Ukraine cyber police charge suspected Russian propagandist over YouTube gonzo campaign

A man has been accused of using YouTube and Telegram to spread pro-Russian propaganda to an online audience of three million people, garnering half a billion hits, say cyber police in Ukraine.

The authorities there did not name the man, who apparently remains at large and was charged in absentia. He is accused of running the YouTube-based “Free City of Odesa” program, which they say is aimed at “overthrowing the constitutional order in Ukraine.”

“The total audience of the propaganda project on various web resources is about three million users, and the number of material views is more than 500 million,” said the Cyber Police of Ukraine.

“In addition, the suspect repeatedly entered the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine in violation of the rules for crossing the state border,” they said, adding that the suspected propagandist met with Leonid Pasichnyk and Denys Pushylin, leaders of the contested breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, which the West has refused to recognize since disputed elections were held in the war-torn provinces last year.

“The propagandist held ‘working meetings’ and interviewed the so-called leaders of the pseudo-republics, as well as other representatives of the self-proclaimed government,” police added.

The suspect has been charged under Article 436-2 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which stipulates that “justification, recognition as lawful, denial of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, [or] glorification of its participants” is a crime carrying a sentence of up to five years.

The vlogger’s YouTube and Telegram campaign consists of what Ukrainian authorities have described as a series of “WarGonzo” bulletins – an apparent reference to the term “gonzo journalism” popularized in the 1970s by US writer Hunter S Thompson – in which the reporter features as the protagonist in their own story.

“In particular, in them, he justifies the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, the occupation of the territories of our state, and spreads fakes and disinformation,” police added.