The Big Lie Kills Thousands of Ukrainians

February 14, 2024 22:07

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky says that he is fighting two enemies – the military might of Russia and the Big Lie Vladimir Putin sells to his people to persuade them to fight and die.

He was speaking in a new biography by Simon Shuster that has just been published by Harper Collins in the United States– “The Showman: Inside the Invasion that Shook the World and Made a Leader of Vladimir Zelensky”.

“The Russians are difficult to conquer, not only because of their arsenal but also the power of the lies of Putin,” he said. “It shocks me to see the power of this information and its despicable nature. The most frightening is that people do not see what is behind it.

“According to the evidence we have witnessed, they want us to die and they want the death of our children,” he said.

Putin said he sent his army into Ukraine to wipe out Nazism. This is a Big Lie. Zelensky is Jewish, his grandfather served in the Red Army in World War Two and three of his brothers were killed in the Holocaust.

Putin also says that Ukraine is an “artificial” nation and has no right to exist. Accordingly, his troops have destroyed hundreds of Ukrainian schools and erased all traces of its culture and language. This is just what Nazi Germany did in Poland during World War Two.

When Ukrainian troops interrogate captured Russian soldiers, they ask why they are invading another country. The prisoners repeat exactly the words of Putin. When asked where the Nazis are, the prisoners are unable to answer. Nor can they explain why they are killing a people whom Russian propaganda has described as “brothers”.

To explain this, Zelensky evokes the funeral of Josef Stalin in Moscow in March 1953. As Russian records would later reveal, he was one of the greatest butchers in human history, comparable to Adolf Hitler.

“In the public procession behind Stalin’s corpse, people stamped over each other, crushing the old and children, simply to see the leader who had just died,” said Zelensky. “They wanted to touch this bastard who had crushed Ukraine. This showed how Soviet propaganda had convinced its people that this devil was a saint. In this war, we are fighting against a similar mass of delusions.”

Only this can explain the mass targeting of civilian targets, like schools, hospitals and apartment buildings, with no military value. One example was a massacre in Bucha in March 2022, when the Russians killed 458 civilians, according to Ukraine.

“When I visited Bucha, it was the worst day of that tragic year,” said Zelensky. “It taught me that the devil is not far away but right here on this earth. I saw the work of the devil in Bucha.” In intercepted conversations, Russian soldiers called the executions there “cleansing”.

In their interrogations, the Russian prisoners repeat another Big Lie of Putin – it was Ukraine, helped by NATO, that invaded Russia and that they are fighting to protect the motherland. Putin constantly compares the invasion to the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 against Nazi Germany.

In reality, it is the opposite. Russia invading Ukraine is like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invading Poland in September 1939.

Putin has been able to maintain the Big Lie through a ferocious control of the media and public debate. Almost no-one dares to challenge the official narrative; when interviewed, ordinary Russians repeat it, out of fear or conviction. Others hear this and believe it to be true.

To change this narrative, Zelensky mentions George Orwell, one of his favourite authors, and Charles Chaplin, especially “The Great Dictator” a film he wrote and directed in 1940. It is an anti-war political satire black comedy, mocking Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

“Chaplin used information as a weapon during World War Two to combat fascism. These people, these artists have helped society and often their influence is more powerful than artillery,” Zelensky said.

If Ukraine recaptures the eastern regions currently occupied by Russia, he will need all the skills of Orwell and Chaplin to win back its residents now being subjected to intense Russification.

“The Big Lie” was first used in German (große Lüge) by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf (1925) to describe how people could be made to believe so colossal a lie because they would not believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously". His propaganda chief Josef Goebbels said: “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”.

Shuster was born in Moscow, son of a Russian mother and a Ukrainian father who had grown up near Zelenskiy’s home town of Kryvyi Rih. In 1989,they fled to the U.S., where Shuster grew up and became a staff writer for TIME magazine.

In 2014, when Putin seized Crimea, Shuster was the first foreign journalist to get there and start reporting. He met and interviewed Zelenskiy during the presidential campaign of 2019; after Zelenskiy was elected, he spent months embedded with the presidential team – a rare and precious access.

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.