Propaganda in Russian films: from soft power to open zombification


From the editor: «in an early conversation that Anatoly Lunacharsky, the first Commissar for Education, had with Vladimir Lenin, he recalls that Lenin uttered his oft-quoted statement «that of all the arts the most important for us is the cinema». This is a quote from an article by John Green. Cinema in a totalitarian society plays an extremely important role as a translator. The ideas of the «party and government» were brought to life in the form of numerous films. Some of them have become world cultural heritage, despite their ideological component. For example, the film «Battleship Potemkin». But in today’s Russia, cinema has again begun to play the role of a mouthpiece for propaganda. Somewhere frankly and directly, somewhere veiled.


Political analyst Olga Kharlamova spoke on the Byelorussian Pozirk channel about Russian propaganda in films, series, and even cartoons. According to the expert, propaganda creates an image of «good» Russia and the enemies around it through cinematography. She also emphasizes that you need to be prepared that if the Russians start programming that Belarusians are enemies, they will strongly hate Belarusians as well. As for Ukraine, there has long been a policy of portraying Ukrainians as second-class citizens.

Russian propaganda in cinema is a phenomenon that is increasingly spreading in the entertainment industry. This type of propaganda is used to promote a particular political or ideological point of view. While some films can be considered more subtle in their approach, others are blunter in their messages.


What is propaganda?

First, you need to understand what propaganda is in general. Propaganda is the dissemination of false information—facts, arguments, hearsay, half-truths, or lies—in order to influence public opinion.

Britannica says: propaganda is a more or less systematic attempt to manipulate the beliefs, attitudes, or actions of other people by means of symbols (words, gestures, flags, monuments, music, clothing, insignia, hairstyles, designs on coins, and postage stamps, etc.).

Propagandists have a specific goal or set of goals. To achieve this, they deliberately select facts, and arguments and display symbols and present them in a way that they believe will have the greatest impact. To achieve maximum effect, they may omit or distort relevant facts or simply lie, and they may try to distract reactors (the people they are trying to sway) from anything but their own propaganda.


Films are not for profit, but what for?

The Ukrainian Review asked creative producer, script doctor, and film critic Andriy Alferov why Russia continues to shoot propaganda films when they usually fail at the box office.

Creative producer and film critic Andriy Alferov. Source:

Andriy Alferov: «[The answer is] to broadcast the Kremlin theses to the population. At least for those who are unable to think critically or have lost such skills. The success of a propaganda film is not measured by the box office, but rather by the «sowing» of such theses in society.»


Does propaganda of the Russian Federation work in cinema?

«The Ukrainian Review» inquired about this from an expert film critic Kyrylo Pyshchikov, who is also known for his telegram channel about the movies «spoiler runner.

Film critic Kyrylo Pyshchikov. Source:

Kyrylo Pyshchikov: «Propaganda of the Russian Federation in cinema can be direct or indirect. The direct one is propaganda produced by the Russian Federation itself. «The Crimean Bridge: Made with Love», for example. The films «Match» (banned from showing in Ukraine in September 2014 — ed.), «Opolchenochka» (formally made in the so-called LNR), and many others that Russia managed to make since 2014 can be included there. Indirectly, these are films about the greatness of Russia — «Going Vertical» (also known as “Three Seconds”), «Admiral» or «The Barber of Siberia». There are fewer slogans in such films, but Russian chauvinism, Ukrainophobia, and other imperial values are always hidden in the subtext. For example, Mikhalkov’s «The Barber of Siberia» is a classic depiction of the «Russia we lost» stamp, which once was a great, glorious empire, but now it is gone. Well, the viewer is subconsciously given the idea that it would be good to revive this empire”.

«Also, Russian propaganda in cinema likes to rewrite history, as in the movie «Viking», where there is little left of real history, and Vladimir the Great was made into a typical Russian sufferer and martyr who suffered for the entire «Russian» people in order to convert him to Orthodoxy.»


How strongly can propaganda of Russian cinema affect the population?

Andriy Alferov: «I think moderately because even the patriots there do not watch this garbage very much. The director of a successful Russian campaign should have a position similar to that of, say, Girkin — that is, respect for the enemy, and the truth about the war. And, of course, talent. But propaganda is usually shot by untalented people who only want to satisfy the wishes of their leadership. And they probably steal at the factory. So, there are zero chances»

«This is a movie for those who can get rich on its production. If the film «Cheburashka» — a family comedy — is currently a box office hit in the Russian Federation, it can be concluded that Russians need propaganda films and the war unleashed by the Kremlin in Ukraine. It is obvious that the blame escapes from the terrible present into a fairy tale, such is escapism.»



The film Crimea was directed by Aleksey Pimanov made in 2017 is a pro-Russian propaganda film that shows Russia’s annexation of Crimea in a positive light.

Movie poster Crimea. Source:*39x5lQUZdWY40Qa3.jpg


Who is Oleksiy Pimanov?

Aleksey Pimanov was born on February 9, 1962, in Moscow. He is a producer and screenwriter known for Crimea (2017), Zhukov (2012), and Dolly the Sheep Was Angry and Died Early (2015).

In the rating of the incomes of Russian officials «Power and Money» by the magazine «Forbes» for 2011, the member of the Federation Council Aleksey Pimanov took 100th place — his income was 70 million rubles (total family income — 71 million rubles).


Film’s plot

The main characters of this story are Sasha and Alyona. The guy lives in Crimea and accidentally meets a girl from Kyiv, who came to the peninsula to shoot a documentary. An absolutely groundless spark of love flares up between them and they agree to kindle the fire from it until the time of drastic changes comes.

Elena supports one side with all her might, Sasha the other, and they refuse to hear each other at all. It’s as if the director specially put memorized words about one-sided truth, as well as conjectures and superstitions into their mouths. The events taking place around everything related to Crimea are presented superficially, the people in this story essentially become completely unnecessary, like secondary decorations. But Sasha and Alyona will argue as long as they have the strength because the script does not offer them anything else.

Throughout the film, the audience is presented with a narrative that portrays the Russian annexation as a positive event and the Ukrainian government as a villainous force. The film portrays the people of Crimea as heroic and noble, emphasizing their loyalty to the Motherland and their readiness to defend it. Russian soldiers are also shown as heroic figures, and the Crimeans welcome the Russian presence.

This film is what Russia knows best, rewriting a history convenient for itself. Propaganda in its purest form.


Donbass. Okraina

«Donbass. Okraina» is a Russian military drama directed by Renat Davletyarov and screenwriter Oleksiy Tymoshkin, dedicated to the war in Donbas.

Movie poster Donbass. Okraina. Source:

A number of mass media call the film propaganda related to Russian propaganda. Despite the location (the city of Marinka, Donetsk region), the filming took place in Crimea. The premiere took place on June 12, 2019, on Russia Day.


Who is Renat Davletyarov?

Renat Davletyarov was born in Astrakhan on August 17, 1961. His father, Favaris Abdulganievich, held a high position, he was the chairman of the oil committee of the Soviet Union. Father’s nationality is Tatar.


Film’s plot

The very first title, which appeared on the screen even before the beginning of the film and «explains» to the viewer what is really happening in Ukraine, puts all the dots on the «i» and refutes all attempts of Davletyarov to renounce politics. The title says that there was a government coup in Ukraine, that the east of the country will not agree with such a situation, and the Ukrainian army immediately began bombing the entire east and killing civilians. The credits tell about «more than 10,000» dead in four years of war and more than 700,000 refugees.

In the center of the plot will be a simple Ukrainian soldier named Andrii Sokolov. He serves as a driver in the armed forces of Ukraine and goes to the combat zone in Donbas, where a military conflict is breaking out. In a hot spot, he comes under fire, and escaping from enemy shells by the will of fate, he ends up with several people in the basement of a residential building, which serves as the local last chance for shelter from shelling. In the basement, Andrii gets to know different people, unlike each other, but all of them, as one, dream only of ending the armed conflict.

A group of people consists of people with very different views and personalities. Among them are two activists from Kyiv, Oksana (Hanna Peskova) and Nataliya (Yevgeniya Malakhova), who came to Donbas to bring body armor and helmets for Ukrainian security forces bought with the funds they collected. Local resident Tetyana (Ulyana Kurochkina) and the boy Ivan, rescued from the rubble of a house destroyed by a shell, are also hiding there.

Difficult relationships are established between these people. On the one hand, the heroes are divided by war and politics, on the other hand, survival in a depopulated city in the front-line zone will be possible only by acting together.

The film portrays Ukraine as a chaotic and lawless state with a corrupt government and a hostile population. It also portrays the Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine as heroic figures fighting for justice and freedom. It is as if Ukraine is portrayed as repressive and suppresses the rights of its citizens. The film portrays Russian-backed separatists as having a moral and ethical superiority over the Ukrainian government.


«The White Guard» (TV series)

«White Guard» is a television series (8 episodes) directed by Sergei Snizhkin based on the novel of the same name and the short story «I Killed» by Mikhail Bulgakov. The premiere took place on March 3, 2012, on the TV channel «Russia-1».

Shot from the TV Series The White Guard. Source:

On July 28, 2014, the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine revoked the distribution licenses of the film «Poddubny» and the TV series «White Guard». According to the agency’s experts, they «demonstrate contempt for the Ukrainian language, people and statehood,» and «some facts are distorted and rewritten in favor of Russia.


Who is Serhii Snizhkin?

Serhii Snizhkin was born on October 10, 1954, in Leningrad. He is a director, actor, screenwriter, and producer. Since 1981 — assistant director, then — director of the film studio «Lenfilm». Since 1991 — Chairman of the board and artistic director of the creative and production film company «Barmaley».


The plot of the TV series

The television series tells the story of the difficult years of the Civil War, telling about the fate of the Turbin family, which got caught up in the complex events of the winter of 1918-1919 in Kyiv. The basis of the plot of the film is Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel «The White Guard». The historical background of the film is the fall of the Ukrainian state of Hetman Skoropadskyi, the capture of Kyiv by the troops of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, and their subsequent escape under the blows of the Red Army.

The main character, Aleksey Turbin, is a military medic who saw and experienced a lot during the three years of the World War. He is one of those tens of thousands of Russian officers who, after the revolution, found themselves in a situation of complete uncertainty in their political and private lives. Many of them went to the service of Hetman Skoropadsky and his moderate regime under the German protectorate, considering it a lesser evil compared to the Red Terror against officers and intelligentsia by the Bolsheviks, who had already distinguished themselves in Kyiv. However, the German Empire was defeated on the fronts of the First World War, the hetman fled with the Germans, and a few Russian officers and cadets remained the only force capable of standing in the way of the Petlyurites who were going to Kyiv.

Throughout the entire timeline, the main characters mock the Ukrainian language, criticize the thirst for independence, and even openly talk about the desire to destroy the Ukrainian population.


Will the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation finance only propaganda films?

On November 30, 2022, the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation published on its website the news that the department was focusing on the «priorities of state financial support for film production for 2023.» According to the conclusion of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, films dealing with one or more of the 17 «priority topics» can rely on state support. among them — «heroism and self-sacrifice of Russian soldiers during a special military operation» and «degradation of Europe»

Here is a list of several priority topics for the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation:

  1. Historical cinema. History lessons, memory lessons. Countering attempts to falsify history. Peacekeeping mission of Russia. Historic victories of Russia. 80th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War. Liberation mission of a Soviet soldier. Conflict of generations, the succession of generations.
  2. Russia is a modern, stable, and safe state that provides opportunities for development and self-realization.
  3. Heroes among us. The history of strong personalities of modern Russia. Popularization of the teaching profession. School and institute as important stages of adaptation in society and personal orientation. The role of teachers and mentors in personality formation.
  4. Opposition to modern manifestations of the ideology of Nazism and fascism. Popularization of heroism and self-sacrifice of Russian soldiers during a special military operation.
  5. Popularization of service in the Armed Forces of Russia. Unity of society around the support of the army (front brigades, volunteers, volunteers). Strengthening the status of the military profession on the examples of historical events and new history.
  6. Spiritual and moral, patriotic education of citizens of Russia. Countering extremism. Images, models of behavior and creative motivation of modern youth. Spiritual leaders. The volunteer movement in Russia and the CIS countries is an international popularization of volunteerism.
  7. Neocolonial policy of the countries of the Anglo-Saxon world. Degradation of Europe. Formation of a multipolar world.


The opinion of film critic Kyrylo Pyshchikov

Kyrylo Pyshchikov: «I won’t be surprised if cinema in the Russian Federation completely switches to propaganda (if it hasn’t already). Those who filmed something nominally oppositional have either already been strangled, lured into a propaganda camp, or squeezed out of the country.”

«Given that Putin and the Russian Federation are now planning to prolong the war, the cinema will also serve the propaganda machine. I don’t think that it will change anything in a global sense — because this movie will be designed for a domestic audience.»

«However, I assume that after some time Russian propaganda may well make attempts to reach the world audience, for which Ukrainians need to be ready and make informational resistance.»



In summary, Russian propaganda is a powerful tool used by the government to manipulate public opinion and shape a favorable narrative. Russian propaganda covers not only news in print and online media, TV news, but also a cinema, although it is not the most effective weapon of Russian propaganda since even Russian patriots cannot watch terribly filmed propaganda films.

In recent years, Russia has increasingly engaged in the production and promotion of films designed to create a favorable image of the country. Usually, such films contain themes of patriotism and national pride, heroes who are heroic and devoted to their country. In some cases, these films may even portray Russia as a benevolent and just nation, while other countries are portrayed as corrupt and oppressive.

Not everything is true, be vigilant about the type of information you provide. There are other alternative sources of truthful information available to all. Only informed citizens can make informed decisions about their country and its future.


Danylo Kondysiuk

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