War is rarely so simple, and the divide between the mainstream narrative and the reality so stark as it is now.
A squad of Ukrainian troops stands beside a road in a wood, talking amongst themselves as a tank slowly approaches their position. They don’t pay it much mind as it crawls forth until the main gun blasts at them from a few feet away. Where stood the living moments before rises a cloud of fire and smoke like a cone of sumac. Only a welter of gore and shredded uniforms bearing Ukrainian identification remain when it vanishes.
This scene played out in the Kharkiv region. What exactly happened is unclear. Some believe it was a friendly fire incident. Others suggest that these were inexperienced men who didn’t recognize Russian armor as both sides field similar equipment. It was, in either case, an embarrassing and demoralizing moment for Ukraine and yet conspicuously absent from headlines.
The peculiar thing about the Russo-Ukrainian War is that Western media leans so pro-Ukraine that it often seems to be little more than a redundancy for Kyiv’s information warfare apparatus. The stories it chooses to promote or suppress reflect that, even if the result is more bloodshed and a protracted conflict that threatens to expand beyond its existing boundaries.
Great care, especially, has been taken to shield President Volodymyr Zelensky from bad press and criticism—even from his own troops. The situation in the port city of Mariupol is illustrative.
Zelensky called the situation “inhuman” and said it would be a “red line” moment for Russia to take the city, which it has, save the massive Azovstal steel plant, where Ukrainian troops are trapped and cordoned off from the rest of Mariupol.
The president has spoken passionately about the nationalist forces in Mariupol, chief among which is the Azov Battalion. But Zelensky’s remarks belie a very different reality. Indeed, so controlled is coverage of what is happening in Mariupol and Ukraine generally that one of Poland’s most prominent journalists, Konstanty Gebert, announced his resignation from the country’s paper of record after it demanded that he describe Azov as “far-right” instead of “neo-Nazi,” a term reserved, it seems, exclusively for Donald Trump’s supporters in the United States.
As Western media lauded Kiev’s rejection of Moscow’s terms for surrender in Mariupol, which included safe passage for combatants, exhausted troops in the city were already throwing down their arms, having run out of food, water, and ammunition. It also went virtually unreported that surrendering troops blamed Zelensky’s government, in part, for the “inhuman” conditions there. A Facebook post from the 36th Separate Marine Brigade contained a statement to this effect.
“We talked to the commander in chief who promised to unblock” the city, the post read, before damning Kiev. It noted that troops had been guaranteed “either a political or military solution of the situation,” detailed fighting in the city without resupply for more than a month, and concluded with a note of resignation that Kiev had effectively written them off as dead. “No one wants to communicate with us anymore because we are written.” The post was deleted after it went viral, but it can still be found elsewhere online.