Meet Solomiya, part of Ukraine's IT army
We’re going to hear from Ukrainian law student Solomiya; she’s part of Ukraine’s “sofa army” of keyboard warriors who are using the power of social media to counter misinformation and share the reality with people worldwide including, critically, in Russia so the Russian public can hear what Vladimir Putin is trying to stop them finding out. She spoke earlier this week with our own James Tytko…
James - Hi Solomiya, how are you?
Solomiya - Yeah, thank you. Hello, we are good. We are in a safe place now and everything's kind of alright.
James - I was wondering if, for the benefit of our listeners, you could tell us a bit about where you're from and how life has changed in the past week.
Solomiya - So, I'm originally from Kyiv. I'm studying law.
James - When the news first broke of the war starting, what were those first few days in Kyiv like?
Solomiya - Ever since it started at 4/5 AM, there were sirens, and it was the most terrifying moment. After two days, when we were in Kyiv, and there were explosions and bombs, we decided to leave the city. Now we are in a Western part of Ukraine with my grandmother. I'm worried for all those people who are in Kyiv right now - I have a lot of friends that decided to stay there. Also, my grandparents are still in Kyiv, and I'm really worried about them. Every night, I dream about something with war in it: it's either, "we need to go to the shelter" or just shootings but, every night, in my dreams, I see war.
James - How are you keeping up to date with the situation at the moment?
Solomiya - We're using TV, of course. Also, we have a lot of information going through Instagram and, I don't know if you know about this messenger called Telegram, but it's really popular in Ukraine and we have some channels on there, verified by our government. Some other verified news sources as well. We are trying to use all of these accounts because others can be fake or spread Russian misinformation.
James - Have you been given any particular instructions on how to act online since the start of the conflict?
Solomiya - Yes. Firstly, our government told us to only use our governmental sites and not to believe any other accounts. We need to check information to know that it's not some Russian propaganda. Also, our military officials, they asked us not take photos of any soldiers, any of our tanks, planes, anything, because it can be used by our enemy. Also, they asked us not to take photos of explosions and bombings, because the Russians can correct their distance and location according to these photos.
James - You talked about government websites. I was wondering if there's been any interference and how, if at all, this has affected you?
Solomiya - The first few days we had some problems with a few of our sites. There were some problems with banks, also with a few of our governmental sites - I think it was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - but it was only a problem with the working websites; there was no problem inside these banks and ministries. They were working alright.
James - This war's different to any other in the amount of information available online to people on all sides. I was wondering if you felt like you've contributed in any way to the Ukrainian resistance because of the online aspect of this war.
Solomiya - A lot of people my age, they're doing some work online. For example, I was reporting channels and accounts on different social media. There is a problem with accounts that are filming our military and saying where it is located, so we are trying to block these channels. Also, I was reporting some Russian Instagram celebrities because they were spreading lies about the war. They were saying that everything's alright. It's all lies because we've seen all the pictures from Kyiv and there's what I've seen myself. One Russian singer, he wrote something about the whole situation, like saying that Russia hasn't invaded anyone, and now, when you go to his Instagram and you see this post, Instagram is saying that this information is false. Also, I know a lot of people are going to some Russian websites, Russian groups, and they have started messaging them. They are sending them photos of our cities, of what's going on. The same is going on in Google maps. I've seen a lot of my friends, they just go to, for example, some really luxurious Moscow restaurant and in reviews of the restaurant, they are writing what's going on in Ukraine and sending pictures there.
James - Was there anything else about the cyber aspect of this conflict? Anything that has you particularly worried that might happen or has already happened?
Solomiya - We spread some information about the situation in our cities with people we know. So, if you go to someone's Instagram story, it's really likely that you'll see something like, "We've seen some, saboteurs here", or some information like, "We need help. There is a mother and a two month old child, and we need to take them from this city. Who is going there?" If someone needs some medicine or food, we're trying to help each other. We already took some people from a dangerous region and now they're in a safe place.
James - I'm truly in awe of your bravery and the way you've spoken today, and I think you've done something really great. Thank you so much for that.
Solomiya - Yeah. Thank you for asking.