‘Orcs’ and ‘Rashists’: Ukraine’s new language of war | Russo-Ukrainian War


Kyiv, Ukraine – “A squad of orcs has been repelled.”

This is not a reference to JRR Tolkien’s race of evil Lord Sauron followers with bad breath and disfigured faces that appeared in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This is a line taken from an official report by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense – and part of the ever-expanding wartime vocabulary used by senior officials, the military and the media.

The subtext is simple – especially after the harrowing reports of rampaging soldiers killing civilians, indiscriminate bombings or cruise missiles gone wrong.

“They are orcs because we don’t consider them human,” Tetiana Chursina, a shop assistant in kyiv, whose second cousin spent weeks in her basement in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, told Al Jazeera. kyiv.

Russian troops labeled as ‘rashists’

“Rashist” is another frequently used epithet to describe Russian troops.

The neologism combines ‘Russian’, ‘racist’ and ‘fascist’ – and is immediately understandable to those who grew up in the former Soviet Union.

Even though the term “fascist” refers to the regime of Benito Mussolini in Italy, in the USSR it primarily referred to the German Nazis whose army and allies occupied most of Ukraine during World War II.

Some anti-Soviet Ukrainians collaborated with the Nazis and were adored by post-Soviet governments – attracting the attention of pro-Kremlin media.

Because in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Kremlin-sanctioned story of Soviet Moscow’s role in defeating Nazism, which some observers consider exaggerated, has become a mainstay of official dogma.

Both warring sides use German military terms as degrading insults.

The Kremlin usually calls Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “Nazi, even though he grew up in a Russian-speaking Jewish family – and his grandfather lost his family in the Holocaust.

Ukrainians can call a Russian-appointed mayor of an occupied city a “Gauleiter”, a German term for the satrap of an occupied region, or simply call a collaborator a “Polizei”, German for the police.

But Ukraine’s language of war went far beyond the use of German or Tolkien’s prose.

Ukrainian leaders, officials and military officers are communicating with the media and the public in new and effective ways in an information war.

In doing so, they break with Ukraine’s Soviet past, when communist leaders bored their audience with monotonous hour-long speeches.

Regional managers play a central information role

Nowadays, Ukrainian mayors, governors and defense officials have a Telegram, Twitter or Facebook account – and immediately inform the public about developments in their jurisdictions, without any approval from superiors in Kyiv.

Ukrainians trust their posts, live streams and videos – and appreciate their sincerity.

There are new domestic stars – like Oleksiy Arestovych, an assistant to Zelenskyy.

Arestovitch has held daily press conferences since the first day of the invasion.

His upbeat, soothing and sarcastic briefings made him “all Ukraine’s psychotherapist” and a meme advertising “sedative pills” with his name circulated online.

And when Arestovitch is unable to deny or confirm something, he uses other means to get his point across.

On April 1, an explosion rocked Belgorod, a city in western Russia that borders Ukraine and is home to military bases and depots. It destroyed a giant fuel storage – and was widely attributed to a Ukrainian missile attack.

“Maybe someone smoked a cigarette in the wrong place?” Arestovych said with a wink.

Another wartime media darling is Vitaliy Kim, governor of the southern Mykolaiv region.

In his videos, tweets and Facebook posts, Kim, whose father is of Korean descent, speaks mostly Russian.

But nobody seems to care, contrary to what the Kremlin says about the “discrimination” against Russian speakers in “Nazi Ukraine”.

“Good evening, we’re from Ukraine,” is how Kim begins her late-night videos, a phrase she’s seen on T-shirts and Facebook profile pictures.

“Verbal outbursts of anger”

Of course, Zelenskyy, the comedian-turned-president of Ukraine, rules the roost when it comes to being sincere, totally off-the-record — and a little vulgar.

“Stinky bastards!” How else can you call them? he said of Russian forces on April 23, hours after a Russian cruise missile killed three-month-old Kira Glodan and her mother Valeria in Odessa’s seaport Black.

“That’s the phrase you couldn’t imagine coming from a president of a nation in public six months ago,” veteran Ukrainian journalist and editor Mykhailo Krigel told Al Jazeera.

The first meme of the war – “Russian warship, fuck you!” — cited the response of Ukrainian sailors who refused to surrender to a Russian vessel on Feb. 25 and opened the floodgates to overhauling the dull legalese used by officials, he said.

The phrase was repeated endlessly – and was seen on billboards all over kyiv during the first weeks of the war.

The use of obscenities against the Russian military – as well as their demonization – has an immediate psychological effect.

“It’s the easiest way to get out of stress, to unlock a verbal outburst of anger, which immediately hits the mark,” Kriger said.

More importantly, the new language of war is helping to change the way Ukrainians see themselves and are perceived around the world.

“We finally get rid of this image of eternal victim. These days the world sees us as winners who can kick Russian ass,” Serhiy Babenko, a 32-year-old tobacconist from the Kyiv suburb of Boryspil, told Al Jazeera.


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