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Russian Social Networks Dominate in Ukraine Despite Information War

Euromaidan protesters use electronic devices like smart phones and tablet computers at the IT tent on the Independence Square in Kiev. Photo by Anatolii Stepanov for Demotix.

Euromaidan protesters use electronic devices like smart phones and tablet computers at the IT tent on the Independence Square in Kiev. Photo by Anatolii Stepanov for Demotix.

Russian VKontakte and Odnoklassniki networks dominate the social media market in Ukraine, according to new research from Russian Internet giant Yandex. In the newest release of its annual research report on the Ukrainian segment of the web, Yandex said over 40 million Ukrainian accounts over all were registered in VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, Facebook and Twitter as of this summer.

VKontakte leads the charge with 27 million Ukrainian users, and Odnoklassniki boasts 11 million Ukrainians. Facebook recorded 3.2 million users from Ukraine—a million more since the summer of 2012. Twitter, according to Yandex blog search, has 430,000 Ukrainian accounts: the Twitter user base in Ukraine grew 1.5 times since the start of 2013, with most of this growth attributed to the Euromaidan protests, where Twitter was used extensively.

Total audience of social network sites in Ukraine: VKontakte 27 million, Odnoklassniki 11 million, Facebook 3.2 million, Twitter 430,000. Courtesy of Yandex.

Total audience of social network sites in Ukraine: VKontakte 27 million, Odnoklassniki 11 million, Facebook 3.2 million, Twitter 430,000. Courtesy of Yandex.

The Ukrainian audience of VKontakte is very young: over half of the users are 25 or younger. A third of Odnoklassniki users fall into the 26-35 segment, making the network’s audience slightly older.

Recent political events in Ukraine have heavily influenced the Twitter user base: before November 2013, 6,000 to 7,000 new accounts were created per month, but in December this number reached 16,000, and in January 2014 there were a whopping 55,000 new Twitter accounts.

During Euromaidan protests, Ukrainians posted 130,000 tweets daily on average, compared to 90,000 daily tweets in 2012. On February 20 alone, when dozens of protesters lost their lives in downtown Kyiv, there were 240,000 tweets published.

As Euromaidan protests gradually grew quiet, the social networks became preoccupied with the growing unrest in Eastern Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, and the accompanying information war between Ukraine and Russia. Discussions of Russia’s role in the Ukrainian struggle, displeasure with Russian propaganda and manipulation (and attempts to stage a patriotic Ukrainian response online, often employing the same tactics), sharing, debunking and verifying information from the conflict zones—all these things continue to keep Ukrainians on social networks.

Providing an open space for free expression and opinions makes social media a popular forum for citizens on all sides, and ensures the growth of social network audiences. Next year’s research might show whether worsening of the general sentiment towards Russia, as well as its new draconian internet regulations, will erode the trust and popularity that Russian social networks currently enjoy in Ukraine.

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