Activists use ads to give Russians real news about Ukraine

Many ads are served by the “news and media website” Ukraine War, while others are served by the “social media agency” Safe Ukraine. They include moving videos of captured Russian soldiers tearfully calling their parents home to reveal the reality of war, as well as texts urging Russians to speak out against the war. The project is led by Bohdana, a 33-year-old woman from the city of Lutsk in northwestern Ukraine, who declined to share her surname.

Another popular campaign is organized by the Ukrainian branch of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB). “We try to give more information about the real situation, because there is a very strict control of information in Russia and there is no independent media”, explains Anastasiya Baydachenko, general director of IAB Ukraine .

During the first week of the war, the campaign of the Ukrainian advertising industry took place largely on the Google advertising network, although it was recently interrupted by the request of Roskomnadzor, the Russian regulatory body. media, to stop spreading what Russia considered “disinformation” about its activities in Russia. On March 4, Google granted that request, temporarily halting the ability to book ads in Russia. “The situation is changing rapidly,” the company said in a statement.

This action sabotaged some of the IAB-backed group’s plans. However, Baydachenko says Roskomnadzor’s decision to clamp down on the ads is a sign of the IAB’s campaign effectiveness.

The campaign, in which a large number of different accounts had each spent small amounts of money with Google to target demographics likely to include mothers of Russian soldiers, will now be ported to Yandex. “We understand that using Yandex is high risk due to its control,” she says. “That’s why it’s long, but we’ll try to do it to increase the reach of our messages.”

Baydachenko says there are about four or five other Ukrainian initiatives run by groups that formed independently in the early days of the war. “We all try to reach Russian audiences with different messages,” she says.

The IAB campaign is funded by private companies as well as donations and sponsors, who are willing to invest large sums in an attempt to shift the horrors of what is happening in Ukraine into the hands of the army of Vladimir Poutine. “Ukrainian business owners understand that we have a crisis here,” Baydachenko says. “They are ready to spend $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 or $50,000 to communicate and bring information to Russia.”

In total, Baydachenko estimates that 10 million hryvnia ($330,000) was spent on Ukraine-based advertising campaigns in an attempt to get more honest information in Russia last week. All are what Agnes Venema, a national security and intelligence scholar at the University of Malta, calls “the 2022 version of the underground newspaper”. “People have found they can beat Putin at his own game by countering misinformation in a way that any Russian with an internet connection can see it,” she says.

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