The world has seen invasions, hostile takeovers, and coups before through the lens of social media—the Arab Spring perhaps being the first, and the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan being the latest—and when it comes to how it’s documented, the war in Ukraine is both similar to all the times before, and different. There are more social media platforms at our disposal than ever, and the slow ramp-up to all-out war has meant that Ukrainians and journalists on the ground have documented every step that led to the invasion as we see it today.
People are up against Russia’s massive, well-practiced (if often sloppy) propaganda machine, while organizations like Bellingcat debunk false flags and disinformation as fast as it goes up. The Center for Information Resilience has been verifying, documenting and geolocating social media footage from on the ground, and was able to create a map of Russia’s movements along the border, before the invasion:
On some level this all feels very familiar: Everyone is falling into their roles, with fact checkers debunking disinfo fed through bots, propaganda outlets, and people who are just plain wrong, trolls trolling, meme makers memeing, cryptocurrency maximalists preaching, and various navelgazers trying to make this all about themselves.
Russian forces, meanwhile, are already working to take down Ukraine’s internet access. And videos that are being posted by normal people on the ground in Ukraine give the world a harrowing look at the situation as it unfolds, and are going viral on every possible platform. This is not the first war to have its story documented through social media, but it is the first European war that has rightfully captured the attention of every platform, and it can be dizzying trying to follow it. Civilians started posting videos of the Russian army amassing supplies and artillery at the border last week, showing armored vehicles arriving in droves:
Since the invasion started in the last 24 hours, people have been posting videos of shelling over major cities in Ukraine:
One jarring video shows the moment a jet flies over civilian homes, firing missiles directly into the neighboring houses:
Soldiers record selfie videos for their loved ones:
As Ukrainians try to flee the country to nearby refugee sites such as Poland, some are showing the bumper-to-bumper traffic slowing them down:
Even moments of relative calm, such as this video from Kyiv, are hard to look away from—city life seemingly carrying on as usual in the middle of a war:
And now, as the invasion progresses and Ukraine’s leaders ask Russia’s citizens, and the world, to denounce this attack, footage of anti-war protests in Saint Petersburg and elsewhere are cropping up:
As an American living in the 21st century, I’ve had the privilege to have not (yet) experienced a land war in my own backyard. It’s something that’s unfathomable to anyone who hasn’t; the videos and images coming out of Ukraine, from the people on the ground, offer the tiniest fraction of understanding what that might look like.