‘The Truth over the Dnieper’

Maxim Edwards

The front page of ‘Naddniepryanskaya Pravda’ on 23 September 2022, urging readers to vote ‘yes‘ in the annexation ‘referendum’

The official newspaper of the regional military administration in Russian-occupied Kherson was called Naddniepryanskaya Pravda, or ‘The Truth over the River Dnieper’. When Ukraine’s army liberated Kherson last November, locals tore down the ‘forever with Russia’ billboards and burned the propaganda sheets in the streets. As with other pro-Moscow propaganda newspapers published across occupied Ukraine, behind this newspaper’s crass triumphalism lie some clues to the contours of Russian military rule and the terror of daily life under it.

Not every copy was burned, but it’s hard to get hold of now. Kherson is subject to relentless bombardment; my friends there could send me scans of the paper only with difficulty. The rest of Russia’s local propaganda outreach remains online. As the Ukrainian investigative site discovered, the Russian authorities launched an extensive network of collaborationist Telegram channels for several Ukrainian regions before their invasion almost a year ago. Last August in Kherson they launched Tavriya TV, a pro-Russian television channel headed by Kirill Stremousov, a local fringe blogger who was appointed deputy head of the occupation government in April. He died in a car crash in November, shortly before the Russian withdrawal.

As Russian state media put it, the printed paper was aimed at the elderly, the poor and the internetless. It was to be freely available in shops, pharmacies, petrol stations and public buildings. According to Ukraine’s union of journalists it was established last July, following the Russian seizure of the Hryvnia print house in Kherson. Serhiy Nikitenko, the editor of the independent website Most, drew my attention to the attempt to appeal to Soviet nostalgia: a Soviet-era publication called Naddniepryanskaya Pravda had struggled through to the 2010s. The resurrected version had the USSR’s Order of Labour medal in its masthead with the words ‘published since March 1928’.

None of the stories carried bylines, but independent Ukrainian media claim to have identified local journalists who offered their services. Although several Kherson journalists have told me that Naddniepryanskaya Pravda interested few and convinced even fewer during the occupation, it demonstrates the system of incentives in place at the time and provide context for the choices some locals had to make. An appreciation of that may be crucial in determining the attitude of the Ukrainian government to its recently liberated citizens.

The diktats of the Moscow-appointed governor, Volodymyr Saldo, were prominent on the front pages. Last June, Saldo outlawed ‘propagandising terrorism’ and ‘discrediting’ or ‘disseminating false information’ about state institutions. All of these were already illegal in Russia. But in Kherson, the punishment was to be ‘summarily deported’ from the region – potentially a crime under international law.

An article in August claimed that thousands of Ukrainians were fleeing into Russian-occupied territories, attracted by the stability, family reunion and ‘lack of Nazism’. Chiefly, though, they were coming for the jobs. The paper advertised employment in the many institutions controlled or established by the Russians. Hundreds of positions needed to be filled: cleaners, librarians, accountants, medical staff. Even former Ukrainian soldiers who had fought in the east were welcome to apply for a job at the local interior ministry, with the oblique demand that they had ‘not committed crimes’.

The lack of teachers became a major preoccupation as the new school year approached in September. It was ‘intolerable’ that teachers could sit at home while ‘continuing to be paid by the Kyiv regime’. The arrival of several hundred teachers from Russia wasn’t enough. Mayak, a collaborationist newspaper from the Beryslav district in the north of Kherson Region, mocked teachers in the village of Novovoskresenske who refused to go to work ‘because they want to introduce Russian there’. The anonymous author wondered whether physics and maths were also ‘Muscovite’, and reminded recalcitrant doctors of the Hippocratic oath.

These reprimands came alongside grand claims of Russia’s capacity to send in the Stakhanovites and rebuild the Ukraine it refuses to admit it destroyed – a mainstay of many Naddniepryanskaya Pravda front covers. While Russia was constructing on a Soviet scale – look at the Kerch Bridge, connecting occupied Crimea to Russia’s mainland – ‘a new building has become a rare thing in so-called independent Ukraine.’ As another bonus for Kherson, severance from Ukraine meant reunification with Crimea.

One headline described Kherson as a land of ‘Russian people with Ukrainian passports’. Even the Ukrainian census of 2001, the article claimed, acknowledged that 97 per cent of the Kherson Region’s population were Russian. If you look at the census, this figure can only have been derived by adding together Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians. It is a telling calculation, implying that Ukrainian identity may exist only as a provincial form of Russianness, artificially inflated to a nationality by foreign powers. They were all strongly encouraged to apply for Russian citizenship: life would be possible without a Russian social security number, ‘but it will be like the 1990s’.

Naturally, there were warnings of Nazis, defined by one anonymous contributor as those who ‘forbid being proud and remembering. They excise everything Russian: monuments, culture, language.’ An article on fascist movements in Ukraine was illustrated with a photograph of a far-right march in Moscow in 2012. Russia’s invading troops were not met with flowers, the paper claimed, only because the locals were too afraid after years of bans on overt pro-Russian activism. This is not so much about winning Ukrainians’ hearts and minds as restoring them to supposed factory settings.

As Ukraine’s counteroffensive crept closer to Kherson, the confident propaganda morphed uneasily into crisis messaging. It didn’t matter, the paper claimed, that the ‘monkeys with HIMARS’ had shelled the Antonovskyi Bridge, which connected the city to the Russian-occupied territory east of the Dnieper. ‘Normal life is gathering pace in the region,’ Naddniepryanskaya Pravda reported. ‘The only people who won’t see it are delusional, living in parallel realities created by Ukrainian propaganda.’

The Russian forces withdrew from Kherson on 11 November, taking their ‘truth’ with them across the Dnieper. Occasional copies can be still found for sale on Ukrainian auction websites, alongside other trophies that Kyiv’s soldiers have taken from the frontlines. Publishing continues on the other side of the river; a December issue of Naddniepryanskaya Pravda announced that Russian troops will return to the city of Kherson, which they describe as ‘temporarily occupied by Ukraine’.

With thanks to Marc Bennetts, Olena Makarenko and Evgeniya Virlich


  • 1 February 2023 at 7:36pm
    sutton says:
    Like so much we read about Ukraine this seems rather partisan to put it politely.

    • 1 February 2023 at 11:31pm
      DavidSanderson says: @ sutton
      It's interesting that when Russian propaganda is not given any credence the resulting analysis is considered to be "partisan". Russian propaganda is worthless, the feverish dreams of a wounded imperial power.

    • 9 February 2023 at 4:55pm
      nlowhim says: @ sutton
      Yeah starting to wonder about the LRB. Some previous articles before the main war were more level headed. To hand wave far right elements of Ukraine and the Banderites (whom putin has essentially given a gift by doing what he did) seems odd. And have they said why they didnt publish Hersh’s latest?

  • 1 February 2023 at 9:19pm
    John Zacharopoulos says:
    Complex, textured history that is nearly impossible to explain to the casual observer in a non partisan manner. Especially when foreign interests may be attempting to revise this history to conjure consent for future selfish actions

  • 2 February 2023 at 8:57am
    beast says:
    Middle-class propaganda sneering at 'crass' propaganda.

  • 2 February 2023 at 11:35am
    Rory Allen says:
    A moment's calm analysis of the Russian message will show that it is at the very least self-contradictory, and therefore cannot be true. We don't need to make sneering comments about 'middle-class propaganda' or about 'feverish dreams of an imperial power'. Just look at what the Russians are saying and apply some logic.

    The basic narrative is contained in Putin's essay 'On the unity of Russians and Ukrainians'. Everybody interested in the topic should read it. Like Mein Kampf, it is the key to what happened after it was written. The main point is contained in the title: Ukraine should be part of Russia, because the peoples of these two countries are historically one people, and the territory of Ukraine is historically part of Russia. (He applies the same argument to Belarus, but in that case Belarus is already within the Russian sphere of influence - in effect, a province of Russia - so that bit has been overlooked).

    The problem with this thesis is that if all Ukrainians are Russians, then the claim that Ukrainians are oppressing a Russian minority is logically untenable. Putin might have claimed that one lot of Russians is oppressing another lot of Russians: it might or might not have been truthful, but at least it would not have been absurd. However, that would hardly have justified the invasion. After all, one lot of Russians is oppressing another lot of Russians, within Russia itself.

    It seems to me that there are two forces driving Putin's invasion of Ukraine. One is his vision of a 'Russky Mir', essentially a revival of the old pan-Slavism of the nineteenth century (one of the journals promoting this was actually called 'Russky Mir'). The other is his aversion to the existence of a (more or less) democratic state on his borders; this is a threat because it shows that there is an alternative to Putin's autocratic oligarchy.

    In practice, Ukraine is far from democratic and has a longstanding corruption problem. It is only democratic and transparent in relative terms. But if Russia is successful in occupying Ukraine and bringing it within the Russky Mir, it will not stop there. We may write off Ukraine, but as Orwell pointed out, it is not a good idea even pragmatically to watch your friends being destroyed by your enemies one by one, and to do nothing to prevent it. Because eventually, you will be next.

    • 3 February 2023 at 1:15pm
      beast says: @ Rory Allen
      "his aversion to the existence of a (more or less) democratic state"

      Ukraine is the most corrupt state in Europe.

    • 9 February 2023 at 4:15pm
      Rory Allen says: @ beast
      Other commentators put Russia in that unenviable position. But whatever the case, corruption does not justify invasion.

  • 2 February 2023 at 11:37am
    Rory Allen says:
    If it is middle class to oppose unjustified aggression, so much the better for the middle class.

    • 3 February 2023 at 1:13pm
      beast says: @ Rory Allen
      Nato's proxy war using Ukrainian bodies is indeed unjustified aggression. No wonder Putin is so popular in Russia.

    • 9 February 2023 at 4:16pm
      Rory Allen says: @ beast
      So the Russians currently in Ukraine are there - why, exactly? Did they lose their way through bad map-reading?

  • 2 February 2023 at 2:41pm
    Rebecca Fenneman says:
    Highly recommend Tim Snyder Bloodlands for context.

  • 2 February 2023 at 4:18pm
    sutton says:
    In deciding why Russia invaded Ukraine last February it’s helpful to look at what Russians have been saying for some years; they feel threatened by an advancing NATO and an aggressive America and fear for their sovereignty. The events of 2014 are rarely taken into account in the West yet the fighting has been continuous since then in the Donbas which protested when the elected President was - let’s be frank! - deposed and a new government installed chosen by the Americans. It was as blatant a Regime Change as that in 1953 in Iran or Iraq in 2003. It meant the possibility even the certainty of Nato forces on the Russian border. Russia complained but to no avail. What choice did it have? Surrender or fight.

    • 3 February 2023 at 6:07pm
      beast says: @ sutton
      You're mentioning stuff that went down the Memory Hole at the speed of light, ages ago, along with the Azov neo-Nazis. Combine that with how liberals have had their brains melted with fake news about Russia 'election meddling' etc and that's how we got to the current Ukraine fiasco.

    • 9 February 2023 at 4:17pm
      Rory Allen says: @ sutton
      'Feeling threatened' is not an excuse for invading a neighbouring country, even if you started invading it, just a bit of it, back in 2014.

    • 9 February 2023 at 5:02pm
      nlowhim says: @ beast
      Agreed. That the LRB seems to be only telling one side is disheartening. I’m in VFP and so am quite aware of the wests lies. Ray McGovern has a proper breakdown of Putin’s actual issues: nukes, American aggression and the inability of the west to stoop so low as to make a deal with a “gas station posing as a country”

      The LRB pointing out russian propaganda is fine. What about Ukrainian? Wouldnt that be worth it?

      And I Wonder if the LRB has any thoughts on who blew up nordstream? Seems the country that did that is the true threat. Hersh has a piece on it and given that he was a regular here, I can only imagine they passed on his piece. Perhaps they should say why?

  • 2 February 2023 at 4:28pm
    sutton says:
    A recent BBC documentary about the war in Ukraine was interesting in what it didn’t mention. In one sequence we were told the elected President had taken a helicopter to Crimea and in the next an ‘acting Prime .minister’ was giving his opinion. The bit that was missing was in a way the most dramatic; Baroness Cathy Ashton the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs went on the air in the early morning announcing that the EU no longer recognised the elected Ukrainian Government because the rioting in the Maiden was getting out of control. An interim Government was announced that the EU could recognise. Its members had previously been listed by the Americans as ‘their choice of Government’ if the opportunity arose. Done and dusted.

  • 2 February 2023 at 4:41pm
    Graucho says:
    In war Pravda is the first casualty.
    P.S. Proud to be middle class.

  • 2 February 2023 at 4:52pm
    enfieldian says:
    I don’t disbelieve anything in Maxim Edwards blogpost. I don’t think there’s anything nice about Mr Putin’s regime. Like his erstwhile friend, Tony Blair, Putin is a war criminal who belongs in the dock at The Hague. However the manner in which the Ukraine war is being discussed in this country fills me with foreboding. The media inform me that my country is at war, albeit, so far, a proxy war. Attempts are made, by ex-P.M. Johnson and by the LRB among others, to get me into the kind of Churchillian/Dunkirk mood appropriate to this situation. But nobody wants to tell me what my government’s war aims are. What kind of compromise is proposed to bring this ghastly situation to an end? The suggestion seems to be that the history of World War II will repeat itself, with a dictator shooting himself in the mouth in a bunker beneath the ruins of his capital city. Nobody has so far explained how exactly this desirable end will be attained. Nobody wants to tell me who will replace said dictator. Or are these questions none of my business?

    • 9 February 2023 at 4:20pm
      Rory Allen says: @ enfieldian
      Do you think, given his history, that Vladimir Putin is interested in a compromise as a permanent solution? Have you read his essay on Ukraine? If not, please do so (it is tedious and poorly argued, but quite short) and then tell me we can patch up a durable deal with him.

      The British always treat war as a last resort (except when it comes to carving out an empire) but when there is no alternative, we are prepared for it. If the parallels are being drawn with the 1930s, that is because the parallels are quite striking.

    • 9 February 2023 at 5:05pm
      nlowhim says: @ Rory Allen
      Given the history of the west, (& all the treaties they pulled out of) one wonders if they are interested in a deal. Listen to Ray McGovern (who was dead on about Iraq) and his reasons for this war. Putin had been asking for some sort of deal on missiles etc but the US does not care.

  • 3 February 2023 at 8:04am
    Rodney says:
    I'm intrigued what commentators here who demand "balance" and criticise the above article as "propaganda" are asking for.

    Do they want to read justifications for an illegal invasion; a war of aggression; for setting up torture centres in every occupied town and village; theft on an industrial scale; torture, rape, and murder of civilians; the illegal deportation of woman and children; the brainwashing of children and their farming out to patriotic families deep inside Russia (what will become of them?); the destruction of apartment blocks and civilian infrastructure by long-range missiles; the use of nuclear power stations as military fortresses; the annexation of a neighbouring country's land; the looting and destruction of museums and libraries; the suppression of a national culture and language and the murder of tens of thousands of civilians and of soldiers who are defending their homes and families.

    What do these people want to hear?

    • 3 February 2023 at 12:09pm
      enfieldian says: @ Rodney
      1. What are the British government’s war aims?
      2. What is a reasonable basis for a cease-fire?
      Does that make me a Putin stooge?

  • 3 February 2023 at 3:53pm
    Elizabeth Ashley says:
    Got bored with the tone of this article which is clearly biased. This sort of rhetoric only confirms the prejudices of its like minded readers or turns the rest of us off. I would have hoped for better from LRB.

    • 3 February 2023 at 5:47pm
      shewie says: @ Elizabeth Ashley
      Quite! And is rodney nafo? Or is it a parody?
      And I refuse to read further into any article about Ukraine unless the words cease-fire, now and negotiate appear in the first sentence of said article, this war has to stop.

    • 3 February 2023 at 10:23pm
      Graucho says: @ shewie
      Churchill's career may have been a catalog of blunders, but he got one thing absolutely right. It is not only pointless, but fatal, to negotiate with a lying murderer. Negotiate with an ex-KGB officer who worked with Stasi. The man who insisted that he wasn't going to invade the Ukraine. You cannot be serious.
      Give that piece of work the Sudetenland and he won't be satisfied until his troops are goose stepping their way through Prague. The political logic is grim, but obvious. If you are seen as a winner, people will follow you to the ends of the earth. If you are seen as a loser your power will melt away. Putin has to lose this war so badly that he is utterly humiliated. He will soon go then. Any negotiation that leaves him with any territorial gains and Ukraine not a member of NATO will simply serve to let him regroup, replan and then have a second bite of the cherry.

    • 4 February 2023 at 9:57am
      shewie says: @ Graucho
      Wow! Somebody desperately trying to stay off the "Myrotvorets".

    • 4 February 2023 at 9:58am
      beast says: @ Graucho
      The 'Bad Guy' school of analysis.

    • 4 February 2023 at 4:18pm
      enfieldian says: @ Graucho
      Churchill negotiated quite extensively with Stalin, I seem to recall…

    • 4 February 2023 at 6:17pm
      Graucho says: @ enfieldian
      My enemy's enemy is my friend. The Ukraine is our friend.

    • 4 February 2023 at 6:23pm
      Graucho says: @ enfieldian
      Though I take your point and of course his negotiations at Yalta etc. bore bitter fruit for post war Europe.

    • 9 February 2023 at 5:08pm
      nlowhim says: @ Graucho
      I wouldn’t dismiss the US as a bunch of lying murderers. It may be true, as many a wedding party can attest to, but you still have to make a deal with them.

    • 9 February 2023 at 5:09pm
      nlowhim says: @ beast
      School and analysis seems pike the furthest thing from the truth

    • 9 February 2023 at 5:10pm
      nlowhim says: @ enfieldian
      Nevermind Stalin deciding to negotiate with Churchill who killed millions of Indians just for giggles during the war

  • 8 February 2023 at 8:10am
    Charles Evans says:
    Surprise, surprise - the LRB blog's readership are predominantly shills for the ultra-right authoritarian imperialist power of Russia. We already knew the LRB's readership are mostly antisemites, so perhaps this shouldn't come as a shock.

    • 9 February 2023 at 11:43am
      shewie says: @ Charles Evans
      8:10 in the morning! Think you need to take your meds you idiot.

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