Artem Bidenko: Ukraine Has Everything to Astonish You

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Artem Bidenko

Artem Bidenko has extensive experience in advertising and political communications. In 2017, he was appointed the State Secretary Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine and worked hard ever since to promote the truthful image of Ukraine. We met with Artem to find out about the new “Ukraine.Now” brand, fake news and why Ukraine is called “the country of possibilities”.

In 2017, the amount of UAH 25.4 million was invested in the budget of the Institute of National Remembrance, which is actively engaged in decommunization. Why is this process so important now? How to preserve cultural monuments of the era without mixing them with the communist heritage?

The question lies in the dominance of the Russian paradigm of glorifying the Soviet past, which is used in the anti-Ukrainian propaganda. For instance, 99% of Polish people have no doubts that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian state and the époque of mass-murders was truly terrifying. For them, accentuating, say, parks with the Soviet sculptures and typical architecture or establishing tours in huge industrial cities is a way to make money.

Unfortunately, it’s not the way for us — for a decent number of people, approximately 20-30%, Soviet identity still stays the symbols of the “good life” when sausages cost UAH 2. These very symbols are also actively used in media in the same light.Artem Bidenko on a press conferenceThat’s why we have to decide what’s more important: making not even that substantial profit or allowing the vicious cycle of generations that are obsessed with Stalin, aesthetics of hammer and sickle to continue. Naturally, profit can’t influence the culture, so as a political expert I’d like to say that it’s better to cut off everything that keeps the country from going forward. If we have an opportunity to turn some locations into the tourist spots, for instance, Chornobyl or enormous industrial factories, it’s better to leave the Soviet symbols out of it.

Let’s take the Expocenter of Ukraine: while there are some Soviet elements in the decor, the owners reconstructed the location into a recreational space and removed the ideology. Regardless of symbols on the walls, nowadays the Expocenter is mostly associated with Atlas Weekend festival, relaxation and entertainment. To sum up, Ukraine uses locations like this without attaching it to the past. Actually, attachment to the past is a death sentence for Ukraine.

That’s why this issue is a matter of communication — there’s a difference between saying “come over and see all 170 statues of Lenin” and “come over to this cool park with a statue of Lenin hidden somewhere inside”.

For more than a year, social networks like VK, Odnoklassniki and Yandex have been blocked on the territory of Ukraine. Where does the fine line between blocking resources with potential threats for Ukraine and freedom of expression lie?

It’s actually quite simple: using sites like VK is not forbidden in Ukraine, anyone can use VPN and log in. What we have is a presidential decree declaring these websites (as well as web services connected to them like online payment systems, maps and resources that gather information about users) a part of economic sanctions. Accordingly, Ukrainian entrepreneurs, in this case, Internet providers, aren’t permitted to work with such sites. If you want to cooperate with VK and implement it in Ukraine - well, bear in mind that you can be fined.

Yet, providers and entrepreneurs have nothing to do with freedom of speech. They are only providing services and users still have the access — we can turn on VPN and log in VK right now.

What significant change has occurred in the information space since the beginning of blocking?

Minister of Information Policy of UkraineThe restrictions have several results. Firstly, in the past 80% of the profit in the digital advertising market went to the branches of Russian companies. Nowadays, the situation reversed — barely 10% goes to the advertising in VK or Odnoklassniki. More and more Ukrainian services and pro-Western sites started appearing on the Internet. Indeed, the profit of Google and Facebook has raised but they aren’t a threat to our country.

Secondly, the audience of sites like VK has decreased as well as the ability to get all the information because of VPN, or to be precise, anonymizer in it, doesn’t read all the data. We think that we’ve reached the goal to lower the risks posed to information security in Ukraine. It’s important to note that the goal is not to ‘ensure safety’ because it’s a rather Soviet term, but to lower the possible risks. Economic sanctions that restrict the cooperation with companies like VK substantially dropped the risks we had faced before.

Should Ukraine expect new blocking of sites in future?

The Ministry of Information Policy regularly analyzes the information space and makes lists of sites that might contain information that contradicts the law. Then, the expert council passes the lists to the Security Service of Ukraine. As a rule, those are resources like novorossia.ru, dnr.su and the similar ones. The SSU investigates the information and takes legal proceedings. Our position as the Ministry is that any bans should be reviewed in the court. It’s quite difficult to make a forecast about new bans.

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Today fake news is an urgent problem in the whole world. Last year, the Ministry of Information Policy in Ukraine created the so-called "Information Army". How does it function?

Guys in military uniformThe Information Army is a volunteer organization that appeared at the same time with the Ministry of Information Policy. Essentially, it started out as a group of activists, bloggers and active users that spread truthful information — they created a simple web site and compiled an enormous database. The Army specializes at debunking fake news and continues to do this nowadays.

There are many organizations like this, for instance, Inform Napalm and Stop Fake. Sviatoslav Batov, one of the leaders of the Information Army, has worked in the Ministry for some time. Nowadays, however, he’s focused on working with non-profit and public organizations as well as grants from various funds. So, we don’t interfere with the work of the Information Army.

Can we trust English-language media that publish news about Ukraine or do they often post fake news as well? How to combat this issue?

Nowadays fake news is not as common. In 2014-2015, it happened quite often because of the standard procedure of fact-checking in the foreign and Ukrainian media. The mechanism faced a new approach from the Russian intelligence called ‘controlled chaos’ theory: giving an enormous amount of information that looks true and is difficult to fact-check. Moreover, they also used a multi-level system of cross-links: sites that are linked to other sites that are linked to more sites etc. All this information is written in the Russian language, which is not as well-spread abroad. That’s why it seems that the given ‘facts’ truly have a basis. There was no serious fact-checking: people clicked on one cross-link, maybe two but that’s it.

The situation changed in 2016-2017 when the world saw the degree of fake news and propaganda. The majority of media, including foreign ones, have conducted workshops and introduced solid fact-checking systems — accessing the 9th and even the 10th level of cross-linking, processing the information via Google Translate, sending additional inquiries at the government bodies in order to get the real picture. That’s why nowadays there isn’t much fake news about Ukraine in the Western media. The existing are rather corrupt articles than anything else.

Recently, the Ministry of Information Policy and the public organization UkrMedia set up a two-week course of media literacy and culture for teens. What is the basis of the course and how will this help the country in the future?

Emine JaparovaEmine Japarova, the First Deputy Minister of Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine: The course of Media Literacy and Culture is essentially unique. The program is designed in such a way that students receive both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. The teenagers get acquainted with European media standards, the basics of journalistic principles, and the civil responsibility of journalists. Besides, special attention is paid to the topic of safety of social networks and fact checking. The schedule includes workshops on content writing, the art of title, photo and video processing, blogging, etc. Therefore, the course is aimed at familiarizing students with both traditional and new media. The best students of the course will become interns on the UA / TV channel and Hromadske Radio.

Our goal is to teach adolescents the skills of critical thinking while consuming information and help them feel free and secure in the modern media space. Also, we hope that we will discover a lot of young media talents. Our students write their own blogs and are engaged in community and volunteer activities. More than 100 applications have submitted an application for the course; we selected 40 based on motivational letters.

Do you plan to continue the campaign "Crimea is Ukraine"?

Crimea is Ours bookEmine Japarova, the First Deputy Minister of Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine: "Crimea is Ukraine" campaign is indefinite and we will consider it completed only when we get Crimea back. The very motto of the Crimean-Ukraine campaign was proposed in 2014 by Crimean immigrants like public persons, journalists, activists, as one that should unite all efforts to restore Ukraine's sovereignty in Crimea.

Today we can emphasize several practices of the campaign implementation. Firstly, development of strategy of information reintegration of Crimea. The document was developed jointly with many NGOs, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, human rights activists and journalists. The document is absolutely inclusive and lists the principles of Ukraine's information policy in relation to Crimea. The document is currently going through the next round of agreements with executive authorities and interested institutions.

We are waiting for it to be voted on by the government. After that, a detailed plan for the implementation of the strategy and adoption of the appropriate budget will be developed. In fact, the implementation of this strategy involves working with three key audiences: international community, Ukrainian society and the inhabitants of the occupied Crimea.

Secondly, the campaign strategy is implemented in the following areas:

  • restoration of the Ukrainian system of broadcasting in the occupied Crimea. In 2017, 2 towers were built in Kramatorsk and in Bahmukivka village. In total, there are 71 digital broadcasters and 41 analog broadcasters;
  • communication campaigns aimed at attracting attention to Crimea. For instance, on February 26 (Crimean Resistance Day against the Russian occupation), May 18 (Memorial Day for victims of genocide of the Crimean Tatar people), June 26 (Day of the Crimean Tatar flag), August 09 (THe World Indigenous Peoples Day) and December 10 (International Human Rights Day).

In May 2018, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved the new brand of the country called Ukraine.Now. Why is this important for Ukraine? What is the strategy of implementing the new brand?

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Since the 1990s, countries and cities around the world became competitors in a huge market. At the time, the term ‘territory branding’ appeared along with a separate marketing branch with its own rules and approach. There’s even a special guide called “[The Routledge] Handbook of Destinations Marketing”, according to which Ukraine has not fitted the rules of surviving on a huge market of touristic marketing. We spoke in different voices, every Ministry had its own approach and logo — it was chaos. There was a crucial need to bring the order: firstly, every Ministry and authority should say the same things. It’s not only about logos but the focus of communication.

The key strategy of promoting Ukraine.Now lies on two pillars: first is the open source, which means that anyone can download the brand identic and use it in a way they like. We are more interested in business enterprises, public organizations and common people being the carriers of the brand rather than governmental bodies. That’s why we want to make it possible for people to use the identic: take a sticker and put it on your suitcase or a cup, sell that cup or a cap or a T-shirt. In short, let people make money from Ukraine. In this way, people become agents of the new brand. We don’t have the financial resources to start high-quality and solid communication programs like in, say, Great Britain. That’s why common people will be our agents.Ukraine.Now identics The second point is that the government should start the promotion campaigns after all. They will be coordinated by the Commission on Promotion Issues headed by the Minister of Information Policy. We strive for effective financial allocations: for example, if there’s the Ministry of Economics of Ukraine exhibition in China, we throw all the forces there.

We plan to start several promotion campaigns this year. Some of them like testing the brand within the audience or a tender process for large international TV channels have begun on the Internet already. It’s a classical activity of brand promotion in order to increase sales in full force: ads on TV, radio, on the Internet, holding events, presentations and road shows.

Focus groups in your research showed that foreigners' perception of Ukraine can be briefly described as Ukraine.Now. What is actually hidden behind this slogan?

Ukraine.Now brandWe’ve chosen the focus by conducting research, focus groups and contests — if put shortly, the message is “the country of possibilities”. Ukraine is a country with no limits and restrictions: you can drive along the beautiful field and stop to explore it because there’s no fence around it. You can visit nightclubs in Kyiv, Lviv, Dnipro and feel the vibe from your parents’ stories about Berlin. It’s the old mixed with the new that gives a way for new emotions.

There are a lot of things in Ukraine to show in this light: for instance, don't present Chornobyl as a tragedy but a location for lovers of extreme that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. International Bikefest ‘Tarasova Hora’, medieval festivals near Odesa and Kamianets-Podilskyi, knight tournaments — all this exists nowadays and is unique and unusual. Moreover, Ukraine is rather cheap, extremely hospitable and is one of the safest countries for foreigners. It’s a very important point because multiple kinds of research show that our country is very safe specifically for foreigners.

I know that the new official brand will also have a brand book. Will it spark the interest of foreign investors?

It’s a signal for investors that Ukraine seriously approaches the business: now we have a brand book that includes all the rules, Pantone colors and technical side of the brand. It shows that everything will be in order and in a way investors are familiar with.

What message would you personally like to convey to our foreign readers?

Girls in national Ukrainian attire give out pyrohyDefinitely, it’s safety. Ukraine really is a safe country. There’s an interesting case with Columbia that built its touristic campaign around safety in the 90s. They chose several routes, made them as secure as possible, and announced that as long as you follow the routes, you are safe. It caused a touristic boom; and Columbia is no longer perceived only as a country where you can be killed; instead it gained an image of a location for extreme leisure. In Ukraine, it’s safe everywhere no matter the route you choose.

Another point is the novelty, unusual and interesting sides of the country. Our research shows that foreigners have a certain image of Ukraine that is something similar to the second-world country: dirty, gritty and grey, people never smile, plus it’s a part of the ex-USSR and there’s a war going on etc. However, when they come here — and I’ve personally witnessed this — they see exactly the opposite: hearty people, delicious food and many destinations to explore. That’s what we have to show — something unique to astonish the foreigners and make them want to come back.

Photos provided by the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine. All images belong to their rightful authors.

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