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Internet–based ICTs

Setting the stage

By the end of the 1990s, Ukraine had one of the best–developed civil societies of all post–U.S.S.R. states (Aslund and McFaul, 2006). Since the main Ukrainian traditional mass media were controlled either explicitly or implicitly by the regime, civic groups started using the Internet as an alternative channel for critical information. Multiple Internet–only daily newspaper appeared, first among them Ukrainska Pravda. Other Web sites, for example the Maidan site, represented the civic groups themselves. Because of restrictions on information in most traditional mass media, the Internet began to play an important role in the development of the political situation in Ukraine.

Ukrainian law never considered Internet–based information outlets to be formal mass media (Goldstein, 2007). So while journalists of the traditional mass media often had to deal with lawsuits, often under utterly hollow pretexts but in full accordance with current legislation, the journalists of Ukrainian online mass media were not subject to such laws (Privacy International, 2003). This promoted the creation of the Internet–based public sphere in Ukraine.

Why did the Ukrainian authorities take a lenient attitude towards the Internet? Krasnoboka and Semetko [6] explain the authorities’ underestimation of the Internet’s political potential compared to traditional mass media, such as TV, because television was the main information source available for about 90 percent of the Ukrainian population. For this reason television was the medium most closely controlled by Kuchma’s regime. Moreover, since Internet penetration rates were only about 10 percent (Dyczok, 2006), the ruling circles underestimated its potential to influence individuals.

Ukrainian Internet users at the time of the Orange Revolution

Around the time of the Orange Revolution most Internet users in Ukraine were “students and professors of the universities, young employees of the international and big national enterprises, collaborators of the research institutions, journalists, politicians, governmental officials and the security service” [7] — i.e., representatives of both intellectual and political elites. This also may explain why, despite a relatively low percentage (not more than 15 percent of the population) of Internet users in Ukraine, the Internet became “influential sociopolitical force.” [8] There is no consensus about the percentage of Internet users in Ukraine: Prytula [9] estimates it at eight percent by the beginning of autumn 2004, while others provide different numbers (12 percent to 15 percent, Freedom House, July 2004). Regardless of the exact number, this percentage is relatively small in comparison to more technically developed countries. Nevertheless the provision of alternative information to even a relatively small number of activists seems to be, as we will show below, very important for the development of the Orange Revolution.

The “Kuchmagate” events

The political Internet in Ukraine manifested itself seriously for the first time in 2000, four years before its peak in 2004. In autumn 2000, the Kuchmagate events began with the infamous Gongadze case. According to the case study by the World Bank Institute (2002), in mid–April 2000 known Ukrainian independent political journalist Heorhiy Gongadze founded the purely online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda ( in Kyiv. Often its publications harshly criticized Ukrainian government officials, which displeased them (World Bank Institute, 2002). In mid–July 2000 Gongadze appealed to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, complaining about being surveilled by unknown persons. One evening in mid–September 2000, Gongadze vanished [10].

In about a week the Ukrainian parliament established a Temporary Commission to investigate the journalist’s disappearance. On 6 October 2000, the Ukrainian Interior Minister informed the parliament that Gongadze’s articles in Ukrainska Pravda could be connected with his disappearance (World Bank Institute, 2002). At the beginning of November 2000, a headless body was uncovered not far from Kyiv. Soon the officials developed serious concerns that the corpse could be Gongadze’s [11]. In mid–November 2000, some of Gongadze’s friends confirmed that the identity of the body as Gongadze. Finally, on 28 November 2000, one of the opposition leaders, Oleksandr Moroz, presented to the Parliament audio files, secretly recorded in Kuchma’s office, which suggested the President’s involvement in Gongadze’s disappearance. These files also immediately became available online (Krasnoboka and Semetko, 2006).

During these events, Ukrainska Pravda covered the story. While in early September 2000 the political Internet in Ukraine was not very popular, by December 2000 it had become so: as Prytula recalled in an interview to Vasyl (2000), at the beginning of September 2000 the Ukrainska Pravda Web site had about 3,000 visitors daily; on the day before the interview they had about 80,000 visitors. Similarly, Krasnoboka and Semetko [12] noticed that

“… as the [Gongadze] crisis developed, the Ukrainian Internet experienced a tremendous increase in the number of visitors to political Web sites and forums. On 7 December 2000, Gongadze’s online paper [Ukrainska Pravda] registered its first million visitors, this in a country in which officially less than one percent of the population — which would come to about 400,000 people — had access to the Internet at that time.”

In agreement with Prytula (2006), we can say that although the Kuchmagate events of 2000–2001 were seemingly unsuccessful for the opposition, they can be considered the first active phase of the Orange Revolution. This marks the first time that Internet–based information played an important role in Ukrainian politics. Despite a temporary political retreat by the opposition, the events of autumn 2000 to spring 2001 were objectively progressive for Ukrainian Internet use. Early in 2002 Taras Kuzio (2002) noted:

“Internet use in Ukraine has increased fivefold since 1999. From 2000 to 2001, it jumped by 30 to 40 percent. In recent years, computer prices have dropped, since 85 percent of all computers sold in Ukraine are now assembled domestically. In 2001, 400,000 personal computers were sold (an annual increase of 22–25 percent) plus 10,000 computer notebooks (an annual increase of 60 percent). Due to increased competition among Ukraine’s 260 Internet service providers … the cost of Internet connection has dropped dramatically.”

McFaul (2006) describes the media situation in Ukraine and compares it with the previous successful “color” revolutions in Serbia in 2000 and Georgia in 2003:

“In contrast to Serbia and especially Georgia, Ukraine’s democratic opposition had access to fewer traditional sources of independent media. By 2004, in Ukraine all the major TV channels were owned or controlled by oligarchs loyal to Kuchma and Yanukovych. Some important print newspapers provided independent sources of news, but all had limited circulations. Compared with Serbia and Georgia, however, Ukraine’s opposition had one advantage: the Internet. Coming just a little bit later than the other two revolutions and in a country a little bit richer and therefore with a little more connectivity, the Orange Revolution benefited tremendously from the Web. In fact, the Orange Revolution may have been the first in world history organized in large measure on the Web.” [13]

Similarly, Kuzio [14] noted that:

“The Internet provided an alternative to state and private television stations, which were hostile to the opposition. Sixty-eight percent of Ukrainians believed there was political censorship in Ukraine, particularly on television, which was trusted by only 21 percent of the people.”

The Internet in the Orange Revolution in September–December 2004

Semetko and Krasnoboka [15] note that “assumptions based on the political role of the Internet in established democracies do not always hold for societies in transition.” In countries like Ukraine,

“… Citizens turn to the online sources to obtain more information than is available in off–line media, as well as uncensored or, as some political observers say, less censored, information about political developments in these societies. From this perspective, the Internet may be seen as a vehicle for fuelling political protest (see also Beissinger, 1998; 2002). Online–only media therefore appear to have more credibility as a source of information for Internet users in these societies in transition than off–line media online. This is in contrast to established democracies, such as the U.S. or the U.K., for example, where hits on Web sites of online versions of off–line media are far more common than hits on online–only media. This difference is a reflection of the political constraints under which journalists in these societies are working.” [16]

It seems that the Internet in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution satisfied the above prediction about its potential role as one of vehicles for fuelling political protest. For example, Prytula [17] notes that:

“During the revolution, the Internet helped to organize rallies. With the strict censorship of television, the Internet was the only medium through which one could find answers to basic questions: What is the date and location of the next meeting? What are the plans of the opposition? What is happening in the street? Sometimes events unfolded so rapidly that only Internet media provided people with up–to–date information.”

By 2004, the only Ukrainian TV station not under the authorities’ control was the second–tier Channel 5 (Prytula, 2006). Though it had limited geographical coverage through the traditional means of TV broadcasting and the authorities tried in every way possible to prevent that coverage from growing, they were unable to stop Channel 5’s broadcasting over the Internet from its Web site — “[T]hrough its Web portal, Channel 5 played a crucial role in providing continuous real–time reporting from Independence Square” [18] during the most active 17–day phase of the Orange Revolution. Its Web site experienced very high traffic at that point: during autumn 2004 its popularity increased twentyfold, from 400,000 to eight million hits [19].

But there were obstacles. In mid–October 2004, access to Channel 5’s Web site was blocked both in Moscow and by the then–main Ukrainian ISP Ukrtelecom [20]: “a network of servers was used” to block access to, just as when the Web site, featuring jokes about Yanukovych, had been blocked [21]. Subsequently, the Yanukovych joke Web site provided a list of “anonymizing” servers for the users to bypass such blockades (Bandera, 2006). This technique was also used by a number of independent and oppositional Ukrainian online news agencies “to prevent the filtering of their content” (Prytula, 2006). During the campaign, some ISPs in the big cities offered free dial–up access to the main oppositional information outlets. This was particularly valuable since, according to even a 2005 poll, about 70 percent of Internet users in Ukraine still used dial–up Internet connections (Bandera, 2006). McFaul [22] adds that during the Orange Revolution “text messaging was also an essential coordinating device for those in Maidan and in the tent city, who did not have access to e–mail.”

The Pora movement

Text messaging was used extensively by one of the oppositional youth organizations, Pora (formally, it had two organizationally independent wings — “Yellow” and “Black,” without any major political discrepancies between them). Most participants in the Orange Revolution were in their thirties or younger (Goldstein, 2007). Literature suggests that they should be advanced users of the Internet (see Shah and Abraham, 2009). Accordingly, the Internet, so popular among younger generations, became an important tool during the Revolution.

Demes and Forbrig (2006) describe Pora and its general informational strategy as follows:

“The civic campaign of Pora, … inaugurated in March 2004, … quickly grew into the largest country–wide network of NGOs, activities, and volunteers. … The basic idea behind Pora’s campaign was that the absence of independent media was far–reaching and greatly assisted the incumbent regime in manipulating the public in the electoral process. Alternative mass media and sources of information were needed to guarantee free and fair elections and to give the Ukrainian public more accurate information about the electoral process, … and possible state manipulation of the election. Alternative sources of information would be instrumental in mobilizing public protest against election fraud. Various communication tools ensured that this structure could function as a coherent campaign.” [23]

Kaskiv, et al. [24], authors of the Pora case study, wrote that “the Web site of the campaign was established at and served not only as a source of information but also as a practical tool for coordination among regional departments. … A system of immediate dissemination of information by SMS was also put in place and proved to be important.” Around the time of the Orange Revolution, users of SIM cards that Pora had bought from a particular cell phone provider were given free calls and text messaging within the network; during the Revolution, that provider also built 24 additional cell phone signal relay stations, thus greatly contributing to the protestors’ connectivity, while its vice–president even personally joined the protests [25].

According to Goldstein [26], Pora’s Web site served both as “a source to inform the public and as a forum for activists to communicate. The organization and activities of Pora represent the clearest link between the small percentage of Ukrainian elite who were online and the general public.” Taras Kuzio [27] notes one more important feature of Pora’s communication strategy: “Black Pora discussed tactics and strategy on a server located outside Ukraine that required coded access. This was to prevent infiltration by the security service.”

During the critical period of the Orange Revolution, the e–mail addresses of those subscribed to Pora’s e–mail list were used for the mobilization of its supporters. About 10,000 e–mail addresses were thus harvested, and immediately after the second round of elections these addresses were used to send out mobilization information to as many people as possible, and as soon as possible, urging Pora’s members and supporters to join the tent city [28].

More mature, self–organizing protestors (the Maidan Web site)

The Maidan site ( was set up on 20 December 2000, during the protests connected with the Gongadze case [29]. It was the first time Ukrainian dissenters “began collecting and exchanging information using the Internet.” [30] The anonymity ensured by the site’s virtual nature and the mirror servers securely located overseas guaranteed Maidan’s continuous activity and popularity during the several following years until the culmination of the Orange Revolution.

Kyj [31] provides further description of the Maidan site. In particular, the news section was usually filled with reports by activists, rather than by professional journalists. This opened the possibility of posting unsubstantiated reports, as when reports about Russian special troops landing secretly in Ukraine in order to suppress the Revolution were posted. Thus, this type of site, with less organizational control than Pora’s, could be used by hostile secret services to mislead or threaten site visitors (in this case, by spreading false rumors about Russian special forces who would ruthlessly suppress the protests). Bandera [32] writes that these rumors were actively maintained both on– and off–line: “the rumors gained credulity [sic] as they circulated via e–mail, Internet chat forums, by SMS and in hushed tones by expatriate journalists in local bars.” Despite this weakness, the posts on the site’s news section usually came from known and trusted activists, so their credibility stayed fairly high.

By November 2004, Maidan had tens of millions of hits per month [33]. The site was among the first in the country to provide access to its content via WAP cell phone technology and free dial–up access. Its homepage also featured a “direct action line” urging its visitors to perform the immediate political actions necessary at that moment, based on real–time developments of situations. This allowed actions such as the 24/7 dispatch of activists to block groups of provocateurs during the Revolution. Additionally, Maidan’s site featured the important option of donating money to the Revolution via credit card, a feature that was especially convenient to Ukrainian diaspora (Goldstein, 2007).

Ukrainska Pravda

During the Orange Revolution, the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda made extensive use of the Internet’s ability to reflect real–time reaction to events. McFaul [34] mentions that:

Ukrainska Pravda most certainly ranked as one of Ukraine’s essential outlets of news and analysis in the last years before the collapse of the Kuchma regime. By the end of the Orange Revolution, it was not only the most popular Internet site, but also the most widely read publication of any kind in Ukraine. During the critical hours and days after the second–round vote, Ukrainska Pravda displayed the results of the exit poll most sympathetic to Yushchenko as well as detailed news about allegations of fraud. The Web site also provided all sorts of practical information to protestors.”

The newspaper’s editor–in–chief, Olena Prytula [35], wrote that “while the Orange Revolution spread from Kyiv to the regions, … the news feeds from the regions were vitally important.” Thousands of letters with fresh news flooded the mailbox of Ukrainska Pravda:

“… every ten to fifteen minutes another tent city appeared in some town or other, and that fact was soon reported. … [This] news from the regions was read by opposition leaders on Maidan to millions of listeners in the streets throughout Ukraine.” [36]

Differences in the use of the Internet by pro–Yushchenko and pro–Yanukovych forces

The opposing political forces during the Orange Revolution used the Internet with unequal success. For example, Kyj [37] notes that the pro–Yanukovych sites “did not fully exploit the attributes of the Web,” while the explicitly pro–Yuschenko sites, like Maidan, Pora, and independent news sites, did: “Internet was a critical medium for the Yuschenko coalition in getting its message out to the public.”

Prytula [38] also confirms that “Yushchenko and his allies made active use of the Internet.” Their Web sites were reliable and stable sources of relevant information. Yanukovych had a site at, but he “used it to support his own reputation rather than provide useful information. The news was updated irregularly.” [39] It is no surprise that Kyj [40] found very low activity on all pro–Yanukovych sites during the main phase of the Orange Revolution (autumn–December 2004). At the same time, he noticed very high activity on the pro–Yushchenko sites.

ICT–facilitated satire

During the Orange Revolution, Internet–supported humor played an important role in the hands of the creative opposition (see Burwell and Boler (2008) regarding the phenomenon of online–supported political humor in general). Kuzio [41] mentions that this phenomenon started “in September 2004 after Yanukovych … was hit by an egg thrown by a student. He looked at the egg and then fell over, apparently in agony.” That was video–recorded and uploaded (first to the Channel 5’s Web site) to the Internet [42] that “began to ridicule the event: how could the large, tough–looking Yanukovych be knocked over by a small egg?” [43] According to Bandera [44], on 25 September Channel 5’s servers were overwhelmed by the huge number of requests for the accident’s original video. Following this, Ukrainska Pravda and uploaded the file to their servers to help disseminate it. Prior to the accident, Yanukovych’s ratings had been growing extremely quickly, but then slowed down immediately. After the incident, several Web sites were set up that featured the constantly growing number of related jokes in various digital forms, such as Flash cartoons [45].

One interesting piece of evidence of the important role anti–Yanukovych humor played during the Orange Revolution is the fact that during their short–term return to the Parliament majority in 2006, supporters of Yanukovych tried to wipe out humorous inscriptions about him left from the Orange Revolution on walls in the center of Kyiv (Korrespondent, 2006). Fortunately, their arms were too short to reach the Internet.

Internet use in the exit poll “wars”

In 2004 there was a real exit poll mania in Ukraine [46]. The Kyiv–based Democratic Initiatives Foundation (DIF) sponsored the largest exit poll, presented at Other important exit polls were conducted by the government–controlled “Ukrainian Institute of Social Research”, the Russian FOM public opinion poll organization and the “Russian Club” headed by Gleb Pavlovsky [47], and Yanukovych’s own team. The Internet was used to violate the legal ban on the publication of exit–poll results before the closing of the polling stations, and could “guide” the results of other exit polls. The Russian FOM and the “Russian Club” in particular used the Internet to violate the publication ban explicitly outlined in Ukrainian laws:

“By 3 p.m., the Internet was awash with news reports of exit poll results à la Pavlovsky that showed Yanukovych winning by more than three percent. … For the remaining part of Election Day, the FOM poll data was reported as news from Moscow on Web sites, forums and e–mails in Russia and Ukraine, in violation of the particularly specific and exact publication ban still in force in Ukraine.” [48]

In contrast, the exit poll conducted by DIF showed an obvious victory by Yushchenko in the second round election, which differed from Yanukovych’s victory as reported by the Ukrainian Central Electoral Commission [49]. After polling stations were closed, Yushchenko’s campaign used the powerful informational and communication possibilities of the Internet to disseminate the DIF’s results globally. These exit poll results were also important in mobilizing the masses against the authorities’ election fraud (Bilaniuk, 2005).

The Internet as medium and tool for information and disinformation campaigns

Throughout the 2004 Ukrainian election campaign, several relevant English–language periodic reports were distributed via various e–mail–based subscription lists. One was the Action Ukraine Report [50]:

“Six months before the election, the Action Ukraine Report (AUR) was issued to 4,000 recipients. By the time of President Viktor Yushchenko’s inauguration, subscriptions had doubled to 8,000 e–mail recipients. The Report’s impact was far broader than that, however: subscribers would copy and paste the text–only messages and resend selected items to other addresses, creating an exponential impact. … Some of the 8,000 recipients of … English–language news summaries were forwarding the reports to people in Ukraine. This created a ripple, networking and multiplier effect to far larger numbers.”

Another electronic list–based periodical devoted to Ukrainian issues that played a significant role during the Orange Revolution was the Ukraine List (UKL). It was created in 1998, and initially published on average an issue per week. During the critical times of the Orange Revolution in 2004, however, the UKL had up to three to four issues per day for 40 days in a row:

“In addition to providing a selection of the best news items, then UKL transformed itself into a daily forum for exclusive contributions. … With the Orange Revolution, the UKL subscription base skyrocketed, not just in absolute figures, but also in the number of critical circles that it reached.” [51]

The AUR also conducted its own analyses and investigations. One was devoted to the infamous poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko with dioxin [52]. It was established that an English–language summary of an article saying that Yushchenko “was not poisoned by his opponents to prevent him from taking part in the presidential elections. … [He] simply drank alcohol by mistake after stem cell therapy” was posted on the Internet by and thus became available worldwide [53]. Further, according to Bandera [54], those rumors were republished in print-based newspapers, “citing the almighty Internet as the source.” This is a clear example of how the Internet–based ICTs can be employed for a sophisticated mis–information campaign. But because technology is fundamentally neutral, the Internet, through such outlets as AUR, was also skillfully used by the cyberdissenters to reveal mis–information and to conduct successful counter–information campaigns.

The Internet’s direct use during the elections

The Internet provides a convenient tool which can be used to either ensure an election’s fairness or to falsify it. For an example of the former, we can mention the “Znayu!” initiative (

“At the heart of the initiative was a technology solution that combined the Internet, call centers, mobile phones that all contributed to the compilation of an enormous database. This database proved to be the key to collecting, systematizing and presenting the scope and different types of violations of electoral law that occurred during the second round of voting on November 21.” [55]

But during the Orange Revolution, Internet–related technologies were also used by pro–Yanukovych forces to directly falsify the results of the elections: they used an illegally installed “transit server” when data were transferred electronically between polling stations, territorial elections commissions (TECs), and the central commission (CEC) in Kyiv [56]. In December 2004, the hearings at the U.S. Congress House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee revealed [57] “the most egregious, widely observed and reported examples of election–day fraud on November 21.” One of those examples was [58] “Computer Data Allegedly Altered To Favor Yanukovych: There were credible reports showing that that [sic] Yanukovych supporters gained illegal access to the Central Election Commission’s computer system and illegally altered vote tabulation data being transmitted by TECs to the CEC.” According to Bandera [59], “the access codes to the CEC’s computer systems were seized the day before the vote by ‘unknown forces’. Halyna Mandrusova, director of the ProCom firm that was responsible for the computer systems, confirmed the fact that data coming into the CEC was manipulated ‘from the outside’.”