Kalashnikov, grenades, knives and… smartphone. In the conflict that opposes them to the Russian army, the Ukrainian resistance fighters rely on a weapon never seen before in a war: their telephone.
Communication, mobilization and organization tool, the smartphone is the only weapon in the possession of the Ukrainians that the Russian soldiers do not have. For fear of seeing its army share images of the atrocities taking place on Ukrainian soil, the Kremlin has banned its soldiers from taking their phones with them. A strategic error that delights the Ukrainian resistance.
“The Russians don’t know the terrain and, without GPS, they don’t know how to orient themselves, they are completely lost” testifies a soldier of the Ukrainian airborne troops to the journalists of Parisian present on the spot. “The first thing they do when they meet civilians is steal their phones to send messages to their loved ones” he adds.
Sending messages to reassure families is only the tip of the iceberg that the smartphone is for Ukrainian populations. Behind this small object that you carry around in your pocket hides a powerful organizational tool allowing the Ukrainians to repel enemy troops.
real time warfare
They reload their smartphone as they fill the barrels of their pistols. Ukrainian soldiers and resistance fighters have one hand on their rifle, the other on their phone. This 2.0 weapon first allows them to adapt to the situation in real time. When the sirens begin to howl, everyone receives the same message: ” Everyboy inside “.
When Russian troops are approaching, they receive a message on a Telegram conversation, a messaging service deemed more secure than WhatsApp by the Ukrainian authorities. Everyone adheres to it: the soldiers of course, but also the NGOs, associations, resistance fighters as well as the civilian population, the ones we don’t see, who hide in basements and manufacture homemade weapons.
It is also on Telegram that thousands of Ukrainians have received the formula to follow to make a Molotov cocktail. It is also that soldiers and civilians share the positions of enemy troops in real time, with precise GPS coordinates. It is also here that people are asked for all kinds of equipment (nails, hammers, anything that can be used to build shelters, watchtowers) or labor.
On the 8 p.m. news on France 2 dated March 2, 2022, a Ukrainian civilian explains that he comes to lend a hand as he can. Too small, having not done his military service and not knowing how to handle weapons, he roams the checkpoints with only his toolbox and his courage as weapons. This man builds shelters, reinforces barricades, delivers equipment.
In the field, the smartphone is also a great tool to boost the morale of the troops. On social networks, soldiers and resistance fighters are moved by the support of foreign populations and drink messages of encouragement to continue their efforts. The Internet is also an outlet, a place where they joke, sometimes in a schoolboy way, often with the dark humor that characterizes this kind of event. “It helps us to hold on” confides to the Parisian Olexandr, a reservist hired for a week.
The smartphone is the portal to the world of social networks and, by extension, communication. In this area, too, the Ukrainians are one step ahead of their enemies. While Russia restricts Facebook, Twitter and others on its lands, President Zelensky uses it to rally public opinion to his cause and mobilize his troops.
Не вірте фейкам. pic.twitter.com/wiLqmCuz1p
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) February 26, 2022
It is on Facebook that he chooses to address his people two days after the Russian invasion. “I am here, we are not going to lay down our arms and we are going to defend our country” he says, laptop in hand. Since then, the Ukrainian president has used Twitter and Instagram to regularly report on the situation. His number of subscribers exploded on these two platforms: from 500,000 to 5.5 million on Twitter for example.
Naturally, these information and communication portals have become a relay for mobilization and organization. The Ministry of Defense circulated some sort of tutorials for making weapons. Lesson number 1: how to make a Molotov cocktail with what you have at home. Lesson number 2: how to properly throw your cocktail at Russian tanks to stop them.
Закінчення війни – В РУКАХ КОЖНОГО З НАС!👊🏼
Знищуй! Pali! 🔥
Викидай ворога зі свого дому, своєї країни! pic.twitter.com/t1d8mKirEC
— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) February 28, 2022
For people in rural areas, the General Staff of the Armed Forces posted an infographic on Twitter and Facebook titled “How to Get Rid of the ‘Russian Devil'”. He explains how “cut trees to obstruct the road”. A message taken up by the national road network agency which encourages Ukrainians to “burn trees, make barricades, burn tires”.
Вразливі місця ворожої техніки. Бий окупанта! Razom переможемо!https://t.co/L4e2u1BMGx pic.twitter.com/g64CdCvgZI
— Генеральний штаб ЗСУ (@GeneralStaffUA) February 28, 2022
The video of a young woman showing how to use a Russian tank abandoned has also made the buzz on social networks. It later turned out that this video posted on TikTok was the digest of a longer video by a Russian and not a Ukrainian influencer. Never mind, Ukrainians now know how to drive a Russian tank.
Если вам попадётся свободный или брошенный бтр – Держите лайфхак как его запускать☝🏻 # настятуман # авто # бтр # автознания
♬ Original звук – Туман Настя
Videos inviting Ukrainians to fight are not the only ones to find their audience. On Twitter or TikTok, young influencers show civilians how to pack a survival kit or emergency backpack in case Russian troops gain ground.
In this conflict, the Ukrainians have also decided to wage an image war. These calls for resistance serve of course to mobilize the troops but also to illustrate the bravery of the people of a “small country” in the face of the invading giant. A modern-day David versus Goliath. On the one hand, it encourages the Ukrainian people to hold on, on the other hand it discourages the Russian forces.
In this communication war, Ukraine says it is counting on its president, who has become a model of heroism. former actor, Vladimir Zelensky knows the workings of social networks, the art of staging. And it works.
Not only does the President of Ukraine receive support from nations around the world, but he also encourages other Ukrainian media and political figures to do the same. Kira Rudyk, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, posted several photos of her, Kalashnikov in hand on her Instagram account. “Women will protect our soil in the same way as men” can we read in the caption of his photo.
I learn to use #Kalashnikov and prepare to bear arms. It sounds surreal as just a few days ago it would never come to my mind. Our #women will protect our soil the same way as our #men. GB #Ukraine! 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/UbF4JRGlcy
—Kira Rudik (@kiraincongress) February 25, 2022
These calls for resistance are giving rise to outbursts of heroism among Ukrainians. On Twitter, videos that have gone viral show unarmed civilians fending off tanks getting in their way. Another spectacular video, this peasant who steals a Russian tank with his tractor.
Russian tanks retreat after dozens of people formed a human shield in Korukivka, a town on the northeast of Ukraine
Via Charter97 pic.twitter.com/kGuYmRdFOX
— Denis Kazakiewicz (@Den_2042) February 27, 2022
— olexander scherba🇺🇦 (@olex_scherba) February 27, 2022
If this strategy seems to work, it is not without risk, tempers Le Figaro. Because if the smartphone is a privileged portal to access information, fake news is never far away. For example, the buzz around the ghost pilot of Kiev or the story of the 13 sailors from Serpent Island turned out to be hoaxes. But as everyone knows, at all times and in all wars, heroic stories have always aimed to boost the morale of the troops.