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How Dmitry Tymchuk Broke the Russian Blogosphere

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Media & Journalism, Politics, War & Conflict, RuNet Echo
Russian bloggers not sure what to make of Dmitry Tymchuk (pictured on the laptop). Images mixed by author.

Russian bloggers not sure what to make of Dmitry Tymchuk (pictured on the laptop). Images mixed by author.

Dmitry Tymchuk is many things. He claims [1] to have traveled on “official assignments” to Iraq, Kosovo, and Lebanon. He identifies himself as a colonel in the Ukrainian army reserve. Since 2008, he has been chief editor of flot2017.com [2], a website that lobbies for the expulsion of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol. According to Tymchuk’s Facebook profile [3], he has also served as director of the “Center of Military-Political Research” in Kiev for the past six years.

Earlier this year, he and other officers in the army reserve created a group called “InfoResist [4],” regularly reporting and commenting on events in Ukraine’s turbulent southeast. “InfoResist” doesn’t yet have its own website (though another group promptly hijacked [5] the name and Web address). (April 25 update: Tymchuk's InfoResist now does have its own, Russian-language website [6].) So far, Tymchuk publishes InfoResist’s many news bulletins to his personal Facebook page [3], where he has an astounding 77,420 followers. (Two months ago, he had half as many followers.) Since March 2014, the newspaper KyivPost has published [7] nearly forty of his articles (translated into English by the group Voices of Ukraine [8]). Two days ago, the Huffington Post published a translation [9] of Tymchuk’s “dispatch from Donetsk.”

On March 3, 2014, an article [10] by Artem Sannikov appeared on the pro-Russian website Peacekeeper.ru claiming that Dmitry Tymchuk might not be a real person at all. The “Center of Military-Political Research,” it seems, has no website. (Internet searches reveal that an institute with this name does exist [11], but it belongs, ironically, to the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation.) Tymchuk’s Facebook posts, Peacekeeper.ru points out, regularly attract thousands of “shares,” but only a few dozen comments. “Such signs,” Sannikov explains, “usually indicate some kind of artificial inflation.” The article goes on to suggest that Tymchuk’s persona could be part of a larger NATO operation [12] to infiltrate and manipulate online social media.

There is currently a single Wikipedia entry for Dmitry Tymchuk. Written in Russian and already targeted by moderators for deletion, Tymchuk’s Wikipedia page [13] describes him as “a virtual personage of informational war, in whose name anti-Russian pronouncements are published and then cited in the Ukrainian mass media.”

Suspicions about Tymchuk’s identity dovetail with a popular RuNet meme [14] that emerged roughly two months ago, when the online debate about Russia’s absorption of Crimea was especially heated. Commenting on YouTube, a user named Dmitry Kakegotam endorsed a video’s anti-annexation message, writing in the feminine voice, “Believe me! I’m a Crimean woman myself! I’ve lived here for 50 years. I’m the daughter of an officer!” Another user soon responded, “You forgot to log out, Khokhol [15],” implying that the man had been posting pro-Kiev messages under various false identities. The exchange perfectly captured the widespread suspicion among Russians that nefarious agents are responsible for much of the pro-Ukrainian outpourings online.  

Dmitry Tymchuk, in the flesh. Interview with Hromadske.TV, 27 March 2014, YouTube screen capture. [16]

Dmitry Tymchuk, in the flesh. Interview with Hromadske.TV, 27 March 2014, YouTube screen capture.

Dmitry Tymchuk is, in fact, a real person. His Facebook posts attract so many shares and so few comments because the ability to comment on his posts is restricted to his friends. (He has almost 80 thousand followers, but just 5 thousand friends.) Since Sannikov’s article was published, Tymchuk has appeared in person [17] for several interviews and conferences. When he granted an interview [16] to Ukraine’s premier Internet television station, Hromadske.TV, the host even poked Tymchuk in the arm, to confirm for viewers that he isn’t an Internet phantom invented by NATO.

Tymchuk has been publishing pro-Ukrainian, anti-Russian memos and opinion pieces for nearly six years. In August 2008, when Russia was at war with Georgia, he wrote [18] that Ukraine should study the conflict, in anticipation of facing future Russia aggression. In December 2008, when Ukraine finally withdrew the last of its armed contingent from the multinational force deployed to Iraq, Tymchuk wrote [19] that Ukraine had gained military experience that would be valuable in future conflicts closer to home.

In other words, Tymchuk is your standard patriotic blogger. Certainly more energetic and better informed than the average Internet user, Tymchuk has scribbled away on obscure websites for nearly six years, consistently thrashing what he perceives to be Ukraine’s aggressive neighbor to the east. After annexing roughly four percent of Ukraine’s population, and threatening to “liberate” still more, Russia has made Tymchuk a star of Ukraine’s political scene.

Rather than acknowledge Moscow's role in promoting Tymchuk, some Russian bloggers prefer to blame NATO. Life, after all, is simpler with your head in the sand.

Correction: the original text of this article claimed that KyivPost is responsible for translating Tymchuk's texts into English. In fact, the group Voices of Ukraine [8] produces these translations.