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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the House of Commons via videolink ABACA/PA Images

How Ukraine's politicians are using informal communications to their benefit during the invasion

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has continually addressed the world through daily video briefings.

IN RECENT WEEKS, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has gone from a mostly unknown politician to a central figure seen around the world to be standing up against a war being waged against his country.

Self-shot social media videos of him speaking directly to the Ukrainian people from Kyiv have likely boosted morale across the country due to his willingness to stay and fight.

His call for “ammunition, not a ride” when he was offered a route out of the Ukrainian capital by the US has bolstered his status within Ukraine, with polling carried out in late February showing approval ratings soaring to over 90% of his countrymen.

Speaking in the European Parliament last week, his interpreter choked with emotion as Zelenskyy described what was happening in Ukraine in a speech which received a standing ovation.

But how is the Ukrainian government as a whole communicating about the war to their benefit?

Speaking to The Journal, Dr Tanya Lokot, an Associate Professor in Digital Media and Society at DCU’s School of Communications, said that improved communications by Ukraine are down to the use of social media by its government’s politicians.

She explained that the Ukrainian government, which came into power in 2019, are seen as being younger and more technologically literate than previous governments, and that they have more experience using social media.

“I think, because of who they are, because of their background a lot of people in the government do come from civil society or business so they’re more at ease in this social media environment,” she said.

“I think for them it was almost natural that they would use these means. People may not watch TV, but they’re on their phones all the time. So this is where if you want to reach people – both Ukrainian and others – that’s where you would go.”

According to Lokot there is a personal aspect to the communications as well, in selfie-style videos shot by Zelenskyy outside the Kyiv government buildings or his daily updates on talks with world leaders.

She highlighted how people like hearing directly from their government, adding that direct communications are partially responsible for keeping people in Ukraine motivated during the invasion.

I think it’s really important for people to hear from their government: not through press releases, but the President logging on every night or every morning and saying ‘Hey guys, we haven’t run away’.

“That’s not the only reason why people are motivated, but I think it’s a big part of it. They’re there, they’re speaking to the people.”

Lokot also said that Zelenskyy’s decision to stay in Kyiv has helped too, explaining that it reminds people that there is someone there looking out for them.

“I think it reassures them that, even if things are desperate, there is still somebody here who is working on our behalf,” she said.

“It does reinforce the solidarity and I don’t think you can discount that.”

Social media videos

On the videos that the Ukrainian government have released during the war, Lokot believes it is deliberately contrasted to how Russian President Vladimir Putin has communicated in recent weeks.

“If you compare it to when they show President Putin in his big building and at his long table, which just looks comical,” she said.

“I think they deliberately try to shoot them in a very pared-down way, where he’s not wearing a suit, he’s wearing a camouflage t-shirt and he’s slightly unshaven, slightly tired, which I don’t think you need to orchestrate.

“Adding this realness, it’s really pared-down, it’s focusing on the person, it’s focusing on what he’s saying.”

Lokot said that Zelenskyy’s recent speeches have been very well written from the perspective of how to communicate in a crisis.

“Whoever has been writing his speeches, I hope he pays those people really well because they have been doing an amazing job,” she said.

“You really need to know how to do crisis communication because it’s a mixture of facts, stressing things that are important but also making it emotional enough to show that we are angry.

“He and the people he is working with clearly know what these communications are supposed to do and within the limitations of what they have, they’re working in a very thoughtful way.

“I do think these things are deliberate and I think they work very well.”

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