Tymofiy Mylovanov discusses the war in Ukraine

The Zelensky administration advisor focuses on how to approach information about the war

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Two Ukrainian flags are being lifted into the sky.
With propaganda on both sides, Mylovanov calls this “informational warfare.” Image courtesy of Karollyne Hubert / Unsplash

By: Olivia Visser, Staff Writer

On May 10, the SFU Economics Research Seminar series hosted Tymofiy Mylovanov for the seminar titled, Military and Economic Aspects of the War in Ukraine. Mylovanov is president of the Kyiv School of Economics, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and advisor to the Zelensky administration. 

Much of the conversation revolved around information and its truthfulness. Mylovanov described the current situation in Ukraine as a “wars of symbols” that are “won by communication as much as kinetic warfare.” He shared that from personal experience, “there are aspects [of war] you cannot study.

“It’s really difficult to explain what the war is unless you wake up and there is a missile next to you,” he said.

Mylovanov pointed to three forms of evidence to contextualize information that he trusts: “Eyewitness accounts, video evidence, and media coverage.” 

On the other hand, he suggested data is something to be aware of. “I don’t trust data, and it’s really strange for me as an academic that I don’t trust data,” Mylovanov said. 

When asked how to discern truthful information while living abroad, he said data can be okay to use — when combined with the appropriate context.

According to Mylovanov, the important factor is connections to the source of information. “So, the key is to find a friend or someone who is in Ukraine, or has been in Ukraine, or knows someone from Ukraine” who can help add context to your understanding of events. Mylovanov added, “I cannot trust anything I know in war, and the only thing I can trust is what I have experienced personally or what someone who has experience told me.” 

In terms of propaganda, he described the situation as informational warfare. “It’s important to be clear on the questions you want to know answers to. If you really discipline yourself about the questions you want to get the answers to, then the propaganda approach is not very effective.” He suggested asking specific questions helps tackle propaganda because their answers are harder to skew. For example, the questions, “Who started the war?” and “Are there atrocities in Bucha?” are easier to answer than “Can Russia win?”

Mylovanov concluded his seminar by speaking to Russia’s dwindling international support. “Russia in the longer run has lost a lot of agency, unfortunately for the Russian people, and Ukraine has gained a lot of agency but the price is huge. But I guess this is the price if you want to be an independent nation from a vast imperialistic neighbor.” 

This seminar was originally planned for May 3, but Mylovanov was forced to reschedule due to an airstrike warning in Kyiv.

A recording of the seminar can be viewed on the SFU economics’ event page for further information.