Professor Geert Lovink and colleagues' blog about the war

4 Apr 2022 13:05 | Communication

For weeks, many of us have been watching the terrifying images of the war in Ukraine. Some have opened their doors to refugees or have helped to collect relief supplies. Meanwhile, Professor of Network Cultures, media theorist and internet critic (and – since December – the UvA Professor of Art and Network Cultures) Geert Lovink is working overtime. ‘I’m happy to answer questions over the phone’, he says. ‘But I can’t meet you in person, sorry.’

Blogs about and from Ukraine

The reasons why he is so busy have a lot to do with the war in Ukraine. Lovink’s research group ( is conducting research into online and offline media. This is no dry academic discourse: he is working together with artists, activists, programmers and designers in interdisciplinary research networks. Some of his website (click on ‘Ukraine’) is given over to a series of blogs written by an equally diverse group of authors. One of them is Kateryna Polevianenko, a product designer from Lviv, who writes: ‘March 4th, day 9 of this shit.’ In a blog titled ‘My digital armpits stink’, she shares her efforts to clean up her news feed. ‘Anonymous’, from Russia, writes: ‘We can get any Ukrainian channels and opposition channels with political discussions. They are available thanks to VPN.’ The most prolific author is Svitlana Matviyenko, a university lecturer who returned to her parents in Ukraine from Vancouver (Canada) (before the invasion). She has plenty of expertise when it comes to information and cyber warfare and is keeping a diary about the events. For example, she has described what an air raid feels like and how she combats disinformation.

Colleagues in Ukraine and Russia

Why is Geert Lovink publishing these messages? ‘I’m doing this because of the close ties I already had with colleagues in Ukraine and Russia.’ In 2019, a Moscow-based publisher issued the Russian-language version of Geert Lovink’s Critical Internet Theory. ‘I did a book tour at the time and attended a conference in Kyiv at Svitlana’s invitation. War was already looming.’ So it made sense for Geert to make contact with his colleagues after the Russian invasion in February. ‘Svitlana told me she was writing a diary, so we agreed there and then that we’d work together on getting it published.’ Gathering posts of this kind is no easy task. ‘I’m having to encourage people to write in the middle of a war, sometimes literally from inside a bomb shelter. We support them through native-speaking copy editors around the world. Together we form a real network.’

Giving people a voice

How many people does Geert reach with these blogs? And who are they? He agrees that it is an interesting question. ‘I’m not interested in reach. We’re not motivated by statistics, and never have been. We want to give the people who are caught up in that war a voice. Every blog by somebody inside Ukraine or a refugee that we can publish is a win, even if only one person reads it.’

Foto: Bob Bronshoff

Subjective information

Zelensky’s slick media appearances, access to information, fake news, rumours… They are all factors with an impact on the course and the perception of the war. How can Geert tell the difference between true and false? Is he not being manipulated himself? ‘You have to work with people you trust. It might sound strange, but I’d advise anyone who wants to offer a similar platform to stay subjective and to post eyewitness accounts and personal stories. What did you see? What did you hear?’

Digital infrastructure

A working internet connection is obviously crucial to this, even more so now television crews are no longer able to access large parts of Ukraine. A curious development has been that internet connections have tended to improve in areas where war is raging. That kind of infrastructure has Geert’s attention as well. ‘Each week, a large group of people from AUAS, the UVA and Amsterdam’s technology sector meet in De Waag for an informal “Tech meets tactical media” debate. We’re joined not only by artists and internet geeks, but also by Free Press Unlimited. Journalists need tech support. The internet is vital for all those millions of people who have been dispersed. If any cables are hit, or if Russia suddenly meets with significant military success, outside help will be needed to supply routers and other internet provider equipment, so that internet access can be restored as soon as possible.’


Meanwhile, the exchange has also taken corporeal form. ‘One of the bloggers, a journalist, has since fled. She’ll be moving to Amsterdam soon to join researchers in a significant data sprint. Naturally, she’ll be needing a place to stay. This hasn’t really fully sunk in yet: the Netherlands will need to cope with a vast influx of refugees from the Ukraine, roughly 100,000 of them.’ As Geert Lovink explains, this affects AUAS as well. ‘These refugees are not just mothers with babes in arms: there are students, researchers and lecturers among them as well. Until recently, these people shared our job and outlook on life. Now they find themselves in the middle of an all-out war. What effect does this have on them? At the same time, no two refugees are alike. I spoke to two refugees: one from the Donbas region, which has been controlled by pro-Russian separatists for years, and the other from Kyiv. While they have completely different opinions on the conflict, they’re both humans of flesh and blood looking for shelter.’

Scenarios for the future

It is difficult to predict what Ukraine’s future will be like. At the time of writing (late March 2022), it is hard to tell how and when the war will end. However, one thing is certain: those who believe the refugees will be able to return home in the summer are living in cloud cuckoo land. As Geert says: ‘If you want to imagine what Ukraine will look like then, you’ll need to make your own assumptions based on Russia’s role in Syria. Everything is broken, houses have been reduced to rubble, there are no basic services anymore and families have been torn apart. People can’t go back for the foreseeable future, because there’s nothing to go back to.’ What about the media landscape? Sadly, that is a little easier to predict. ‘Just look at China. Russia is working on its own version of China’s Great Firewall, which won’t just disconnect the Russian population from the internet entirely, but also those territories in Ukraine under Russian control if the country ends up being partitioned.’ These are enough reasons for being for an Amsterdam-based networking website that makes room for Ukrainian voices.

You can find the blogs at > Ukraine.