Ukrainian refugees in Europe: a target of Russian propaganda


Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has resulted in Europe’s largest migration crisis since World War II. According to Eurostat, approximately 4.2 million Ukrainians have been granted temporary protection in the EU as of the end of October 2023[1].

The majority of Ukrainian refugees have sought refuge in three countries: Germany (1,175,000), Poland (960,550), and the Czech Republic (365,090). More than 100,000 Ukrainians have fled to Spain, Bulgaria, Italy, Romania, the Netherlands, and Slovakia. Ukrainian refugees have become a significant part of the population in some of the smaller countries. For example, in September 2023, the number of Ukrainians granted temporary protection in the Czech Republic was 3.5% of the population, 2.7% in Estonia, 2.5% in Bulgaria, and 2% in Slovakia[2].

As a result, Ukrainian refugees have become a factor in domestic political life in a number of Central European EU countries. Right-wing radical and Eurosceptic political forces use the issue of economic security for Ukrainian refugees and equal access to social benefits to instill distrust in national governments and EU institutions.

Russia follows the trends of European rights as part of its informational influence strategy on the EU audience. Thus, Kremlin propaganda has made discrediting Ukrainian refugees in the EU one of the main areas of external information operation track since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.

The tools Russia employs for distorting information about Ukrainians in Europe are quite diverse. Fake news, public statements by Russian officials, and manipulative comments by pseudo-experts are all used by pro-Kremlin media outlets. Ukrainians’ image in the EU is being distorted as part of disinformation campaigns involving Russian media and European pro-Russian media activists, experts, and individual political forces.

And so, the Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group of UCMC focused on identifying the main narratives of Russian propaganda aimed at Ukrainians in the EU in this study. The authors also reveal how Russia and its information allies – Eurosceptic and populist political parties – are using common themes to undermine trust in national governments and disintegrate the United Europe.   

General Trends 

The adaptability of Russia’s information influence on foreign audiences to local trends and discourses that resonate with Russian propaganda narratives is a distinguishing feature of Russian information influence on foreign audiences. For example, in Central European countries, Russians are attempting to capitalize on the skepticism about refugee integration that has grown since the peak of the EU migration crisis (2014-2015).  

As a result, the level of negative attitudes toward Ukrainians in the EU among European citizens is an important indicator of the existence of information voids that can facilitate the penetration of Russian messages into the media space of EU countries. This segment of the EU population is the target audience for Russian propaganda, as the Russian media’s demonization of Ukrainian refugees resonates with certain beliefs held by opponents of providing assistance to Ukrainians forced to flee their homes as a result of the war.    

A survey conducted by the Sociological Group “Rating” among Ukrainians in EU countries showed that 51% of the local population has a positive attitude toward Ukrainians. 38% of respondents said Europeans have a neutral attitude toward them, while 9% said they have a negative attitude[3].

The Flash Eurobarometer survey shows that 77% of EU citizens agree to accept refugees fleeing war in their countries as of 2023. This means that overall sympathy for Ukrainians is still quite high. However, there has been a decline in the level of solidarity, as 86% of Europeans supported accepting Ukrainian refugees during the first year of the war. Individual country situations are more concerning. For example, in Poland, support for Ukrainian refugees has dropped by 18 percentage points (to 65%), and in Germany, by 16 percentage points (to 70%)[4].

According to a survey conducted by the Prague Institute for Empirical STEM Research, 43% of respondents in the Czech Republic believe their attitude toward Ukrainian refugees has deteriorated since the beginning of the Russian invasion in 2022. Furthermore, only 51% supported the stay of Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic [5] (this figure decreased from 64% in 2022 [6]). 

At the same time, the topic of potential economic or security threats to Ukrainian displaced persons is not dominant in the sociopolitical discourse. According to a GLOBSEC survey conducted in the Visegrad countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary), only 28.4% of the population in Slovakia sees Ukrainian refugees as a threat to the country[7].

The aforementioned statistics indicate that Russian propaganda has a significant capacity to disseminate manipulative messages across various information spaces in several EU countries. Central Europe is highly favorable for the infiltration of Russian messages. This situation has arisen due to various factors, such as the use of populist rhetoric by local political elites in Hungary, the influence of election campaigns in 2023 which negatively affected Ukraine’s relations with Poland and Slovakia, the media activities of Eurosceptic far-right organizations and parties, and the historical sympathies of certain segments of the population towards Russia.

The theme of the migration crisis in Russian propaganda

Moscow has consistently employed the theme of the European Union’s deficiencies in migration policy to undermine the concept of a cohesive Europe. The Kremlin embraced this narrative during the years 2014-2015, as the ongoing conflict in the Middle East led to a significant increase in the number of migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Maghreb countries seeking refuge in the European Union. It is noteworthy that more than one million refugees entered Europe’s borders in 2015, leading to a crisis in multiple EU nations. Most EU countries were reluctant to accommodate such a substantial influx of individuals seeking improved living conditions.  The occurrence led to a division among political elites within the European Union, which the Kremlin actively took advantage of in the realm of information. Moreover, the Russian contingent’s belligerent actions in Syria were strategically aimed at augmenting the influx of migrants to Europe. Consequently, the Kremlin perceived the EU migration crisis as a convenient justification for an ideological confrontation with the West.

According to Antonios Nestoras, a Russian propaganda researcher, the following are the key aspects of the Russian metanarrative about migrants in the EU:

  1. Guilt complex – accusing the EU and the US of instigating wars and economic devastation in a number of regions, forcing millions to flee their homes. 
  2. Emphasis on long-term threats – Russian disinformation directs a series of manipulative accusations against the EU leadership for failing to protect its citizens from Islamic terrorism, which is “seeping” into Europe alongside the flow of illegal migrants. Moscow instills fear about Europe’s inevitable Islamization. Fake stories, like the Lisa case [8], incite racism and xenophobia and inspire radical opposition to governments’ migration policies.
  3. “Russia is the ‘keeper’ of traditional values of European culture.” This narrative portrays Russia as a reliable security provider for EU countries, with the ability to use its clout in the Middle East to influence the intensity of the migrant flow, whereas Brussels is an ineffective moderator of the process[9].

Russia developed information manipulation on the topic of migrants and refugees in 2021, along with active actions to provoke a crisis. Approximately 10,000 migrants seeking to cross the EU border were concentrated in Belarus during the period of maximum aggravation (October-November 2021). According to the Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs, approximately 40,000 illegal border crossings were recorded in 2021, but only 16,000 [10] in 2022, indicating the fabricated nature of the events inspired by Moscow.

It is important to note that, despite widespread distrust of Russian sources, these narratives influence electoral behavior in European countries, which can lead to changes in EU foreign policy.

Russia’s allies in the EU spreading information warfare

The main proponents of anti-Ukrainian narratives are far-right and Eurosceptic political parties. These parties have garnered substantial popularity by scrutinizing the migration policies of national governments and the European Union. Consequently, voter communication is well-suited for disinformation campaigns targeting Ukrainian refugees. As the European Parliament elections (6-9 June 2024) draw near, there may be efforts to exploit the situation by undermining the credibility of Ukrainian refugees for political gain. 

The matter of Ukrainian refugees may also be addressed during national and local election campaigns in EU countries. In particular, in 2024, local elections will be held to the Landtag of Saxony, where the main “Putin-ferstheater” of German politics, the Alternative for Germany party, holds strong positions; presidential elections in Slovakia, where the favorite is Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Prime Minister Robert Fico, known for his skeptical stance on Ukraine’s European integration and military assistance to Kyiv; presidential and parliamentary elections in Croatia, where support for the current president, Zoran Milanovic, known for his Ukraine-sceptic statements, is growing; and in Austria’s parliamentary elections, the ‘Freedom Party,’ a far-right faction, plays a pivotal role – the driver of Vienna’s shift to opposing the next phases of EU-Ukraine membership negotiations.

UCMC’s Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group reports that the Kremlin can use election campaigns to promote pro-Russian narratives in European countries’ information fields. We primarily examined the political landscapes of Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic due to their status as the EU member states hosting the largest population of Ukrainian refugees.  

GERMANY. Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the “Alternative for Germany” has been opposed to assisting Ukraine. The party demanded a reduction in arms supplies to Ukraine under the guise of “peaceful” slogans for the international community. Party leaders frequently emphasized that aid to Ukrainian refugees and economic sanctions against Russia were a burden on taxpayers and the economy.

For example, one of the AfG’s leaders, Alice Weidel, frequently raises the issue of irrational state budget expenditures for the maintenance of Ukrainian refugees: “5553 euros per month for a family of three Ukrainian refugees: “The ‘traffic light coalition’ (coalition government – ed.) has not only created a massive asylum industry, but it has completely overburdened municipalities with migrant housing. In the end, taxpayers foot the bill[11].”

Stefan Brandner, another Alternative activist, not only supports this viewpoint but also manipulates information about Ukrainian refugees. In a tweet on September 15, 2023, he said, referring to information from German media, “About two dozen, in Ilm alone, only those who stood out. If we extrapolate to the entire country of Germany, there are probably tens of thousands of Ukrainian social fraudsters… as well as hundreds of thousands from other countries…[12]

POLAND. The Confederation of Freedom and Independence is the electoral leader of Poland’s radical-right wing. This political force’s representatives continue to oppose the state’s support for Ukrainian refugees. After all, Rafa Mekler, a Confederation member, will be the “face” of the border blockade between Poland and Ukraine at the end of 2023. 

Slawomir Mentzen, one of the Confederation’s leaders, blamed that “Ukraine has taken advantage of the gullibility of the Polish government,” and now receives government preferences for Ukrainians that Poles do not receive[13]

The narratives of the party, on the other hand, included attempts to sow discord between Ukrainians living in Poland prior to the full-scale invasion and those who arrived after February 2022. The Confederation’s leader, Krzysztof Bosak, announced the press conference with the slogan “Yes to help, no to privileges,” saying: “The excessive zeal of the authorities and some institutions causes a sense of injustice.” Not only with Poles but also with earlier arriving Ukrainians. Prudence is required![14]

THE CZECH REPUBLIC. The most heinous pro-Russian politician in the Czech Republic is Tomio Okamura, the leader of the right-wing populist party Freedom and Direct Democracy. The politician repeatedly broadcasts narratives in the media claiming that Ukraine and Ukrainians are “unnecessary” for the Czech Republic. On the one hand, this is a typical “Czech taxes go to Ukrainians, not Czechs” story, but on the other, Okamura sometimes hides behind good intentions to “support the Ukrainian economy.”

“You, your government, have already given Ukrainians almost 100 billion CZK of our money, (…) in 2022 alone, you gave them 40.5 billion CZK.[15]” 

“The time has come for Ukrainian refugees to return home from European countries.” According to estimates, the war has killed at least tens of thousands of people and injured tens of thousands more. The SPD believes that peace talks should begin as soon as possible so that people can stop dying, Ukrainians can rebuild their war-torn country, and state budget expenditures can be reduced[16].”

Furthermore, more radical quotes can be found among his statements. They border on hate speech and could lead to unjustified violence against Ukrainian refugees, in particular.

Myths and realities of cultivating hostility toward Ukrainians

Unlike Russia’s conscious or situational information allies in the Eurosceptic camp, who view the issue of Ukrainian refugees through the prism of electoral interests, Kremlin strategists see it through the prism of Russian mythology about Ukraine’s relations with the EU.  As a result, depending on the category of consumers of the relevant messages, Russian propaganda covers everyday life and other issues of Ukrainian refugees’ integration into the EU from various perspectives. In the context of our study, the Russian media’s target audiences are: 1) domestic Russian viewers loyal to the government, 2) a category of Ukrainian citizens who have not left the country but, disappointed with the course of the war, blame the West, and 3) EU citizens skeptical of supporting Ukraine and accepting refugees from the Russian-Ukrainian war. 

The main goal of discrediting Ukrainians in the EU on Russian television is to compare the fate of Ukrainians who left for Russia voluntarily or under duress after February 2022 to that of their European counterparts. Simultaneously, Russian propagandists persuade their audiences that Ukrainians in Russia receive maximum social support, whereas in the EU, they face deprivation and neglect from local residents. According to Russian propaganda, there are “real” refugees who have moved to Russia and “fake” refugees, i.e. those who have moved to the EU from areas not affected by combat operations in search of economic benefits[17].

Russian information operations aimed at Ukrainian citizens are generally a continuation of narratives that were part of a strategy to undermine Ukrainian trust in the idea of European integration prior to the full-scale invasion. The primary goal is to demoralize Ukrainian society, instill hopelessness, and suppress the will to resist. 

In terms of European audiences, Russian propaganda operations create negative myths about Ukrainian refugees in the minds of EU citizens. In this way, Russia assists the forces seeking to destabilize the European Union while also increasing distrust in the EU leadership and its policy of supporting Ukraine.

The Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group has identified two primary thematic clusters in the Russian media landscape where disinformation about Ukrainian refugees is disseminated: socioeconomic and political. For each cluster, we offer instances of Russian propaganda myths and corresponding theses that debunk these manipulative narratives.

Socioeconomic block

Myth: Ukrainian refugees burden European countries’ national economies 

Russian propaganda attempts to create the impression that Ukrainians have come to take advantage of available benefits and do not want to search for work. For example, Russian media frequently referred to a discriminatory statement made by Niezalezny Dziennik Polityczny (NDP) journalist Maker Halasz that refugees from Ukraine want free housing and medical care, which is illegal[18].

Russian Media: Poland says many Ukrainian refugees turned out to be fraudsters

Debunked: Ukrainian refugees spent €20 billion abroad in 2022, according to official data, and signed €1.87 million labor contracts in 17 EU countries[19]. As a result, 60% of able-bodied Ukrainian refugees have jobs. The average monthly expenditure of Ukrainians abroad was €1.2 billion as of the summer of 2023. As a result, the costs incurred by EU governments in assisting Ukrainian refugees are almost entirely borne by the local economy. 

Myth: Ukrainian refugees are primarily “economic” migrants. 

Russia claims that Ukrainians are fleeing poverty in their own country, not war and that the EU is correct in addressing economic migration[20]. Russian propagandists are imposing the idea that Ukrainians are pushing local citizens out of the labor market in the countries where the majority of Ukrainians have settled after February 2022, in relation to the country’s population (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Baltic states).

Russian Media: Political analyst: Ukrainian refugees have “eaten up” Poland’s economic growth

Debunked: To begin with, refugee status is not contingent upon the presence or absence of hostilities in the homeland’s area of residence. The EU Temporary Protection Directive regulates the provision of temporary residency to Ukrainian refugees in the EU. This provision grants war-displaced persons from Ukraine the right to stay legally in the EU, access to social services such as healthcare and education, and the right to work[21]. Second, working Ukrainians pay taxes and contribute to the expansion of the EU economy.  It is worth noting that Ukrainians have a high level of education and qualifications, as well as language knowledge, which increases their chances of integration in host countries significantly. Employers are drawn to displaced people because of their human capital. It is significant that, according to Eurostat, there were 1.3 million registered war refugees in Poland as of August 2022[22]. However, the situation has changed over time, with hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians migrating to Germany, a country with a comprehensive migration policy that covers the processes of refugee reception, integration, and adaptation. The Czech Republic had the largest share of young people aged 18 to 34 as of the end of 2023, indicating competition among EU countries for Ukrainian human capital[23].

Myth: Governments are more concerned with Ukrainian refugees than with their own citizens. According to Russian propaganda, Ukrainian refugees receive more benefits than EU citizens[24].

Russian Media: Uninvited guests in Europe are increasingly weary of Ukrainian refugees.

Debunked: By unanimous decision of member states, the EU activated the Temporary Protection Directive for the first time in its history a few days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This directive, which currently governs the legal status of the majority of Ukrainian refugees in the EU, grants them rights previously reserved for EU citizens or permanent residents. Temporary protection includes the right to remain, work, medical and social services, and education for children. At the same time, each country regulates the amount of financial assistance at the national level. 

Narratives about politics and security 

Myth: Ukrainians in the EU can spread radical ideologies and “neo-Nazism.” Russia claims that a large number of Ukrainian “radicals” and “neo-fascists” have infiltrated the EU, potentially destabilizing European countries[25].

Russian Media: Ukrainian nationalists in the EU showed the need to denazify Ukraine

Debunked: According to sociological surveys, Ukrainian society is tolerant, and xenophobia is extremely uncommon in comparison to other Eastern European countries. Furthermore, there is no evidence to support this myth – there are no cases of Ukrainian propaganda or intolerance in the EU.

Myth: Ukrainians despise the European value system and incite domestic strife. Russian propaganda claims that Ukrainian refugees violate social norms and do not adapt to local cultural practices. This category of manipulation includes the false claim that Ukrainian refugees will react hostilely to aid cuts, instigating riots in European countries[26].

Russian Media: Protests were started by Ukrainian refugees in Ireland when the government refused to provide them with free food.

Debunked: Ukrainians’ political culture is based on democratic principles, which guarantee the right to protest in times of peace. Typically, street actions in Ukraine do not involve riots or the destruction of fellow citizens’ private property. There have been no reports of violence at public events in support of Ukraine. However, provocation from Russians abroad or pro-Russian actors remains a possibility. Local law enforcement is responsible for preventing such occurrences.

  • Myth: Ukrainians live immoral lives. According to Russia, Ukrainian women in the EU are forced to “sell their bodies,” while men engage in criminal activity. One example of this narrative is the fabrication of information about the rise in HIV cases in Poland. Russian media makes the claim that “some Ukrainian women arrive with HIV infection, while working in escort services or engage in relationships with local men, who then become carriers of the infection, transmitting it to their own wives.” 
Russian Media: HIV outbreak registered in Poland due to Ukrainian refugees

Debunked: In reality, Russian propaganda exaggerates issues affecting small social groups among Ukrainians living abroad in order to falsely portray all Ukrainians. According to the StopFake fact-checkers, in fact, the Ministry of Health of Poland explained that the number of recorded cases of the disease in the country could have increased due to the arrival of Ukrainians, among whom there are HIV-infected people. They are included in general statistics and are offered counseling and treatment.

The majority of adult Ukrainian refugees have a higher education or qualifications that allow them to work legally in the EU. On the contrary, Russians try to downplay the role of Ukrainian women in society; portraying her only as a sex worker.


Moscow consistently uses the Ukrainian refugee factor to sway public opinion in European societies, particularly in countries with a large Ukrainian population, such as Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Russian myths about Ukrainian refugees abroad are created using two methods: 

  1. Attributing isolated incidents of a non-systemic nature to all Ukrainians.
  2. In internal propaganda, negative images are extrapolated onto refugees, portraying the entire Ukrainian population negatively.

Russian media activity focuses on discrediting Ukrainian refugees in the EU in economic and political terms. 

The initial category comprises the following narratives: “EU governments prioritize the well-being of Ukrainian refugees over that of their own citizens”; “Ukrainian refugees are a burden for the economy”; “refugees from Ukraine are essentially economic migrants who take jobs away from local workers”; “refugees from Ukraine violate social norms and fail to adapt to local cultural practices.” 

The political and security narratives include the following: “Ukrainians in the EU can bring radical sentiments and ‘neo-Nazism'”; “male refugees from Ukraine engage in criminal activities”; “Ukrainians lead an immoral lifestyle that threatens social stability in the EU”.

With the European Parliament elections in 2024 approaching, Russia is likely to step up its efforts to discredit EU national governments by using the Ukrainian refugee issue.

Simultaneously, misinformation about Ukrainian refugees is widespread in the media, particularly among populist and right-wing movements, as well as political parties in the EU. Russia actively promotes Euroscepticism, and so, by radicalizing societal sentiments, the Kremlin has an indirect influence on Europe’s socio-political stability.

[1] More than 4.2 million people under temporary protection. URL:

[2] Is the West turning away from Ukraine? What are the partners’ attitudes and is aid really at risk? URL:

[3] A pan-European study of Ukrainians in Europe. URL:

[4] Ukraine Trends September 2023. URL:

[5] Czech society is divided on the topic of support for Ukrainian refugees. The perception of Russia as the main culprit of the war is not decreasing. URL:

[6] Russian aggression against Ukraine: Survey of Czech attitudes. URL:

[7] Despite challenges, V4 societies generally remain supportive of Ukrainian refugees, with more negative attitudes apparent in Slovakia. URL:

[8] In January 2016, Russia’s Channel One used the story of 13-year-old Liza’s disappearance from Berlin for propaganda purposes, spreading information about an alleged rape by migrants. The police found that the reports of kidnapping and violence were not true – in fact, the girl had made it all up and hid with her friends out of fear of her parents. Nevertheless, the Kremlin continued to whip up hysteria, and on 26 January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on official Berlin “not to sweep the story of Liza under the carpet”.

[9] How the Kremlin is manipulating the Refugee Crisis Russian Disinformation as a Threat to European Security. URL:

[10] Divide and Conquer: Russia’s information war against Ukrainian-Polish relations. URL:


[12] URL:

[13] URL:

[14] URL:


[16] URL:

[17] “’Ukrainian rabbits’, fugitives from the Nazis and spreaders of infections: what Russian propaganda says about Ukrainian refugees. URL:

[18] В Польше заявили, что многие украинские беженцы оказались мошенниками. URL:

[19] Refugees and the economy – what are the implications for the EU of the influx of Ukrainians. URL:

[20] Political analyst: Ukrainian refugees have “eaten up” Poland’s economic growth. URL:

[21] The EU Council has unanimously introduced temporary protection for Ukrainians fleeing the war. URL:

[22] Ukrainians granted temporary protection in August. URL:

[23] Refugees from Ukraine: who are they, how many are there and how to return them? Final report. URL:

[24]   The Ukrainian refugees are becoming increasingly tired of the Ukrainian refugees in Europe. URL:

[25] Ukrainian nationalists in the EU showed the need to denazify Ukraine. URL:

[26] Ukrainian refugees in Ireland riot over authorities’ refusal to feed them for free. URL:

[27] HIV outbreak registered in Poland due to Ukrainian refugees, URL: