It could be that Ukraine is losing the war with Russia
Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky played the nation's president in a popular TV series before actually getting the top job. Here, he is photographed on the set of a movie, in Kiev Feb. 6, 2019. Now, as president, he oversees Telemarathon, the single legal television news program in Ukraine. Like his earlier comedic roles, many Ukrainians see the 'propaganda' on Telemarathon as yet another work or fiction. | Efrem Lukatsky / AP

There is much talk lately about the need to preserve democracy. If living in a democracy means, among other things, that the government is telling the truth to the people, we are missing at least one key element of democracy in America.

When it comes to the war in Ukraine we, like the Ukrainian people themselves, have been sold a bill of goods. Ukrainians, however, are a step ahead of Americans in that the overwhelming majority of them are rejecting the lies their government is dishing out to them. Americans still accept many of the lies about the war in Ukraine that we get from our accepted sources of information.

The New York Times here in the U.S. and The Telegraph in the U.K., early and consistent supporters of flooding weapons in to fight the Russians in Ukraine, are now admitting that the war, as it drags on, finds overwhelming majorities of Ukrainians rejecting the TV news they get from their government as nothing but “propaganda.”

Since 2022, the Ukrainian “democracy” Americans are defending with tens of billions of their tax dollars has only allowed one television program to broadcast everything they hear about the war. The only news program legally broadcasting in the country is called Telemarathon United News.

Ukrainian marines sail along the Dnipro river at the frontline near Kherson, Oct. 14, 2023. Telemarathon reported that the marines established a beachhead on the eastern bank of the river, calling it an important advance in Ukraine’s counteroffensive and a milestone in bridging one of Russia’s most significant strategic barriers in the war. Ukrainian soldiers involved in the effort have told other outlets that it was actually a deadly disaster. | Alex Babenko / AP

“It’s a weapon,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said last year when Telemarathon became the only source of information allowed. Telemarathon is allegedly a “consortium” of all the channels previously in existence and it operates 24/7, whenever Ukrainians turn on their television sets. Viewers now say that the station provides nothing but war propaganda. Unfortunately, even though the U.S. has a plethora of TV stations and other media, most of the news they broadcast to U.S. viewers regularly is the news they all get, one way or the other, from Telemarathon.

“Everyone is fed up with this picture that says, ‘We’re winning, everyone likes us and gives us money,’” Oxsama Romaniuk told the Times. She heads up the Kiev-based Institute of Mass Information. “It’s all state propaganda,” she declared.

The station was initiated by a Zelensky decree, with no input or discussion in parliament. Any television stations that opposed the war or disagreed in any way with Zelensky’s policies were barred from joining Telemarathon.

The program’s coverage of the recent Ukrainian counteroffensive, widely seen around the world as having been a failure, described instead a campaign that was winning battle after battle. Ukrainian forces are described as “professional,” “skilled,” “smart,” and “effective,” while Russian forces are described as bungling, in disarray, and unable to fight effectively. How those disoriented and poorly-trained troops now seem to be winning the war is not an issue Telemarathon addresses.

Opinion polls show that less than 15% of the population believes the propaganda the program beams out to the country. Almost 75% of the political figures appearing on the network come from Zelensky’s Servant of the People Party; few other voices are ever seen or heard. Ukrainians tired of war and calling for peace negotiations, meanwhile, risk arrest as traitors—which is exactly how they are described on the Telemarathon network.

Never covered on Telemarathon

Never covered on Telemarathon, as on most U.S. television networks, is the issue of who is making money off the war in Ukraine, particularly the armaments makers and fossil fuel networks. Weapons companies, for example, are having a field day in Ukraine, where they are testing all kinds of new and lucrative arms for use in current and future wars around the world.

A quick end to the war would hurt their unprecedented profit-making. That’s why these companies are pushing for congressional approval of the Biden administration’s request for $50 billion more to fund the war in Ukraine, hoping to extend it well into the future. It amounts to U.S. taxpayers paying for the profit-making and arms-testing parties underway in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the right-wing press in Europe, led by The Telegraph in the U.K., is lamenting what it sees as a coming victory by Russia. “The foundations of Europe are trembling,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial in December, “as Putin closes in on a victory.” In a widely-circulated opinion article from the end of 2023, Telegraph columnist Richard Kemp declared, “Ukraine is losing, but the U.K. must stand by it.”

We know that a Russian victory is becoming increasingly possible because Zelensky himself has said so, and President Biden also is saying it can happen if Ukraine doesn’t get his extra $50 billion. The U.S. and NATO pushed, since the end of the Cold War, to extend their power right up to the borders of Russia and into former Soviet republics. They counted on fear and on Russophobia to help them get away with the expansion, and now the world is paying the price for that recklessness with the growing danger of wider war.

With the U.S. leading the charge against Russia in Ukraine and elsewhere, how much room is there for compromise and the construction of peace as everyone sees that the right-wing oligarchs in Ukraine have failed to do their part in defeating Russia? What dangers grow as Biden tries to grapple with the disastrous results of his war policy in Ukraine? How do the forces in Ukraine, the U.S., and Europe that lied to the people in their countries by telling them this was a war for democracy and not a proxy war for geopolitical advantage by the U.S. and NATO react now that they may lose their war? How those questions are answered is cause for real worry.

Preparing for failure

There is no question that major sections of the ruling class in the West are preparing for their war in Ukraine to fail. Some of this plays out on the pages of The Telegraph and the New York Times, voices in the U.K. and the U.S. that have been the ringleaders for pouring fuel onto the fire in Ukraine.

In mid-December, the Times wrote about what it called “People Snatchers” in Ukraine, shadowy figures who pull men off the streets and out of workplaces in order to provide more fodder for the war machine. At gunpoint, mentally disabled and developmentally disadvantaged people who are legally draft-exempt have been pressed into service and even killed in battles on the front line. There are not enough people left to allow the Ukrainian government to keep up with the numbers of bodies it needs to feed into the war machine so profitable to all those Western arms makers and the Ukrainian oligarchs enriched by their deals with them.

Telegraph columnist Richard Kemp says Ukraine is losing the war, but the West must continue supplying arms anyway. | Screengrab of Telegraph

Only a few days later, both The Telegraph and the Times reported that Ukrainian marines were telling the Western press that they were being sent on “suicide missions” east of the Dnipro River. They said they were climbing over bodies of dead Ukrainian soldiers lying along the shores and were just fodder for constant shelling and firing coming from Russians—and even from their Ukrainian side. As they were there dying, Telemarathon was telling Ukrainians that they were making gains and establishing “bridgeheads” on the Russian side of the river.

Zelensky himself declared on TV that Ukraine had a “foothold” in precisely the marsh that was littered with dead Ukrainian marines, the soldiers told the press.

Things are dangerous because there is no sign yet about what the thus-far trigger-happy Biden administration (in both Ukraine and Gaza) will do in the face of the failure it will have to deal with in Ukraine. Will it double down? Will it reverse course and go for negotiations? How does the U.S. election coming up affect all of this? Is the request for $50 billion more in aid to Ukraine just a ploy to keep the war going until after the election, even though that would mean unacceptable levels of death and destruction?

As usual, imperialism gets into major wars very easily. That is its nature. Getting out of them is another matter, often requiring, at the very least, major destruction and massive numbers of civilian deaths.

An important step in breaking this cycle will come when the people come to reject the lies that are used to justify imperialist calamities. For many months, we were told that Putin was losing a war that he was running with criminals, drunks, incompetents, child kidnappers, and all manner of societal rejects.

How does this narrative we have been fed fit with new admissions that Russia may be winning?  Or stories that thugs are snatching people off the streets to fill the ranks of the Ukrainian army? As the fog of lies lifts, we see that Russia had more troops and artillery than the press previously reported and that the sanctions that were supposed to destroy the Russian economy have backfired.

It won’t be long before the people of the U.S. learn about another lie they have been told—the lie that there are no fascists in Ukraine, particularly in the country’s leadership. There are many fascists there and, unfortunately, they have been emboldened and strengthened by the U.S. and NATO policy carried out in the name of “democracy.” We must not fear learning the truth, however, as distasteful as it might be, because it is only the truth that will make us and the people of Ukraine free.

As with all news analysis and opinion articles published by People’s World, the views reflected here are those of the author.

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John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.