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Ukrainians take on 'wall of propaganda' on Chinese social media

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As Ukrainian forces fight on the front lines to halt Russia's military advance, another battle is taking place in Chinese cyberspace.

Ukrainians who can speak Mandarin are taking to Chinese social media platforms in an effort to provide information about the Russian invasion and win public support in China.

They are translating the latest developments in the war into Chinese, including information on casualties and analysis, and posting it on their accounts on popular social media networks like WeChat and Weibo.

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Roman Khivrenko, 32, said the information available in China - on social media platforms and in state media - was heavily influenced by Russia.

"We want to break down the wall of propaganda and show Chinese people what's going on in fact," said Khivrenko, who studied international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

Roman Khivrenko has been posting updates on the situation in Ukraine to his Chinese social media accounts. Photo: WeChat alt=Roman Khivrenko has been posting updates on the situation in Ukraine to his Chinese social media accounts. Photo: WeChat>

China has refused to condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine, or to call it an invasion - a line closely followed by Chinese state media outlets.

Beijing has also touted humanitarian aid and called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but has resisted pressure to use its leverage with close ally Moscow to push for an end to the war. And there is growing suspicion in the West that Beijing could help Moscow to get around sanctions and provide Russia with military equipment.

Ukrainian internet celebrity "Masha" is among those to join the information war on Chinese social media.

She has been posting videos on the situation in her hometown, Kostiantynivka, in the eastern region of Donetsk, where she joined her parents after leaving Kyiv.

"In my hometown, people need to hide in underground shelters when the air-raid sirens go off," Masha says in fluent Chinese in one video posted to Weibo, TikTok and Xigua Video.

"Not enough bread, all the banks have run out of cash ... but people can't buy food without cash. It looks like the place is quietly dying," she says.

Masha's "war life" videos have racked up more than 1 million views. Photo: YouTube alt=Masha's "war life" videos have racked up more than 1 million views. Photo: YouTube>

Masha studied Chinese language and literature at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and spent nine months studying in China. Her "war life" videos have racked up more than 1 million views, and she now has over 600,000 followers.

Author, musician and artist Ivan Semasiuk, 42, is meanwhile contributing articles and documentaries - posted on social media platforms around the world in Chinese and other languages - in an effort to explain the histories of Ukraine and Russia.

According to analysts, Russia's attack has strengthened Ukraine's national identity, and prompted people to defend their country in different ways.

"The Russian invasion has had this overwhelming effect of consolidating the national identity of Ukrainians, it has stirred patriotism among the younger generations," said Eagle Yin, a research fellow at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies in Beijing.

That view was echoed by Hong Kong-based defence analyst Liang Guoliang, who said Russian President Vladimir Putin had underestimated the Ukrainian resistance, driven by national identity.

For Ukrainians like Khivrenko, part of that resistance is the fight against propaganda. He said they did not expect anything from Chinese people, but he hoped Beijing would "not support Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine".

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.