require state support.
They claim that supporting Ukraine is too much of a burden for the state budgets and that such aid needs to be reduced or ceased entirely.
References to other demographic groups in need of state support are used to suggest that Ukrainians are “taking away” benefits that could be used to help actual citizens.
The Ukraine War Disinfo Working Group unites 10 think tanks and research groups, which are working non-stop to monitor Kremlin propaganda in 14 countries.
Our partners: Civic Resilience Innitiative (Lithuania), Analyses and Alternatives (Bulgaria), Prague Security Studies Initiative (Czechia), GRASS (Georgia), Atlatszo (Hungary), MOST (North Macedonia), Fakenews.pl (Poland), Slovak Security Policy Institute (Slovakia), Detector Media (Ukraine), Press Club Belarus (Belarus), GlobalFocus Center (Romania), European Western Balkans (Serbia).