by Julien Fagel
From the Commentary Editors:
At the INDY, we strive to share student insight and opinions on matters of arts and culture in the contemporary world. Oftentimes, such artistic expressions are tied to political or more traditional newsworthy events. With that in mind, we chose to publish this piece by one of our staff writers because it is important for us to use our platform to express perspectives and experiences that matter and deserve to be shared. This article speaks about the current issues facing the invasion of Ukraine and thousands of civilian casualties. There is tremendous value in investigating the lines between artistic expression and factual reporting with the rise in social media as a news outlet or a new kind of primary source in moments of tremendous importance. With that, we hope that you enjoy the article and that it inspires you to consider the intersections of arts, culture, and current events in the case of the war in Ukraine or countless other developing issues.
Waking up, I, like so many my age, usually start my day mindlessly droning through TikTok. One morning, however, my feed was suddenly interrupted by ten seconds of twenty-somethings strapped with kalashnikovs, fitted in tactical gear, and Techno music. It was a momentary blip in the ocean of content that the algorithm typically sends my way, but it's a sign of something much more significant. Despite the tolls of Putin’s invasion, Ukrainians are winning the war of information.
Soldiers like Andriy Kurilenko (@andriykurlienko0) and Aurther Turaev (@arthurturaev) have amassed thousands of followers posting quick glimpses of their lives on the frontlines. Even civilians caught in the crossfire, like @valerisssh, a Gen Z Ukrainian posting bomb shelter minivlogs and refugee clothing hauls, have captured millions of views, just as they have the hearts and minds of young people everywhere.
In our “Post-truth Era,” where every piece of media we consume is questioned, fact checked, and audited, social networks have provided young netizens the world over the ability to watch war unfold firsthand. So while our elders might fuss over “the media,” our generation today follows major geopolitical events through the individuals experiencing them, through the eyes of their peers on the ground. We’re presented with highly personal accounts of war easily sympathized with and left unquestioned per an ethos of kinship that connects creators and audiences of the same generation.
By taking up arms against Putin, his army of trolls, and his propaganda machine, young Ukrainians are becoming independent conflict reporters, documenting their own humanitarian crises and educating through their own travesties. Simply by posting on TikTok, they’ve disrupted the habitual flow of the algorithm with a new, revolutionary type of reporting. In the place of a major broadcasting brief or some foreign journalist flown overnight to the heart of Kyiv, Ukrainians are educating the world through a uniquely humanizing genre of personal account––one still reflective of their national plight––that has funneled massive donations to their country’s frontlines, that has placed immense public pressure on world leaders.
Young Ukranians have become some of the most prolific wielders of soft power in recent memory, simply by doing what young people do best: plastering their lives onto timelines everywhere. Ukrainian youth, intentionally or not, have taken collective action to rally morale, win support from the international community, and greatly bolster their country’s war efforts by merely recording their lives.
No Fireside Chat, “Just Say No” PSA, or episode of Anderson Cooper 360, could compare to the sheer amount of parasocial influence Ukrainians are cultivating online, and it has taught the America a lesson. Mainstream reporting has lost its hold on youth, and whether that be due to the impact of the internet’s ability to give anyone a platform or a general rising mistrust of cable news, young people are taking matters into their own hands.
And in a state of war, while the international community hesitates to lend meaningful support, the ability of young Ukrainians to tell their story has transcended the world of my morning routine. In the rubble of Mariupol, under the missile-replete sky of Kyiv, and amid the civilian camps of Kharkiv’s metro it has become a matter of life or death.
Julien Fagel is a freshman in the SFS studying Culture and Politics.