Wake up, roll over, check the phone for news from Kyiv. It has become a habit, a strange new morning routine, and not just for journalists whose work days have crystallized like this. Millions are now following this war in real time on social media, immersed in it more closely and personally than ever before. If the rise of 24-hour television news brings audiences at home closer to distant conflicts, subtly altering our understanding of them, smartphones have put war within our grasp. Doomscrolling has become an addiction, although doom seems the wrong word for a struggle where horror mingles with many stories of hope and inspiration; Stories with the scintillating qualities of modern myths, viral and unforgettable, if not always immediately verifiable, are often usefully translated into English.
The young Ukrainian expert was said to have heroically blew himself up with the bridge he was accused of destroying in order to slow the Russian advance. The villagers were depicted bravely standing in front of the tanks. The Vice Posting pictures of themselves practicing guns, Snake Island soldiers salute their demands for surrender with the now-famous reply: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.” (like file Will not passThis slogan is everywhere. It was sprinkled on T-shirts sold to help Ukrainian charities, and even icing on cookies sold by a Texas bakery.) Then there’s the story of how President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected an American offer to take him to safety with the words “I need ammo, not a ride.” The war has transformed a former comedian once derided for his ingenuity into a creative leader in times when the short, deeply moving videos posted from beneath his bombed-out capital seem made to share: real-life Scheherazade tells captivating tales to the world in hopes of keeping his compatriots alive. life for another night.
Speaking of stories seems trivial, at a time when war crimes are now almost certainly unfolding. But the grimmer news from the front, as Russian forces begin to encircle cities and bomb civilians into submission, the more important it is. Desperation makes the rest of the world look away because it takes too much, or share well-meaning posts about how it’s okay to turn off the news if it makes you sad and do some yoga instead. Hope, on the other hand, keeps people emotionally invested, both at home and abroad; It encourages us to donate to charities, puts pressure on governments to act and on big corporations to divest, and steadfastly accepts the sacrifices that loom now with soaring prices for gas, oil, wheat and raw materials. ITV polls last week found 68% of Britons agree the government should impose any effective economic sanctions, even if it raises energy prices, although sentiment may change when bills start hitting doorways. But strategic communications (to give the stories their technical name) may be of more importance, the foreign minister insists, if NATO member states are drilling for the long haul.
For years now, Russia has masterfully exploited the storytelling power of social media to manipulate emotions and destabilize governments across Europe. Its army of bots, trolls, and helpful idiots has fueled culture wars, amplified conspiracy theories, spread fake news, and clinged to any glimmer of suspicion and division, while the largely liberal West faltered in response. Now something has changed. The social media giants have been incentivized at least for a while, with Google Block advertising channels Russia Today and Sputnik on YouTube in Europe and Meta (nee Facebook) target disinformation networks. The BBC is attracting new listeners in Russia who are suddenly thirsty for factual reporting that they can’t get back home. Next time our government attacks the BBC, remember it’s going to Les Doucet’s house, quietly broadcasting under the bombardment, the 3am World Service bulletins that reach people too scared to sleep.
It’s also amazing how openly Western intelligence communities have shared information about Russian invasion plans and supposed Russian operational difficulties, as if to mock the paranoid Kremlin about their apparent leak. For the first time in years, it’s as if the West is confidently telling its story again – an old tale of liberal values versus authoritarianism, but given new life by a democracy small enough not to take freedom for granted. But what remains elusive so far is the feeling of a happy ending.
If this war had been written in Hollywood, it would have ended just as the mayor of Lviv suggested, as the palaces of the oligarchs in London were seized and used to house Ukrainian refugees, though only so that those refugees could return victoriously to their homes. But in real life, no one yet has a convincing account of how to stop Vladimir Putin, given NATO countries’ understandable reluctance to use force against a leader threatening nuclear Armageddon. Diplomatic hopes seem pinned to helping China broker some kind of peace, even though that could mean another drastic shift in global alliances, with unpredictable consequences. Meanwhile, every day that deadly convoy approaches the Ukrainian capital, evoking harrowing memories of how Russia’s siege tactics ended in Grozny and Aleppo.
But every day that Zelensky escapes assassination, every night Kyiv can hold out, it seems like a miracle now. That’s why we can’t stop ourselves from compulsively searching for news. Only one night. Only one story. Just one more optimistic morning.