Europe

Ukraine woman pilot Savchenko in middle of media war

  • 10 July 2014
  • From the section Europe
Screenshot of Ukrainian website dedicated to the "injustice" of Ukrainian air force pilot Nadiya Savchenko's capture by Russia Image copyright Savesavchenko.tsn.ua
Image caption "Nadiya Savchenko is in prison in [Russia], and only we can save her!"

"Ukraine's GI Jane" and "national hero", or a "Killing machine in a skirt"?

There are two starkly opposing views of the female Ukrainian air force pilot current being held in Russia, in what has become another battle in the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian media war.

This latest information clash - played out mainly on social media as well as mainstream, pro-Kremlin media in Russia - typifies the way the conflict is being fought through opposing media narratives.

In the middle of it all is fashion designer-turned-air force helicopter pilot Nadiya Savchenko, 33.

Reportedly a member of a volunteer battalion fighting pro-Russia separatists near Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, the Russian authorities have charged her with complicity in the killing of two Russian TV journalists while taking part in a rebel checkpoint.

Ukraine accuses Russia of abducting her and has demanded her release.

'Save our girl'

The pilot's cause has become the subject of an impassioned Ukrainian social media campaign portraying her as a national hero.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Support for Ms Savchenko is widespread on Ukrainian social media

Since news of her arrest first surfaced on 19 June, the hashtag #SaveOurGirl has generated more than 15,000 of tweets - apparently inspired by a worldwide campaign in support of Nigerian schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram militants.

Most outrage seems to focus on her mysterious appearance in Russian custody after being captured by separatists on Ukrainian territory.

"How dare the Kremlin kidnap people out of Ukraine?!" one pro-Ukrainian Twitter user fumed, to which a pro-Russian crudely responds: "Shoot this bitch like a dog".

A video showing the captured Nadiya Savchenko being interrogated by the pro-Russian insurgents has been viewed more than 580,000 times and has attracted a wave of comments commending her courage.

"There is no fear in her eyes, only disdain for the interrogator... A true hero," one commenter says. Another adds: "All of Ukraine is proud of you."

Image copyright Ukrainian Defence Ministry TV
Image caption The 2011 defence ministry documentary includes footage of her service in Iraq

Popular Ukrainian TV channel 1+1 has launched a slickly-designed webpage aimed at publicising the "injustice" of Ms Savchenko's arrest.

A profile on the page describes her as a pilot, with 10 years in the armed forces, who served in Ukraine's troop contingent in Iraq.

It also says she was captured while trying to help "wounded comrades" in her volunteer battalion in eastern Ukraine.

"Nadiya Savchenko is a Ukrainian national hero who has to be saved," is its simple tagline.

Image copyright Ukraine Defence Ministry TV
Image caption In the 2011 film, Ms Savchenko speaks passionately about her chosen career path

Her sudden fame has also revived an obscure 2011 documentary about Ms Savchenko and her military career by Ukrainian defence ministry's Ukrainian Forces TV, which has now attracted more than 180,000 views on YouTube.

"I cannot explain this feeling. It is as if you are in heaven," a stylishly-dressed Ms Savchenko says in the video of her love of flying.

The film includes footage of her serving in Iraq in 2005, and describes her personal motto as "I see the goal - not the obstacles", but also highlights her other, more "feminine" interests, such as designing clothes and embroidery.

'Satan's daughter'

Her image on Russian media sources loyal to the Kremlin could not be more different.

Image caption Tvoy Den's depiction of Ms Savchenko is particularly harsh, calling her "Satan's daughter" (bottom left) and "Bullet-fool" (top right)

Most put forward the Russian authorities' version of events, but some go even further.

Crude, and at times sexist, innuendo is used to demonise Ms Savchenko.

On its front page, tabloid Tvoy Den calls her "Satan's daughter", while another tabloid, Komsomolskaya Pravda alleges that Ms Savchenko was known as a "killing machine in a skirt".

State-run Rossiya 1 TV news takes a dim view of her political views.

"Nadezhda has obviously been turned into a zombie and has a very negative attitude to all Russia-related things," the channel's reporter says.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Pictures of Ms Savchenko in detention have been widely disseminated by Russian media

Pro-Kremlin news website Ridus warns her: "Judging by the bloody trail left by Ukrainian gunner Savchenko, she may well face other charges".

However, on Russian-based social media the picture is more nuanced, with several Twitter users mocking perceived oddities in the Russian authorities' version of events, in particular their claim that she entered the country as a refugee.

"Savchenko fled to Russia in the guise of a refugee from a bloody fascist junta and ended up in the tight embrace of brotherly democracy," one anti-Kremlin user jeers.

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