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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

Razom fights for Ukraine with passion - and strategy

Welcome to Team Thursday, when I spotlight a worthy organization.  Full disclosure, I am a sustaining donor to Razom, and have been since weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine.


Razom was founded in 2014 by Ukrainian expats in the US, as a grassroots volunteer organization, in response to Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution of Dignity. At that time, deadly clashes between protesters and state forces in Kyiv culminated in the ousting of elected (and Russia-loving) President Viktor Yanukovych and a return to the 2004 Constitution of Ukraine.  Shortly after the Maidan Revolution, Russia launched its invasion of Crimea and the Donbas. 


After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Razom experienced a big growth spurt. They have now raised over $100 million for Ukraine and have over 200,000 donors, volunteers, and more than 140 grantee partners, mostly grassroots organizations on the ground in Ukraine.


I could go on at great length about all the wonderful, smart and creative things Razom does to further its mission.  But I will limit myself to a discussion of how they’re upping their game on strategic communications. They show just how one can use a crisis to focus and recommit to victory.


Championing Freedom gives key insight into how to talk to Americans about Ukraine


Razom recently completed a project called Championing Freedom, so they could better understand what motivates Americans to support pro-democracy causes and government support for a fight for freedom in other countries, like Ukraine. The six-month project uncovered insights and messaging that are most meaningful as the year gets underway, as the world experiences new upheavals and as our presidential contest heats up.


Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was the case study used to better understand just how Americans think about supporting and defending democracy. The project was conducted in cooperation with Ukrainian civil society groups, global pro-democracy campaigners, friends of Ukraine, and other communicators already working in this space.


The results of the research can be applied by pro-democracy movements to activate popular support for foreign nations under invasion that is committed to preserving their democracy.


How do Americans feel about our support for Ukraine?


Poll results consistently indicated that the majority of Americans want to continue to support Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion.


The poll conducted in August, 2023 showed that 63% of Americans support continuing military support for Ukraine in next year’s federal budget.  60% of US voters believe that America’s allies and enemies would view a US withdrawal of military support for Ukraine as a sign of weakness.


What works, what doesn’t


Messages that place Putin as the main villain and mastermind of the war against Ukraine and other conflicts around the world performed best in persuading Americans to support Ukraine.  Putin and China’s Xi Jinping were together at the very bottom of the world leader approval question in the survey, deeply underwater with Democrats and Republicans equally.


However, the resumption of the Israel-Palestine conflict introduced a split among the respondents, with some demonstrating less support for military aid to Ukraine if aid is linked to Israel, while others indicated more support.


When describing a timeline for the commitment to a struggle, many Americans hear “as long as it takes” as code for “forever.” Proclaiming “victory” as the end goal of aiding Ukraine, as well as describing progress, a credible strategy and definition for victory, is crucial to obtaining and sustaining popular support in the US.


 Survey results indicated that the goal of “defending democracy” lacks broad appeal in the US. because different segments of Americans understand the word “democracy” differently. “Defending freedom” unites and motivates Americans more.


Finer segmentation of polling indicated that an anti-Ukrainian mood prevails in a small segment of the conservative minority. Some information that helped move them:


-       Learning that the US spent less than 3% of its defense budget to destroy 50% of Russian armed forces, and that Ukraine has regained over 50% of previously occupied territories.


-       The information that most boosted support was the persecution of Evangelical Christians by Russian occupational forces in Ukraine.


-       Ukraine is not involved in a regional “squabble” with Russia. It is fighting for its freedom and for the right to govern itself.


-       Either we live in a world where bullies roll over defenseless innocents or we stand up for freedom, we stand up for innocent lives, and we work with other nations to win a better future for us all.


Key stories


The report also discussed key stories Ukraine should tell.


Heroic Moments from Shared History


For many Americans, helping Ukraine is a chance for the US to be a hero to the world, just as in World War II. The American Revolution of 1776 is sacred to both Americans and Ukrainians.  Describing Ukraine’s fight as a revolt against Russia’s colonial domination—or Ukraine’s own “1776 moment” -  can inspire Americans and make them more closely identify with Ukraine.


Doing What’s Right *


Narratives about America’s fundamental desire to oppose evil and fight for good; America’s role as the world’s most powerful nation should be provided. Stories should narrate fundamental values—the right to safety, security, freedom, and self-determination. When a major power attacks a small nation, most Americans want the U.S. to side with David and beat Goliath.

* America’s stance in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, detracted from this argument as many Americans see a double standard in how the U.S. has responded to the protection of innocents in the Middle East conflict and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  (Argh! Can’t argue with this!)

Winning a Safe, Freer Future

The fundamental purpose of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is for Russia to define the future of humanity: oppression vs. freedom; liberty vs. censorship; impunity vs. the rule of law. Offering a vision of a future where Ukraine’s victory makes the world safer and deters future authoritarian aggression motivates Americans to be more invested in Ukraine’s cause.

Fighting Disinformation

Anti-Ukraine sentiments amplified by disinformation campaigns include the ideas that the war is just a “territorial dispute,” Ukraine is “too corrupt,” the U.S. has given Ukraine a “blank check.”

Educational and informative campaigns aimed at boosting awareness about Ukraine and providing Americans with reliable information from resources they trust, are key to securing popular support for Ukraine in its fight for freedom.

Listening is the foundation for effective communication strategy

This project shows how much Razom wants to win for Ukraine.  Instead of guessing what people think and feel, they went to find out, and to learn how best to tell their story to increase support.

I don’t know anything about their partners on this project – Worthy Strategy Group, Political Narrative, and Change Research - but the results of their work make a lot of sense.

Another great Razom project you might want to check out is their blog covering all the wonderful Ukrainian culture .


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