The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion In Kyiv, I’m glued to the screens — yet swimming in misinformation

People use the subway as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 24. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Iuliia Mendel is a journalist in Kyiv and former press secretary for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

After explosions rocked areas near Kyiv on Thursday morning, awakening my boyfriend and me about 6 a.m., my phone started ringing nonstop. The first person to call me was a journalist friend who lives across town who had also heard the explosions. “I’m not going to run away,” he said. "I’m not giving up my job.”

That’s when I set out to get and try to share as much verified information as possible on Twitter and other platforms. There were things I knew for sure — like the attacks around Kyiv — but there were already many unverified claims circulating online. Suddenly Twitter was full of images of tanks, troops, shelling, wounded people — but it was clear many were fake, designed to induce panic.

There’s no doubt the Russian propaganda machinery is hard at work, which makes us Ukrainians more skeptical and paranoid. It’s hard to navigate information in the fog of war, but propaganda can sink us into further uncertainty and despair.

There were reports of Russian troops entering Odessa, a southern city near my hometown, Kherson, where all my relatives live. My mother and aunt called on their way to work. My mom is a pediatrician at a state hospital. “How could I not go? There are children there,” she told me. I figured they probably wouldn’t bomb hospitals — at least not yet.

Rumors continue to spread. Information can be wielded as a tool or a weapon during war. That’s why I can’t tear myself away from my screens.

I’m trying to piece together the truth from reliable reporters, witnesses and official Ukrainian sources. But each report about a new attack, a new battlefront, a new possible defeat feels like a devastating blow.

One minute Ukrainian forces are allegedly leaving the strategic city of Mariupol, and in the next, official sources say the city is being defended. Then I read that the Russian flag is flying atop the city hall in Kherson — the “proof” is a video in which only a small part of some white building can be seen. The place looks unfamiliar. The video is fake, but I pray it never becomes reality.

Guest Opinion: I woke up to explosions in Kyiv. It wasn’t the first time Russian aggression upended my life.

Russian television, although officially banned, still makes its way into many villages. Uniformed officials talk of Ukrainians distributing fake videos of Russians massacring civilians. “It’s not true,” says the general on state TV. I shudder at what he’s telling us without really telling us.

And as I try to swim in this torrent of information and misinformation, I wonder whether I can make it home to Kherson or whether we will have to flee somewhere else. I’m trying not to panic, to plan every move. But it’s hard to look ahead.

When my boyfriend went to fill up our car on Thursday morning, he ended up stuck in line at the gas station for more than an hour. As sirens blared, warning of another possible air attack, we were not together. The lights went out briefly. He came back safely with water and other supplies, and we vowed to stay together.

There are reports of airports being destroyed or under Russian control. People are fleeing, but it’s hard to know where is safe.

My mother and aunt call me constantly. The fighting seems to be intensifying across the country. They don’t know what to believe — and in some cases are afraid of what they should believe. They sigh with relief when they hear reports that the Ukrainian army recaptured strategic towns like Mariupol and Shchastia in Donbas, but are they true?

Sirens are going off again in Kyiv. Back to the screens.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia claimed to have seized control of Soledar, a heavily contested salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged recently, but a Ukrainian military official maintained that the battle was not yet over. The U.S. and Germany are sending tanks to Ukraine.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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