Disinformation is changing views on Ukrainian refugees

Disinformation is changing views on Ukrainian refugees | Pro Club Bd

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Prague (AFP) – As Dominika Sokur speaks to her children at the playground, she overhears hostile reactions that she believes are fueled by disinformation.

“When we come to the playground, people say, ‘Ah, the Ukrainians have come, let’s get out of here,'” said Sokur, 41, a Czech married to a Ukrainian who lives in the town of Holubice, north of Prague.

“I heard them complaining that we can ride the bus and visit the zoo for free.”

The stance highlights rising resentment against Ukrainian refugees in parts of Europe, which experts have linked to bogus social media posts about Ukrainian refugees and the benefits provided to them.

“Even my 65-year-old father, who is not pro-Russian and supports Ukraine, asks me what all the talk about Ukrainian Nazis is about. The disinformation is just everywhere,” said Sokur.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, European nations have taken in nearly six million refugees, according to the UN refugee agency.

Countries like the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Slovakia opened their borders, homes and wallets to help the war refugees.

But runaway inflation, particularly rampant in Eastern Europe, has created a sense of economic anxiety that feeds disinformation that portrays refugees as ungrateful siphoning resources from needy locals.

disinformation across borders

From Warsaw to Bucharest, social media has been deluged with images of luxury cars with Ukrainian license plates and anonymous unsourced claims that wealthy-looking Ukrainians have been spotted waiting in line for state aid.

Comments express resentment and anger against the politicians who are said to be helping Ukrainians instead of looking after their own people.

The online claims vary from country to country, but they convey the same basic message: Ukrainians are taking resources away from “us”.

“Refugees are always mentioned in the context of non-working immigrants waiting for welfare benefits, luxury cars and so-called ‘health or social tourism,'” said the Czech Elves, a network of several hundred volunteers who monitor online disinformation, in their June -Report .

In Poland, a recent article on a blog known for spreading disinformation misleadingly claimed that Ukrainian refugees received free shopping vouchers while needy Poles got nothing.

In Romania, a Facebook post bluntly stated that “90 percent of those who cross the border are from the wealthy class who can afford to pay a 1,000 to 1,500 euro bribe to Ukrainian customs to get him to us transforms”.

In the Czech Republic, which has taken in the most refugees per capita, a viral post falsely claimed that a Ukrainian family of four could raise up to 90,000 kroner (about $3,700) a month in aid – far more than the income of an average person czech family.

Contrary to stereotypes shared on social media, most Ukrainian refugees start looking for work almost immediately upon arrival in the Czech Republic and, according to data from the Czech Labor Office, often take manual jobs in construction, healthcare or cleaning.

Economic crisis fuels resentment

It is difficult to identify the main propagators of such disinformation targeting Ukrainian refugees, but such posts often appear on accounts associated with far-right parties.

The whipping up of anti-Ukrainian sentiment bears the hallmarks of Russian propaganda, says Gesine Schwan, a political scientist and former presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), who has written extensively about refugees.

“Russia is extremely good at misinterpreting something that happened in a way that provokes resentment,” Schwan told AFP in a telephone interview.

“(President Vladimir) Putin knows that the war he is waging has provoked moral outrage. So he tries to justify this by portraying Ukrainians as morally inferior.”

So far, the impact of such propaganda and disinformation has been limited, but that may change quickly if economic problems worsen, said Nikola Horejs, director of international affairs at the STEM sociological research institute in Prague.

STEM’s research shows that support for Ukraine, while still relatively high, has fallen rapidly in recent weeks, he said, by as much as 100,000 people a week among the 10.7 million people in the Czech Republic Republic.

“There is great fear among people that this exodus will ruin our countries economically,” Horejs said.

“The disinformation scene has adapted. Their narrative is no longer that Putin is good or that there is no war; the main issue now is that governments are not tackling people’s economic problems, but are instead helping Ukrainians.”

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