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INTERVIEW | Ukraine Advisor: 'If Russia Stops the Aggression, the War Will End' 

"But if Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine will end," says Yuriy Sak, highlighting the unbending will of his countrymen to win this war and maintain independence.



Yuriy Sak, Advisor to the Ukraine Ministry of Strategic Industries, on February 18. (© Sankei by Mizuki Okada)

The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward caught up with Yuriy Sak, advisor to the Ministry of Strategic Industries of Ukraine, on February 18. Sak was in Tokyo for the Japan-Ukraine Conference for Promotion of Economic Growth and Construction. In this second installment from an exclusive interview the day before the conference, Sak discusses the situation in Ukraine today. 

The war Russia is waging against his country is now entering its third year. Sak also comments on what the war means for Japan. Excerpts follow.

Last of two parts

Read part 1: INTERVIEW | Ukraine Advisor Says 'Russian Propaganda Aims for the World to Abandon Ukraine'

Russia and the 'Global South'

How do you see Russia's influence in the Global South regions, and how can Ukraine and your partner countries counter Russia's influence?

That's a very tough challenge. Historically, Russia was very active in the countries of the Global South. And Russian narratives are very well received there. If you look at the African continent, Russians are telling people there: "The imperialist Western countries who colonized you long ago, now want to colonize Ukraine. The United States wants to make Ukraine, a colony of the West. And we, the Soviet Union, now Russia, have helped all of you African countries to gain independence. We have helped you to destroy the colonial regime."

When we went to some African countries we conveyed our voice to them. We need to increase our presence in the Global South including all of the African continent. Ukraine is increasing its physical presence in the Global South. And we're looking for ways to deliver our narrative there as well. 

What we tell them is, "Russia actually wants you to believe that the West is colonizing Ukraine. That's wrong. In reality, Russia is denying Ukraine's right to independence. Russia now is trying to colonize Ukraine."

Interview with Yuriy Sak (© Sankei by Mizuki Okada)
Interview with Yuriy Sak (© Sankei by Mizuki Okada)

Disinformation and the War in Ukraine

What are Ukraine's countermeasures against Russia's propaganda and false narratives?

In the Ukrainian government, there is a Center for Countering Disinformation. It has a website that is connected to all Ukrainian media, SNS like Telegram, and YouTube channels. This governmental institution identifies certain fake or false narratives and explains them to the people. 

For example, when Russia begins a disinformation campaign spreading fake news into the Ukraine media to say that Ukraine doesn't exist, the center responds immediately. "It's wrong," they explain, and then, Ukrainian society understands, "Okay, this is false."

Are there other examples during this wartime?

There was an incident when Russians killed and injured almost 100 Ukrainian prisoners of war who were kept in an Olenivka Detention Center in territory occupied by the Russians. The moment it happened, Russia immediately started a disinformation campaign. [They] amplified a narrative that it was Ukrainians who did this. 

The Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation immediately said, "No, the Russian information is false." Ukrainian people understood that it wasn't us and the international community got to know that Russia was again spreading disinformation and fake propaganda.

The Ukrainian central government is limited in resources. It does not have billions of US dollars like Russia does to spend on fighting propaganda. But fighting propaganda is a priority for Ukraine. Counter-propaganda is almost the same as air defense. We deal with it seriously because we understand that if you stop countering Russian narratives, then the unity of Ukrainian society will fall apart. People will start distrusting each other and stop trusting the government. 

What are your thoughts on international collaboration to counter Russian propaganda?

We are creating a global army of propaganda fighters called "Vox Ukraine" which utilizes artificial intelligence. This project is one of the examples of international collaboration. There is a network of Russian propaganda that connects Western experts promoting Russian narratives. When you go to the website, you will read the materials. 

Thanks to artificial intelligence and algorithms, which are affordable, we can monitor and analyze the information space worldwide. We can see they've come up with this network of experts, like Tucker Carlson, a pro-Russian commentator formerly of Fox News in the United States. 

We send the results of our investigation everywhere to our users in the US, Australia, and around the world. Then our partners are aware and careful when they see anything the pro-Russians are saying. It's very important to identify and to call out and show examples. 

Ukrainian soldiers fire on the front lines in Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine, on February 23. (©Getty via Kyodo)

How Can the War End?

What if one party calls for a ceasefire? How does that affect Ukraine's decisions?

We know if somebody calls for an immediate ceasefire, saying "Stop that bloody war in Ukraine, now." We indeed want to stop the war. We don't like fighting wars as well. But for us, it's about survival. If Russia stops its aggression against Ukraine, the war will end. But if Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine will end.

Is Russia disrupting the progress of mobilizing Ukraine's armed forces through its propaganda campaign?

Yes. Russians understand that Ukraine now has to have the military rotation to replace warriors on the front lines. War is a difficult thing because not everybody is a fighter, even if they are a patriot. There are still volunteers in Ukraine but among them are those who are not easily ready to fight the war. But they will go to the battlefield because of their patriotism if they're called.


So, Russia understands that Ukraine needs to carry out this mobilization. At the same time, the Kremlin spreads a broad scale of disinformation campaigns aimed at Ukrainian men of fighting age, saying; "Save yourself. If you go to the battlefield, you will be killed." 

Russians show fake videos from the front lines, with soldiers claiming things like, "I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die, so I'm not going to go to the Army." 

Russia wants to ensure and dissuade Ukrainians from going to the Army. That's because they know that the Ukrainian armed forces' mobilization is a threat to them.

Another issue is that Russian propaganda is actively influencing the American people ahead of the vote for the Ukraine-support bill in the US Congress. For the last two months, Russia has been spending a lot of effort trying to convince US Congress members. Russia knows that if Ukraine gets further support from the US, we will continue to fight and we will win. If we don't get the support, no funds, and no weapons, we lose but Russia wins. 

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attend the Japan-Ukraine Economic Reconstruction Promotion Conference on February 19 in Tokyo. (Pool photo)

Ukraine and Japan

What is required to strengthen the countermeasures against Russia's propaganda campaign?

Two things are required: expertise and funds. If you have these two things you put them together. Then you can fight propaganda everywhere else, including the Global South. 

Japan has been a great powerful supporter of Ukraine. And now we understand that Japan is also at risk of Russian propaganda. We also see Japan's challenging role in the international arena now. I believe it's a very good area for cooperation between Ukraine and Japan.

About Yuriy Sak

Born in 1977, Yuriy Sak is Oxford-educated with a PhD in public international law. When Russia began its aggression against Ukraine, he was assigned as an advisor for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense in March 2022. In that position, he was responsible for strategic international media management. 

Since December 2023, Sak has been an advisor to the Ministry of Strategic Industries. In his media management role, he has granted interviews with American, European, Middle Eastern, and Indo-Pacific media, including Japan. It is his job to promote understanding of the Ukrainian position since the aggression began. 

Before the Russian invasion, Dr Sak worked as a professional in corporate consulting and with government clients for more than 20 years. His field of expertise then also included strategic communications and crisis management.



Author: Mizuki Okada

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