The Angriest Man in Odessa is on the Front Lines of Ukraine’s Information War

by    /  December 18, 2014  / No comments

Zloy_Odessit's LiveJournal avatar.

This article is part of an extensive RuNet Echo study of Russian-language blogosphere in Eastern Ukraine. Explore the complete interview series on the Eastern Ukraine Unfiltered page.

Most of the unrest that followed the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych was centered in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk, but other parts of Ukraine did not escape unscathed. On May 2, 2014, the city of Odessa witnessed some of the worst violence in Ukraine since the start of the separatist crisis, when nearly 60 people died in clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Maidan protesters. Most of these deaths occurred when a fire broke out in the Odessa Trade Union during the fighting. While Odessa thankfully has been mostly free from street violence since, some of its inhabitants are still very much waging the same battles in what both sides term the “information war.”

Zloy_Odessit, an anonymous blogger whose online handle translates roughly to “Angry Odessian,” is one such inhabitant. He updates his blog numerous times daily with news and opinions about events in Ukraine, with a particular emphasis on the military campaign in the east. Like many Russian speakers, Zloy_Odessit prefers LiveJournal as his primary social medium, in his case, due to its highly customizable interface and “very good search potential.”

Zloy_Odessit began his blog back in March, though he claims he’s “no novice to the blogosphere.” He started his blog in reaction to what he sees as “the Russian occupation of Crimea,” saying he writes to combat disinformation and express his own point of view. “The main aim of my blog is to get across my opinion on events in Ukraine to the Russian user,” he told RuNet Echo. “Right now, on LiveJournal, there are exclusively pro-Kremlin bloggers, artificially kept in the top rankings by the mass use of bots.”

Bogging his opinions has earned Zloy_Odessit many enemies, including the Russian government, which blacklisted his LiveJournal page earlier this year. According to Zloy, the action has only increased the number of visitors he gets from Russia.

In Ukraine, we’re used to hearing out all points of view, but in Russia its in their blood to listen to single united, true, an undisputed point of view. All the rest are from the Devil, the [U.S.] State Department, aliens, or lizard people… It doesn’t matter where they come from — they’re forbidden. Taboo.

Zloy_Odessit thinks Internet users can challenge the information monopoly in Russia.

Internet users can become counterweights to other points of view, expressing their own individual points of view, free from limits and taboos. At the end of the day, a blogger can unite people around them. They can unite like-minded thinkers, who aren’t yet prepared to speak openly.

When asked about the prospects for reconciliation between separatists and people who support Ukrainian unity, Zloy_Odessit was circumspect, believing that it may be possible with ordinary citizens of the Donbas, but not with the insurgents themselves.

I myself have witnessed on several occasions to how advocates of a union with Russia — people who supported the annexation of Crimea — changed their views over time. Dialogue is possible, of course, but [only] dialogue with ordinary people.

As for the fighters themselves, Zloy considers the rebels a criminal group that has seized power with the help of Russian citizens. He also blames local oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov and Oleksandr Yefremov for financing the militia.

Zloy_Odessit has his work cut out for him. Though open to dialogue, his criticisms of the separatists are almost a mirror image of the criticisms pro-separatist bloggers like Strajj and Colonol_Cassad make of Kyiv. Both sides accuse the other of following an illegitimate government that seized power by force and relies on dishonest propaganda. Both sides will continue to tell their version of the truth, but it’s difficult to see anyone conceding anything at this point.

Written by Daniel Alan Kennedy

This article was originally published by Global Voices on July 30, 2014.

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