Werewolf experts: how anti-vaxxers lie about mobilization in Ukraine

Information war

The events of February 6 in the village of Kosmach in the Ivano-Frankivsk region demonstrate the impact of Russian propaganda and “useful idiots” who spread anti-mobilization hysteria. The latter are former anti-vaxxers who, following the onset of full-scale invasion, have become “experts” in mobilization.

Events in Kosmach can be paralleled with Novi Sanzhary in 2020. Back then, poor communication from the authorities and pro-Russian forces contributed to panic in the city. In newly formed local groups, fakes about people arriving from China were actively spread, along with links to pro-Russian and Russian TV channels: “NASH”, “112”, “ZIK”, “NewsOne”, and “Russia 1”. All of this was supplemented with fakes and manipulations about COVID-19. VoxCheck previously wrote about well-known anti-vaxxers in Ukraine and debunked their claims.

A similar situation occurred in the village of Kosmach. Locals reported that an anonymous message appeared in the Viber and Telegram chats of the town, stating that six cars of the Territorial Recruitment and Social Support Center were coming to catch men and organize a “raid.” Russia has many bot farms that pretend to be Ukrainians and spread disinformation at various levels: from large groups or channels to local chats. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that this time, the Russians could have “throw in” similar information that stirred up people. As it turned out, there were no “raids,” “spotters,” or anything similar.

What do anti-vaxxers have to do with it?

The anti-vaccination movement is somehow connected to Russia. For example, even before the full-scale invasion of Russia, one of the leaders of the “Stop Fake Pandemic” movement, Serhii Mikiten, regularly reposted information from Russian and pro-Russian sources and was part of the “Concept of Public Security (Концепция общественной безопасности)”. This movement encompasses everything: conspiracy theories, esoterics, the “Russian world.” Or Elena Faist, who claimed that Ukrainians and Russians are “fraternal” peoples and there is no war. Some of them were part of the pro-Russian party “Derzhava” (Victoriia Shylova, Kyrylo Stremousov and Dmytro Vasylets) and became collaborators.

On November 16, 2021, the Security Service of Ukraine blocked the activities of an anti-Ukrainian network that, under the guise of “anti-vaccination” slogans, tried to destabilize the socio-political situation in the country. According to preliminary information, their actions were coordinated by Russian curators. At the same time, the well-known anti-vaxxer Stakhiv was suspected of inciting violent changes to the constitutional order in Ukraine. On November 24, the Center for Countering Disinformation of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine announced the Russian trace in the protest action against vaccination.

Yesterday’s anti-vaxxers organize so-called “journalism courses” where essentially they teach how to obstruct the work of government agencies with requests. Their content aims to provide evidence that Ukraine does not exist. If there is no state, then there is no corresponding legislation, and therefore, no mobilization can take place. Such a course of events is beneficial only to Russia.

Below are examples of just a few bloggers who, in addition to their anti-vaccine activities, are now also engaged in anti-mobilization efforts.

Anton Hura

In 2020, this little-known blogger gained attention on the “1+1” live broadcast, where he spread disinformation and panic about a plane from Milan at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, he claimed that people on the plane showed signs of illness, were taking fever-reducing medications, and that there were definitely passengers with coronavirus on board. Later, he started commenting not only on medical topics.

He also mentioned the recent events in Kosmach, stating that people finally “started learning the laws.” The “expert” claims that Ukrainians are being prepared for mobilization from the age of 19 or advises on how to avoid it altogether. Hura considers Territorial Recruitment and Social Support Centers, martial law, and mobilization illegal because a state of war has not been declared.

Hura spread Russian fakes. For example, the falsehood about the invitation of the Vinnytsia Territorial Recruitment and Social Support Center to a New Year’s Eve celebration. Or the fake that Ukraine was supposedly sold to the West.

State of war or martial law?

The state of war is one of the hot topics among anti-vaxxers who oppose mobilization. According to them, a state of war is deliberately not declared because it would allow for the mobilization of deputies, officials, debt write-offs, and deoligarchization. In reality, Ukrainian legislation does not contain provisions for the mobilization of deputies, debt write-offs, or deoligarchization in the event of declaring a state of war. “State of war” is exclusively a process of a state’s foreign policy that formalizes relations between countries, whereas “martial law” pertains to internal policy. Currently, there is no requirement for official documents to be in a state of war. The UN Resolution “On Aggression” of 1974 qualifies the invasion or attack of armed forces of one state on the territory of another state, bombing, or blockade of ports as acts of aggression. Therefore, attention is primarily focused not on official documents that mention the declaration of war but on the actions taken. Hence, martial law is sufficient for conducting defensive actions and mobilization.

Ostap Stakhiv

Ostap Stakhiv is an activist and blogger, and he identifies himself as a “freelance journalist.” He is the founder of the NGO and party “Idea of the Nation (Ідея нації)”. He actively promotes conspiracy theories about the alleged harm of 5G, masks, and quarantine, labeling the pandemic as planned and coronavirus vaccines as dangerous. He also ran for mayor in local elections in Lviv but only received 0.36% of the vote. After the local elections in 2020, he supported provocateurs Viktor Vikarchuk from Khmelnytskyi and Olena Faist from Cherkasy. The first one ran from the pro-Russian party Opposition Platform — For Life, while the latter openly stated that she received funds for anti-vaccination campaigns from Russia.

In 2023, he co-founded the public organization “Association of Human Rights Defenders of Ukraine” with Oleh Herych. Herych, in his social media, calls himself a journalist and explains how to fight against Territorial Recruitment and Social Support Center. The organization’s channel and chat are filled with anti-mobilization narratives: the Verkhovna Rada does not exist, and the extension of martial law is illegal, as is mobilization. Stakhiv himself has talked about the need to declare a state of war rather than martial law.

In July 2023, Stakhiv launched the course “Status: Journalist,” where the introductory session was conducted by the same Herych. The course is paid – 7500 UAH. However, for those who applied before July 20th, it was 3250 UAH. After payment and completion, the person receives a journalist certificate. However, the course has nothing to do with journalism because it taught how to obstruct the work of government agencies by requesting information, and the speaker himself said that he is a journalist when it benefits him. Or he boasted about numerous complaints and requests. Interestingly, the course focuses specifically on military law.

Stakhiv did not ignore Russian fakes either. For example, he talked about the mass abduction of children from Ukrainians in Europe. Or he carefully spoke about the unconstitutionality of mobilization, calling it a “selection failure to a comedy show”.

On January 28, 2024, they launched another intensive training session, “Journalist-Human Rights Defender 2.0,” after which they also issued a certificate of journalist of “Galician News.” Essentially, Stakhiv distorts the concept of journalism, manipulates facts, and undermines trust in the media. Anyone can undergo his training for a few weeks and become a “journalist.” As practice shows, no journalism is taught there.

By the way, this story brings us back to the events in the village of Kosmach again. After the unrest, locals met with a representative of the Territorial Recruitment and Social Support Center. They began voicing Russian narratives: “There is no state of war,” “Who are we fighting against,” “Why aren’t deputies and their children fighting,” and so on. Imagine that in every city, there could be a representative of Stakhiv’s organization, a potential provocateur who knows exactly how to act. There are unlikely to be positive outcomes.

Can martial law be extended?

Conspiracy theorists claim that extending martial law is prohibited. In reality, there are no limitations in the Law “On the Legal Regime of Martial Law” or in the Constitution regarding the number of extensions of martial law or the impossibility of doing so. The only limitation is that the president cannot introduce or extend martial law without the approval of parliament.

Oleksandr Shavliuk

After the 2014 elections, Shavliuk served as an assistant to the Vinnytsia Regional Council deputy from the “UKROP” party, Oleksii Borodii. Later, in 2020, he himself ran for the Vinnytsia City Council from the “Volya” party but lost. In 2018, the blogger and lawyer stood out with protests against the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and amid the wave of quarantine restrictions in 2020, he began commenting on COVID-19 events. Shavliuk criticized and ignored the quarantine, considering it a violation of his rights. He claimed that parents who refuse vaccination would be deprived of parental rights and their children would be taken away forcibly and that vaccines were killing people.

After the start of the full-scale invasion, he comments on mobilization processes in his videos. He also discusses how all women are being mobilized, Territorial Recruitment and Social Support Centers do not have the right to issue summons because they are illegal, and how to avoid mobilization in his videos.

How do they lie about the mobilization of women?

Fakes about the mass mobilization of all women can be heard often. However, in reality, it only concerns those with medical and pharmaceutical education. From October 1, 2023, to December 31, 2026, they must register for military service. But this does not mean that they will be immediately mobilized into the army. Also, the spokesperson for the Ground Forces Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Volodymyr Fitio, reported that since 2014, no women have been forcibly mobilized. Military of the 47th OMB Olena “Ryzh” Ivanenko points out that it is difficult for women to enter the military even voluntarily due to stricter requirements (mandatory higher education, except for medical personnel, the need for involvement in Territorial Recruitment and Social Support Center), and gender stereotypes.

Expert or not, that is the question

The cases above are just a part of the anti-vaxxers who have started commenting on mobilization in Ukraine. Their strategy is to take negative incidents (which, unfortunately, exist) and maximize and amplify them, making them seem like the “norm.” Or provoke conflict and present it in a way that suits them.

It’s important to avoid such “experts.” To do this, it’s necessary to follow simple rules:

  • Check the biography.
  • Determine what exactly they are commenting on (a person cannot be an expert in everything; for example, Hura or Stakhiv comment on everything — from mobilization to medicine).
  • Review whether the person has spread disinformation and whether they have acknowledged their mistakes, if any.
  • Ensure that the expert is truly unbiased.
  • Carefully analyze the theses to see if they contradict each other.
  • Pay attention to the sources of information provided and whether they can be independently verified.
  • Consider the emotional tone of the message: if there are more emotions than facts in the news, chances are you are being manipulated.

Information war