Combatting Russian propaganda in the English-language media

Ukraine must take full advantage of a very valuable resource it has in the North American Diaspora

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

Recently interns from the Canada Ukraine Parliamentary Program (CUPP) conducted interviews with various Diaspora leaders in Canada to address the following questions:

  1. What has been the impact of the Diasporas on Ukraine, since 1991 (from the Diasporas perspective)?
  2. What is the role or destiny of the Diasporas vis-a-vis Ukraine, for the future?

A paper based on the interviews will be compiled and presented by three CUPP Interns, all of whom are Graduate and Post-Graduate students, to the 8th International Research Conference “Ukrainian Diaspora: The Problems of the Studies”, which will be held on May 21-22, 2020 at Ostroh Academy National University in Ukraine.

A little bit about CUPP. Founded in 1991 by Toronto lawyer Ihor Bardyn, it is a parliamentary internship program for Ukrainian students, which provides an opportunity for Ukrainian students to learn about the principles of democratic government and parliamentary procedures in Canada. During the Program, Ukrainian students work and study in the Parliament of Canada, as well as gain experience from which generations of Canadian, American and West European students have benefited. Since 1991, over 1,000 students have participated in the CUPP internship program, and the Model Ukraine Conferences at the Universities of Ottawa and Toronto, George Washington University, Oxford University, Kyiv-Mohyla University and the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. The CUPP Alumni have organized NGOs such as Professional Government Association, Teach for Ukraine, Anna Mazurenko Children’s Health Centre, and legal aid clinics and environmental-ecological organizations. To date, seven have been appointed and served as Ministers and Deputy Ministers in various government portfolios including Infrastructure, Education, and Justice. Others are working in the offices of the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada and the Office of the Prime Minister. To date, six Alumni have been elected to the Verkhovna Rada. As well, Alumni are working at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in Baku, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Minsk, London and Kyiv. This highly successful and valuable program has been supported by the Ukrainian National Federation and other organizations and foundations. But much more is needed. So be generous.

But, in answer to the question “What is the role or destiny of the Diasporas vis-a-vis Ukraine, for the future?”, there is a very critical role which the North American Diaspora is especially qualified to fill. And that is combatting Russian propaganda in the English-language media. The Russian Federation has put considerable resources into spreading disinformation. While Ukraine does not have the financial and technical resources to match Moscow, it nevertheless has a very valuable resource Russia does not – namely, a Diaspora that is well-settled in Canada and the United States, is educated, fluent in English and has experienced journalists. When it comes to writing in English, much of what comes out of Ukraine is quite poor. And this also applies to official documents. For example, when I was writing an editorial about President Zelenskyy adding his support to the campaign to honor Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, the English-language item that was posted on the Presidential website was so poorly written, I had to go to the Ukrainian-language original and translate it myself.

Of course, we can support Ukraine with money, with goods, with technical expertise and other things, but this is one area in which we are uniquely qualified. Unfortunately, our expertise in this area is underutilized. We need to work with Ukraine to develop a program or even a committee that would be able to combat Russian disinformation in a coherent and articulate manner.

As an example, we can look to the Jewish community in Canada. They have created an independent grass-roots organization called “Honest Reporting Canada” which promotes fairness and accuracy in Canadian media coverage of Israel and the Middle East. With the assistance of over 45,000 members from coast to coast, HRC monitors the media, recognizes excellence and exposes inaccuracy and bias in Canadian reporting on the region. On its website it even lists a 10-point guideline as to how its members can monitor the media.

As HRC states on its website: “The media is the primary lens through which the Canadian people learn about the world. Accordingly, HRC is dedicated to ensuring that news coverage provided by Canada’s media – whether print or electronic, and whether national, local, academic or alternative – reflects the highest journalistic standards of excellence in news, information and investigative journalism, and is informed by Canadian values including democracy, freedom, liberty and the rule of law.”

Perhaps the Ukrainian community in Canada could establish something similar. We would start small, of course, but in cooperation with knowledgeable people in Ukraine like CUPP alumni, we could put together an effective vehicle.

But first Ukraine must realize that it has a very effective ally in the North American Diaspora, which has been around for over 125 years in Canada and even longer in the United States – and use this resource to the fullest. This especially applies to setting the record straight on Russian disinformation in the English-language media.