As they continue to fight the Russian forces invading their country, Ukrainians are deploying another powerful tool in their arsenal: Meme warfare.
Shared on the internet or circulated via the secure messaging app Telegram, which has become a popular means of communication in the country since the invasion, a deluge of war memes is helping Ukrainians cope with their grim predicament with humor, more than often spilling over into dark satire.
The pro-Ukrainian memes currently flooding the internet express three major themes: highlighting the heroism of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians fighting on the front lines to boost the country’s morale; mocking Russian troops for their inaptitude and disparaging their president, Vladimir Putin; and criticizing the West, particularly the United Nations and NATO, for not doing enough to help.
A good starting point is the Twitter account Ukranian Meme Forces (UMF), created in February as a semi-official arm of the resistance. Aggregating memes from Twitter and Reddit, it takes the mantle of proliferating Ukrainian counter-propaganda.
“Russian propaganda be like: ‘Ukrainians are greeting Russian liberators with flowers!'” reads a caption above an image of a Ukrainian woman flogging a frightened Russian soldier with a flower bouquet. Another meme depicts a woman labeled “Putin” feeding another woman labeled “Russian people” from a bottle of “Disinformation” milk.
And remember that viral image of Adam Johnson, the US Capitol rioter who was photographed waving to the cameras while carrying away House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern? Well, someone photoshopped Putin’s face onto Johnson’s and tagged the stolen lectern “Ukraine.”
Despite Ukraine’s repeated pleas to enforce a no-fly zone over the country, the United States and other NATO members have been reluctant to heed these calls out of fear of globalizing the conflict. But the Ukrainian memesphere won’t have it. Take, for example, a Tweet that compares NATO’s policy to someone trying to put out wildfires with a water gun. Another shows a Ukrainian soldier amid battle pleading, “We need air support.” The lower half of the meme depicts a “UN” aircraft flying a sky banner that reads, “You’re doing great.”
Last week, Putin signed a law that criminalizes any public opposition to or critical news reporting of the war against Ukraine. News outlets and citizens are also prohibited from calling it a “war.” Instead, it should be only framed as a “special military operation,” according to the new law, and dissenters can face up to 15 years in prison.
One of the best memes responding to this censorial law is one that replaces the title of Leo Tolstoy’s 1867 novel War and Peace with “Special Military Operation and Peace.” Now, that’s brilliant.
More from Telegram: A Ukrainian tractor towing a deserted Russian tank with the caption “Finders Keepers”; and The Passion of the Christ director Mel Gibson seen giving directions to the blood-drenched actor playing Jesus Christ with the caption, “NATO explains why it refuses to declare Ukraine a no-fly zone.”
But let’s end this roundup on a relatively positive note. Another popular meme circulating online describes Ukrainian delicacies as “bioweapons,” with a twist: “When used on people, they awaken an unstoppable desire to love Ukraine.”