“Hanged UOC priest” and “burned churches”: Russia creating “circle of lies” about Ukraine in Italy

“Hanged UOC priest” and “burned churches”: Russia creating “circle of lies” about Ukraine in Italy

It is no secret that Telegram has long captured the leadership among messengers in Ukraine, used as a source for breaking news. But this is not exclusively a Ukrainian or Russian trend — the share of users of this network abroad has also been on the rise.

According to analysts at Sensor Tower, Telegram has become the most downloaded messenger in Europe in 2022. That is why pro-Russian propaganda spends more and more resources on developing a range of “nets” that broadcast certain narratives exclusively to foreign audiences.

The Center for Strategic Communication analyzed the operations of one of such nets, where the front face is an Italian-based pseudo-journalist Andrea Lucidi.

The Italian has long been working for the Russian propaganda

Lucidi runs profiles on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, although he does not use them very actively so the audience on each of these sites does not exceed 3,000 subscribers.

The Italian regularly travels to the temporarily occupied territories, where he shoots propaganda reports only to be picked up by the Kremlin media which put a special emphasis on what the “Italian journalist” reports.

For example, in March, Russian top propagandist Vladimir Solovyov on his Telegram channel thanked the pseudo-journalist for “trying to convey the truth to the citizens of his country.”

Lucidi came to Mariupol to shoot a video against the background of new buildings.

The main site of Lucidi’s “work” is Telegram, where he has a personal channel with 7,700 subscribers, as well as a backing for a number of Kremlin platforms that mimic “independent” media that allegedly seek to “tell the truth to the Italians.”

How Russia spread a fake about the “hanged UOC priest”

On May 7, Lucidi posted on his page a video from TikTok, in which the Ukrainian military allegedly hanged the priest, and then boasted about it on social networks.

“Recently, there have been a lot of discussions about religious oppression in Ukraine against the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. We have seen violence and hatred against religious people and believers. We have seen how the Kyiv authorities expelled ordinary monks from one of the oldest and most important monasteries for Orthodoxy. What we have not yet seen is that the Ukrainian military posted videos showing the hanging of allegedly a doll in the costume of an Orthodox priest. All this to a cheerful song,” Lucidi wrote on his Telegram channel.

By a “strange” coincidence, it was during those days that rallies took place in Kyiv outside the pro-Russian church’s HQ, Lavra.

It is important to clarify that Lucidi did refer to the “hanged” priest as a doll, while his Russian colleagues simply spread a video on social networks with titles such as “Beasts from the Ukrainian Army hanged an Orthodox priest.”

As of June 1, Lucidi’s posting has already gained more than 80,000 views, mainly due to reposts by other Russian-controlled channels.

Initially, thievideo appeared on another pro-Russian channel, which targeted Italians — Donbass italia (35,000 subscribers).

Soon, Russian-language Z-channels joined the distribution, where they separately emphasized that this video was published by an Italian journalist.

This is one of the favorite methods of Russian propagandists — disseminating fakes, allegedly not from their perspective, but those coming from the Western media.

Then the fake story gained circulation across “trash” websites and low-profile accounts on social networks. It is important to note that large Kremlin media such as RIA or TASS are not part of such campaigns, leaving the dirty work to the sites specially created for such tasks.

Russia loves to spread fakes on religious topics, then repeating them all the time

Italians are considered one of the most religious nations in Europe, so it is not surprising that Kremlin propaganda uses this feature to sow lies about Ukraine and its Armed Forces.

For example, the Italian-language Telegram channel La terza ROMA (almost 10,000 subscribers) pays special attention to this topic.

“Through the silence of the international community, the official Orthodox Church is persecuted throughout the territory of Ukraine. Burned churches, arrests of priests, threats and beatings, constant violence against believers, not to mention the expropriated churches,” was written in the Telegram channel on May 19. 

Such posts are published regularly — in May, on this channel alone, the Center for Strategic Communication recorded more than 10 postings in which Italians were told that Ukraine persecutes believers, and that the country is ruled by Satanists.

Similar narratives are promoted on other Italian-language Telegram channels: in particular, on the channel Un ponte tra Italia e Russia, which is led by an “Italian-Russian journalist Tatiana.” In the channel’s profile, the author offers her audience a “space for dialogue,” but instead promotes exclusively Kremlin ideology, often touching upon religious issues.

It is also worth mentioning another well-known fake story on a religious topic, which has gained wide coverage. In March 2023, propagandists from the Readovka Telegram channel published a video that allegedly depicted the Ukrainian servicemen cutting lard on the Quran, and then lighting a fire with it, thus mocking the Islamic religion.

Back then, the Center for Strategic Communication drew attention to how poorly people spoke Ukrainian in the video — they uttered Russian words and had an undisguised Russian accent, but Russian propaganda does not care about the quality of its fakes, relying on the vast geography of their circulation spread and vulnerability of target audiences.

Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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