Russia has deployed mobile propaganda vans with large-screen televisions to humanitarian aid points in the captured city of Mariupol as the Kremlin has pushed forward with efforts to integrate newly occupied territories across the south of Ukraine.
Videos published by the Russian ministry of emergency situations showed the vans, which it called “mobile information complexes”, playing state TV news segments and political chat shows where pundits support the invasion to locals in the ruined city that still lacks electricity and running water.
The Orwellian turn comes as much of Mariupol was destroyed in an artillery bombardment that left thousands dead. One of the vans was deployed near the ruins of the Mariupol drama theatre, where hundreds were killed in an airstrike in March.
Several of the trucks now patrol the city, mainly playing Russian television news segments. “The people of Mariupol have been held in a virtual informational vacuum for three months due to the lack of electricity,” wrote the emergencies ministry in a statement.
The mobile screens have reportedly been deployed to places where Mariupol residents are receiving humanitarian aid, Russian documents, and at points in the city where drinking water is available.
“The practice of ‘there is nothing to eat, so feed them lies’ is gaining momentum,” wrote Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol. It’s “cynicism of the highest level”.
“The truth and the propaganda,” wrote Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior ministry, posting a video of the trucks superimposed over images of the ruins of the city. This is “the Russian world”, he added.
The effort to install Russian propaganda in the ruined city is part of a larger effort at pacifying and integrating captured cities like Mariupol despite earlier assurances by Vladimir Putin that Russia did not seek to occupy new territory in Ukraine.
Putin on Wednesday signed a law that would fast-track applications for citizenship from Mariupol, as well as the Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia that are partly under government control.
The Kremlin decision has been decried as “passportisation”, an attempt to annex the territories by filling them with de facto Russian citizens.
Senior Kremlin officials have already promised to remain in southern Ukraine “for ever”.
“The simplified system will allow all of us to clearly see that Russia is here not just for a long time but for ever,” the Moscow-appointed deputy leader of the occupied Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, told Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency.
“The illegal issuing of passports … is a flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as norms and principles of international humanitarian law,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Russian-controlled administration in Kherson also announced that it would begin issuing salaries in roubles on Thursday, effectively adopting Russia’s currency as part of the creeping annexation of southern Ukrainian territories.
Local authorities installed by Russia have also said they may formally request annexation.