In 'Ukrainian military Oscars,' Ukraine mocks Russia and promotes its army

Seven videos selected by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry highlighted important aspects of the war. Ukraine has been using memes and humor in its information warfare strategy.

 A Ukranian serviceman walks past the wreck of a Russian tank in the village of Lukyanivka outside Kyiv, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, Ukraine, March 27, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/MARKO DJURICA)
A Ukranian serviceman walks past the wreck of a Russian tank in the village of Lukyanivka outside Kyiv, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, Ukraine, March 27, 2022

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry shared a series of posts mocking Russian forces and promoting its military on social media on Tuesday night in what was called the "Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Oscars 2022," following the 94th Academy Awards ceremony on Monday. 

Seven videos selected by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry highlighted important aspects of the war, likely both from the operational and psychological warfare perspectives. 

Ukraine has been using memes and humor on state social media accounts in its information warfare strategy during the Russia-Ukraine War, and its state social media accounts were notable prior to the war for their effective use of memes to advocate foreign policy positions. Many of the selections for the "Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Oscars" utilizes pre-existing wartime memes and symbols used by Ukraine and its supporters.

1. Best Picture: Russian Warship, Go F*** Yourself in Berdyansk

The first wartime video highlighted by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry was footage of the burning Alligator-class landing ship Saratov in the occupied Ukrainian Black Sea port city Berdyansk, which is southwest of the strategic besieged city of Mariupol. 

On March 21, dozens of landing ships, starting with the Orsk, had begun to dock and unload vessels transporting munitions, vehicles and other supplies at Berdyansk. A Russian Black Sea Fleet officer had told the Russian outlet Zvezda that the use of the port would be significant in logistics for the war effort. Western and Ukrainian intelligence reports have repeatedly highlighted broken Russian supply chains as a major impediment to Putin's military advance.

On March 24 the Ukrainian military fired a ballistic missile at the landing crafts, according to Brigadier General Kirill Budanov to Coffee or Die magazine when fuel and ammunition trucks had approached the landing site. Dramatic footage shows the destroyed Saratov burning, engulfing the port in black smoke. Two other damaged vessels are seen navigating away from the site.

The title of the video is in reference to the popular phrase first uttered by Ukrainian state border guards stationed on Snake Island in response to demands by Russian warships to surrender. The incident was criticized by some as having been propagandized, as while the 13 soldiers were initially reported as having been slain, they were actually taken prisoner. Ukrainian information campaigns early in the war heavily promoted the heroic telling of the event, which helped to galvanize Ukrainian resolve and inspired foreign perceptions of both Russia and Ukraine.

2. Best Supporting Actor: Ukrainian Tractor in The Taming of the Shrew

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry shared a video of clips of Ukrainian farmers towing away Russian military vehicles. The video was made by Current Time TV, a division of the US state media outlets Radio Free Europe.

"Since the start of Russia's invasion, Ukrainian farmers have gained fame for towing away Russian armored vehicles," subtitles said. "The armor was broken down, out of fuel, or just abandoned.

"That's huge! They stole a Russian tank!" Said one bystander in the video.

"I towed this one for our troops, and now I'll go get more," said one man, presumed to be a Ukrainian farmer.

Ukrainian tractors have become a symbol of civilian resistance against the Russian invasion and has also been used to advocate for more actions by civilians to impede the Russian advance. Ukraine has published guides for how citizens can hinder Russian activity. The towing of Russian tractors has also become a widely shared meme to demoralize Russian soldiers and citizenry by highlighting military weakness. Russian armored vehicles have been documented abandoned for various reasons, believed to include combat damage, desertion due to decreased morale, lack of fuel and munitions over broken supply lines and degradation of tires and other vital components due to poor upkeep.

The title of the video references the comedy The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, which tells of a husband's efforts to make his wife obedient.

3. Best International Feature Film: Bayraktar, The Song of a Turkish Guest

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry shared a video that highlights airstrikes by Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones on Russian forces. 

The Bayraktar drone has been used to great effect by the Ukrainian military. According to open-source intelligence group Oryx, the UAV has destroyed or made inoperable seven armored fighting vehicles, five artillery pieces, one multiple launch rocket system, 10 anti-air systems, 9 helicopters, two fuel trains and 27 other ground vehicles. The drone was also a featured weapon platform in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 

In Ukraine, Songs have been made about the drone, and one police dog was even named Bayraktar in honor of the UAV.

4. Best Cinematography: A Kiss From Stinger

A widely shared video from the Russia-Ukraine War, and highlighted as an important video by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry in its campaign, showed the dramatic downing of a Russian helicopter allegedly with a Stinger missile.

The video demonstrated to many observers the role that mobile anti-air weapons have in Ukraine in denying air superiority to the Russian air force. Intelligence estimates by the UK and US have assessed that the skies of Ukraine remain contested, Russia struggling to achieve the air superiority many analysts assumed they would achieve early in the war.

With a range of up to 4.8 kilometers, American-made FIM-92 Stingers are man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) that can be individually carried by soldiers, in contrast to static or vehicle-based missile emplacements. This allows for a mobile force that can engage enemy aircraft while not presenting as much of a target to the opposing military. A senior US official told CNN on March 7 that NATO has provided Ukraine with 2000 Stinger missiles since the war began, and 800 more were approved on March 16 to be sent to Ukraine by the Biden administration.

5. Best Song: Anthem of Ukraine by UA girls in Kharkiv Bomb Shelter

The fifth video selected shows the singing of the Ukrainian anthem by children, allegedly in a Kharkiv bomb shelter.

Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, is located in near the eastern border with Russia and has suffered heavy artillery and air bombardment since the invasion began. Last Wednesday, an Israeli citizen living in Kharkiv told The Jerusalem Post that at least 800 buildings had been destroyed, and that water and heating utilities had been cut off from many districts. On Monday the UK Defense Ministry assessed that Kharkiv was surrounded by Russian forces.

Across Ukraine, bomb shelters have been used by civilians to protect themselves from Russian military strikes, as the frustrated advance has increasingly focused on long-range attacks.

Songs have featured heavily in Ukrainian online materials. They are often recitations of the national anthem, other songs and poems of national importance, and others celebrating or commemorating things such as effectively-used Turkish drones. Prior to the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared February 16 to be a national day of unity, which included the hanging of flags and the playing of the anthem.

6. Best Actress: Javelin for the powerful performance in Burning Orcs

The sixth video highlighted by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry shows the use of a Javelin anti-tank missile against Russian forces. 

FGM-148 Javelin missiles are powerful anti-armor weapons that can penetrate the thick hides and counter-measures of modern main battle tanks (MBT). The missiles, which have an effective firing range of 2.5 to almost 5 kilometers depending on the variant, are shoulder-launched fire-and-forget guided projectiles, which means that the operator can launch their attack and then take cover, making it a good weapon for hit-and-run and guerilla tactics.

Russian armored advance has stalled in the muddy fields of Ukraine, and have to advance in many areas along steppes. In urban environments, anti-armor can be used from positions above as vehicles navigate streets. This is among the reasons that anti-armor weapons have been vital in slowing the Russian invasion.

"Anti-armor and air-defense systems, they are effectively defending the country," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a March 16 press briefing.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claimed on Tuesday morning to have destroyed or disabled 597 tanks, 1710 armored vehicles and 178 other ground vehicles since the war began on February 24.

The meme of "Saint Javelin" and depictions of a green-clad and Ukrainian flag-draped Mary Magdalene figures holding the anti-tank missile have become popular symbols of resistance during the war. Stickers of the memetic character were even being sold by a Canadian filmmaker to raise money for Ukrainian refugees, CBC reported on March 2.

"Orcs" is a derogatory term used by Ukrainians to refer to Russian soldiers. Orcs were popularized in modern culture as humanoid fantasy monsters in JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings book trilogy. 

7. Best Production Design: Ambush, From UA Army With NLAW

The final video highlighted by Ukraine's defense ministry allegedly shows the ambush of a Russian armor column as it attempts to pass through a Ukrainian town.

Swedish-made NLAWs, or Next Generation Anti-Armor Weapons, like the Javelin, are portable single-use shoulder-fired missiles used by infantry against armored units. Unlike LAWs which cannot penetrate the armor of main battle tanks, NLAWS can penetrate much thicker armor. NLAWS have an effective firing range of hundreds of meters, compared to the Javelin's range of kilometers.

The UK had already delivered 2,000 NLAWs prior to the war. On March 16 the Biden administration resolved to send 1000 M72 LAWs to Ukraine.

Ukraine and Hollywood

The Ukrainian military used the hashtag for Monday's 94th Academy Awards ceremony to capitalize on the media momentum and spread their memes. 

The 2022 Oscars, itself marred by violence as Will Smith struck Chris Rock ostensibly over a joke about the former's wife, had a moment of silence for Ukraine and featured actors advocating on behalf of Ukraine.

Sean Penn, winner of the Oscars for Best Actor and who had gone to Ukraine to film a documentary, threatened to smelt his award in public if Zelensky, himself a former actor and comedian, was not given the opportunity to address the event. Mila Kunis, who has Ukrainian origins and raised money for the country, spoke about the Ukrainian people and the fight against the Russian invasion. At the end of a tribute for the release of the movie Godfather,  director Francis Ford Coppola said "viva Ukraine," at the end of his speech. 

Anna Ahronheim and Hannah Brown contributed to this report.