The Kyiv Independent

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English-language Ukrainian media outlet heavily promoted by Western backers to social media users.

The Kyiv Independent is an English-language Ukrainian media outlet founded in 2021 by former staff of the Kyiv Post.

During the 2022 Ukraine war, the newspaper was promoted by Twitter as a “Topic”, prominently recommended to users without they having subscribed to it. This Topic is being aggressively pushed on Twitter users around the world, showing up over and over again in their feed until they adjust their settings to remove it.[1]

Special connections

In March 2022, Pedro Gonzalez wrote an analysis of the newspaper[2]:

Since the Independent launched last November, it has amassed nearly two million Twitter followers[3] and become a main artery of information in the war. Far from being objective, its writers tend to snap[4] at those who contradict their narratives. Illia Ponomarenko, the Independent’s defense reporter, even declared himself “brothers in arms” with Azov Battalion, a unit known for committing war crimes[5] against civilians in eastern Ukraine. According to journalist Michael Tracey[6], Ponomarenko amassed almost a million followers in less than two weeks.

That kind of growth is hard and impressive. But the Independent also has some special connections.

The publication has a growing subscriber base today, but according to the Committee to Protect Journalists[7], it was created with an “emergency grant from the European Endowment for Democracy,” a spinoff of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The EED’s Facebook page refers to the Independent as a “partner,”[8] and shows a close relationship with the NED[9].

In September 2021[10], a profile of the Independent’s chief editor, Olga Rudenko, appeared in ProMarket, a publication of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Rudenko was visiting the school for a journalism development program. According to ProMarket, she is also a board member[11] at the Media Development Foundation (MDF), an NGO that has received at least $225,140[12] from the NED. You won’t find that without a digital archive because the NED’s records of funding projects in Ukraine was either moved or deleted[13] recently. The archived page shows that from 2014 to the present, the NED has granted $22,394,281 through 334 awards to Ukraine. However, since the change, the NED only allows users to search back to 2017.

The MDF’s Facebook page[14] features several posts referencing partnerships, exchange programs, and training affiliated with the NED that often conclude[15] with an appreciative variation of: “to our partners National Endowment for Democracy, without them there would be nothing.” One post reads[16]: “There is a donor National Endowment for Democracy who is very invested in the development of Ukrainian media.” Indeed, the MDF’s mission statement on the NED’s archived page also notes that it “will maintain and expand the website,” another key source of propaganda[17] in the Ukraine-Russia war.

According to its LinkedIn[18] page, the MDF was founded in 2013. That was the same year that a Western-backed coup in Ukraine got underway and when the EED launched. The NED and the EED have worked in tandem toward the same liberal internationalist vision ever since. Understanding their role in Ukraine’s political affairs and the media’s complicity helps explain how we got to the current crisis.