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How the Kremlin uses comics to glorify its war in Ukraine

Image caption, It depicts a Ukrainian soldier surrendering and changing his name in the Russian version

  • Author, Sandro Gvindadze
  • Role, BBC monitoring, Tbilisi

War-themed comic books are used by the Kremlin to sell its views on the war in Ukraine to the youth.

During the first months after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, a Russian State Survey poll suggested that young Russians were the least supportive of the war.

It now appears that the Kremlin is taking steps to bring about those changes.

In April, the Russian Ministries of Defense and Education began distributing tens of thousands of comic books praising the invasion of Ukraine in schools across Russia and the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine.

According to the project’s official website, the goal is ultimately to deliver these comics to every school under Russian control.

The comics consist of 22 short stories dedicated to Russian soldiers who were decorated for their role in the war.

They reflect the Kremlin’s baseless claim that Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 prevented a “genocide” planned by Kiev authorities in eastern Ukraine and supported by NATO countries.

One of the key players is Colonel General Azatbek Omurbekov, the commander of the unit responsible for the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha in 2022.

The comic book describes Mr Omurbekov as a “real man” and claims his troops showed “humanity” during the early months of the war in Ukraine.

“While they (Ukrainian soldiers) retreated, the enemy left their wounded behind. Russian soldiers gave them first aid – even in war one must remain human,” the comic reads.

In fact, Russian forces have been accused of torturing and killing Ukrainian prisoners of war by major rights groups, including Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Observation Mission in Ukraine.

The books were written by Oleg Roy, a leading Russian children’s author and an outspoken supporter of the war in Ukraine.

The comics make use of the anti-Western, anti-Nato and anti-Ukrainian rhetoric that the Russian authorities have long propagated. “Out of hatred for Russia, the West is arming their puppy neo-Nazis in occupied Kiev,” one of the books reads.

Mr. Roy previously created a series of comics devoted to patriotic “Russian superheroes,” which were hailed by the Kremlin-backed media as Russia’s “answer to DC and Marvel.”

Image source, geroisvo.znanierussia.ru

Image caption, In Oleg Roy’s books, NATO generals are depicted as evil and cunning

In September 2023, another series of 23 war-themed comics was published by prominent military blogger Mikhail Zvinchuk, who is also part of the Russian Presidential Council for the War in Ukraine. These comics have been translated into English, Arabic and Chinese.

The stories they tell claim to be based on real life situations from the war in Ukraine. They emphasize the courage and determination of Russian soldiers, while using derogatory language to describe Ukrainian soldiers, who are depicted as pawns of Western generals.

Some stories also echo those of Russian state-controlled media, which claim that Ukrainian soldiers lack the motivation to fight because their commanding officers send them to their deaths.

One of Zvinchuk’s comic books describes the battle for the eastern Ukrainian village of Klischiivka, which Russia has since claimed to have conquered.

It tells the story of a Ukrainian soldier named Mykola, who surrenders to Russian forces, shoots members of his own battalion and changes his name to Nikolai, the Russian variant of his name.

In another matter, two Ukrainian drone operators are desperate and forced to surrender because they cannot cope with the might of Russian armored vehicles, which one of them calls “cyborgs.”

Mr. Zvinchuk’s comics were displayed as part of an art exhibition on a train traveling through Russia.

The train contained nine thematic carriages depicting the “heroism” of Russian soldiers, starting with World War II and ending with the war in Ukraine.

According to official data, more than half a million people attended the Ministry of Defense-backed initiative, which was called The Power of Truth. The train traveled more than 34,000 km and stopped in more than 75 cities between Moscow and the Far East of Russia.

Image caption, A Polish general scolds Ukrainian soldiers

Another series of war-related comics from Ukraine focuses on the exploits of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group and its late founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin – although this series appears to have no official support.

Wagner mercenaries have been involved in wars in Ukraine and Syria. Prigozhin died in a plane crash on August 23, exactly two months after he led a short-lived mutiny in which his fighters took over key military installations in southern Russia and began marching on Moscow.

The comics – which were published on the social media platform Telegram in late 2023 – glorify Wagner mercenaries and claim they saved Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine from “genocide.”

The main character is a Wagner mercenary named Angel of Wrath, who is depicted fighting blue dog-like creatures bearing the Ukrainian coat of arms.

In the comic, these creatures are turned into monsters because of the “new serum the Americans inject them with.”

One of the issues in the series ends with Prigozhin issuing an ominous warning: “What they (enemies of Russia) do not know is where the Angel of Wrath will appear next. And so let all wait and fear.”

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