The ‘Emergency Grab Bag’ of Memory, or the Tonalities of News Headlines About the War in Ukraine – Part One

By Olha Haidamachuk[1]

War is both numbness and screaming. Even those who dared to realize that war would happen were not prepared for it, neither in 2014 nor in 2022. Everyone was caught off guard by the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by a neighbor that insisted on their ‘brotherly’ feelings. Under such conditions, the word ‘brother’ changes its tonality and irritates the Ukrainian ear, evoking the resonance of other layers of memory about fraternal relations. One of those, for example, was illustrated by the Ukrainian artist Anton Losenko in 1768 in his diptych “Cain” and “Abel”. Yet “Cain” is kept in the Russian Federation (State Russian Museum), while “Abel” remains in Ukraine (Kharkiv Art Museum).[2] Is this war an example of Russians’ true ‘brotherly’[3] care? It seems unlikely now. But it can be a vivid example of the potential danger of unheard false tonalities.

Despite the shock on 24 February, journalists and other professionals had to write about the war to inform without provoking panic. It is clear that the tone of news differs depending on whether it is about a war in another country, about war from the aggressor’s position, or about war from the position of those who resist aggression. These three tonalities are the subject of this two-part essay. But, what is tonality?

According to the Ukrainian linguist Svitlana Ivanenko, tonality expresses a sender’s intention based on both the qualities of the object of discourse and the sender’s attitude to these qualities. Tonality is the concentrate of the expressive means of a text.[4] Thus, tonality is characteristic of both the text as a whole and its fragments, and, when considering news articles, in particular the headlines, which express the dominant tone of a text. In this essay, I study the implicit intentions and attitudes of such tones. Volodymyr Pavlyk also points to a source of tonality: it is caused by the “projection of an emotional evaluation on the level of the text”.[5] Therefore, a variety of evaluations will produce a textual polytonality.

The study of tonality mainly considers how something is said.[6] When it comes to the coverage of significant events in the media, studying tonalities is important, since the chosen words set the tone and influence the attitudes of news audiences. In the first part of this essay, I analyze the tonality of headlines from the Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth) that focus on the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. I consider the headlines and key terms from 24 February 2022 and compare them with headlines from 24 September 2022, seven months after the beginning of total war. In the second part of the essay, I analyze the tonality of headlines about the war in the German newspapers Der Tagesspiegel (The Daily Mirror) and Die Zeit (The Time) and the Russian news source RIA NOVOSTI (RIA NEWS), again looking specifically at headlines about the war from 24 February 2022. Finally, I compare these tonalities and consider how memories are reflected in news headlines.

The tonality of Ukrainska Pravda headlines about the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine[7]

Image created by author with the online word cloud generator Word Art.

Founded in 2000, Ukrainska Pravda is a free Ukrainian-language online daily newspaper with shortened translations in English. The editor-in-chief Sevğil Musayeva believes that the readers of Ukrainian Pravda are intellectuals interested in trends, politics, and quality journalism. Despite an associative echo of its title with the communist past, when Pravda was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Ukrainska Pravda is positioned as a unique media that was founded and is managed and owned by journalists.

I begin with the assumption that the general mood of Ukrainian news on 24 February 2022[8] should have been negative, containing alarming tones. To verify this, I examine the tone of the headlines of  this day in the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda and compare them with the headlines of the same newspaper seven months later.[9] Headlines, as the quintessence of news, often contain some words acting as a corresponding tuning fork for the rest of the text. For this reason, I analyze the headlines based on their semantics and context in three steps: I analyze the most frequently used words in the headlines to reveal the semantic core and, accordingly, the words that set the agenda of the news headlines of both dates; then I analyze the expressive vocabulary of the headlines to find the words acting as a tuning fork and define the scale of evoked tonalities; lastly, I analyze the headlines highlighted by capital letters, which demand the most attention from the readers in the editor’s opinion.[10]

Step 1. The most frequently used words

Тable 1. Semantic core of news headlines of Ukrainska Pravda for 24 February and 24 September 2022[11]

In February, there are shorter intervals between news, with the average interval lasting about five minutes, compared to 25 minutes in September. As can be seen in Table 1, there are almost three times more news items on 24 February than on 24 September, and the earlier pieces are denser. The contrast frequency of the word “Ukraine” (in different declensions) is extraordinary: it was used 45 times in February as opposed to 6 times in September. This indicates the agenda and the focal point of attention: Ukraine is more prominent than other terms in this source on both days, but significantly more so on 24 February. Appearing 16 times in February, the aggressor “Russia” fills the second place. Six months later, the frequency decreases to four. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is obviously significant in the headlines of both dates. Meanwhile, the emotional and evaluative vocabulary of the semantic core of headlines from 24 February (i.e., “enemy”, “war”, “sanctions”) and 24 September (i.e., “captivity”) differs quantitatively and qualitatively. More terms are used in February and the earlier instances suggest higher anxiety when compared to the latter date, although all four examples have negative semantics. How does this indicator correlate with the data of the lexicon of the titles as a whole?

Step 2. The emotional and evaluative vocabulary
24 February 2022

The headlines of Ukrainska Pravda on 24 February[12] had several key themes listed below:

  • indomitable resistance of Ukrainians,
  • the full-scale Russian aggression,
  • an appeal to civilians not to panic,
  • reactions of foreign states,
  • and news about victims and requests for help

Almost all[13] of the themes have the words (in italics) associated with a certain tonality.

The full-scale Russian aggression dominates in the first half of the day. The military vocabulary can evoke anxiety in such news. The first alarm bell sounded at 3:15 a.m., according to the news, with reference to CNN, that “Russia has closed the airspace on the border with Ukraine”. And at 3:55, the headline rang the alarm that “PUTIN STARTED A WAR”. The next headline warned about the scale of the aggression: “EXPLOSIONS ARE HEARD IN THE CITIES OF UKRAINE”. On behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the newspaper stated that “Russian President Vladimir Putin had launched a full-scale war against Ukraine”. There were many headlines about missile attacks, explosions, shelling, invasions, mortar fire, the release of ballistic missiles, bombs, detonations, the use of combat aircraft and battles, among other things, in numerous Ukrainian cities and regions.[14] Headlines reported explosions not only at military facilities, but also in residential buildings and hospitals, and, consequently, acted like massive detonations of belief in the ‘brotherly concern’ of Russia: “The Russians attacked the border in 5 regions”, “Russian invaders killed 18 people in Odesa”, “The occupiers hit the hospital in Vuhledar: 4 dead and 10 wounded”.[15] The headlines about the fire, the entry of tanks, and the landing of enemy troops provoked the same effect. Meanwhile, the newspaper also drew attention to the information front: “All basic information resources of Ukraine are under attack from night to day” and “We are attacked not only by bombs, but also by fakes”. If the headline “Russia is trying to occupy the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, this is a declaration of war to Europe” is already filled with extreme anxiety (this news was also doubled for English audiences), the later heading “Enemy occupies Chornobyl NPP” is absolutely terrifying due to the scale of the danger to the whole of humankind. Thus, there is a tonality of rising tension and extremely high anxiety, ranging from shocking threats to anger. The Russian offensive is mostly defined as a war, and the Russians are called “occupiers”, “invaders”, “enemies”, and “barbarians”. On the very first day, the headlines articulate both a military threat to the security of Europe and a nuclear threat to the entire world. The intonations full of the very loud sounds of a tocsin[16] or sirens dominate such news.

By the afternoon, attention moves to the indomitable resistance of the Armed Forces and Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine with announcements of enemy losses: “Shchastya[17] is in our hands: the Armed Forces of Ukraine recaptured a city in Luhansk region, destroyed equipment and Russians” or “The occupiers have entered the radiation zone in Chornobyl[18]: the National Guard is resisting”. The headlines pay attention to countering disinformation and regularly emphasize the efficiency of the authorities: “The President, Rada and ministers are at work”, for instance.[19] Words with negative and military semantics in this context seemingly aim to inspire the Ukrainians to trust the Ukrainian army and authorities and thereby act as reassurances: “Minister of Defense: The military is doing everything to prevent the aggressor from breaking through”; “Kyiv: in a few hours, people were given 10,000 automatic weapons to resist the Russian Federation”; “Zelensky: No one will force Ukrainians to relinquish freedom”; and “Zaluzhny: The Russians did not succeed in a blitzkrieg. They will wash themselves with blood”.[20] Some headlines are repeated. Despite the saturation of these headlines with mostly negative[21] language (e.g., “destroyed”, “inflict the maximum losses”, “enemy”, “occupants”, “breaks the relationship”, “captivity”, “hostile”, “fuel shortage”, “tough battles”, “war”), emotional statements (e.g., “degenerate”, “wash themselves with blood”), and evaluative vocabulary (e.g., “false” information, “aggressor”, “invaders”), contextually they point to resistance and, accordingly, to a hope for protection and salvation. This context contrasts with the tonality of threat and dampens it somewhat.

Throughout the day, there were about 40 explicit and implicit appeals to civilians, including the following: “Klitschko: The roar of shells can be heard in Kyiv as well, keep the ‘emergency grab bag’ ready”; “An air threat has been detected in Kyiv, if the siren sounds go down to the shelter”; or “Do not believe the fakes: The Ukrainian army is not retreating anywhere”.[22] Other appeals sounded like advice: “The situation is under control in Kyiv, the National Guard urges not to panic”.[23] Additionally, there were also requests for help: “Police are asking to report suspicious people with red elements on their clothes”; “The armed forces need help, they are looking for trucks”; or “Kyivans are urged to donate blood: Where to do it”. Ironic encouragement can be heard as well: “We will remove sanctions from all citizens who are ready to join the territorial defense – Zelensky”. Meanwhile, many appeals simply informed: “Public transport is free in Kyiv”; “Gas stations limit the sale of fuel ‘in the same hands’”; or “Contributions of Ukrainians to the needs of the army break records”.[24] Some headlines about problems, cancellations, or restrictions tried to reduce the alarming effect with the word “temporarily”, seeming to imply, ‘do not panic’: “The airports of Kharkiv, Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia were temporarily closed”.[25] Thus, neutral semantics prevail here, addressed primarily to ‘common sense’ with the refrain ‘don’t panic’. Contextually, these appeals are contrastingly dissonant and, therefore, seem nervous and range from soothing statements (e.g., “state structures are working” or this is ‘temporary’) to alarming ones (e.g., “emergency grab bag”, “suspicious”, “restrictions”, “shortages”, and “prohibitions”).

© Olha Haidamachuk

Many headlines list the reactions of the EU and the US and other individual nation-states, mainly stressing support for Ukraine, seemingly to soothe the reader: “Biden: The people of Ukraine are suffering from Russia’s unjustified attack, the United States will respond”; “‘The Kremlin will answer for this’: Statement of EU leaders”; or “NATO held a meeting because of the aggression of the Russian Federation, accusations were also made against Belarus”. Others announce the preparation of sanctions against Russia, Belarus, or both (including by the USA, the EU, the UK, and Canada): “The EU has released details of the ‘hell sanctions’ that will be approved on Thursday” and “Johnson: Sanctions will bring Russia’s economy to a halt after Putin’s barbaric attack”.[26] Some headlines sounded particularly supportive: “The Ukraine-NATO commission will meet on Thursday” and “National Bank of Poland will provide the National Bank of Ukraine with one billion USD”[27].

But, some headlines fuel panic, informing about the termination of work-relationships between some companies in Ukraine (Raiffeisen bank, McDonald’s, Uber, SkyUp, and Coca-Cola), evacuations (of the OSCE Mission personnel), or rejections: “The NATO Secretary General avoided an answer regarding the provision of aid to Ukraine, the troops will not be sent” and “Several EU states are against disconnecting Russia from SWIFT”. Several headlines are dedicated to the reaction in Russia (about the shame of editors of the Russian Novaya Gazeta [New Newspaper] or rallies against the war in Moscow and St. Petersburg, etc.). For the most part, I think this news did not meet the expectations of Ukrainians, despite numerous signs of a tonal ‘siren’ going off internationally. Against the backdrop of the trauma experienced by Ukrainians, this support appears weak, too slow, and mostly projective (i.e., promised). If unfulfilled expectations – expressed through constructions such as “did not answer” or “will not be sent” – can cause disappointment, then the force of the sanctions is conveyed as a bitter irony: “hell sanctions”.

Lastly, intermittent news voice information about victims (including children) and requests for help, support, sanctions, and coalitions, among other things: “Russians shelled residential buildings in Kharkiv Oblast: A child died”; “Zelensky to world leaders: If you don’t help today, war will knock on your door tomorrow”; and “Kuleba: The blood of Ukrainians is on the hands of those who soften the sanctions”.[28] The range of tragic tonalities is wide: spanning from suffering, sorrow, sadness, and grief to pity, panic, fear, vulnerability, anxiety, worry, resentment, condemnation, and plea. Particular words and phrases bear certain tones of this range: “damages from the attacks”, “dead, wounded, destroyed”, “injured”, “war”, “intrusion”, “perished”, “war is knocking at your door”, or “blood on the hands”. Semantically negative vocabulary prevails, and singly positive words stand out in contrast against the general background.

Broadly, vocabulary with positive semantics is scarce, but does occasionally surface, in tellingly symbolic ways: “safe” (referring to metros and vaults), “support”, “alive”, “freedom”, “for protection”, “Shchastya [Happiness]”, “reconciliation”, “help”, “protective”, “friends”, “defense”, “Shchastya in our hands”, “free”, “want to protect”, or “protection”. Variations of ‘protection’ and ‘happiness’ predominate in this case. Although ‘Shchastya’ (translating to the ‘happiness’) refers to a city in the Luhansk region that has been repeatedly shelled since 2014, the news context also involves the semantics of the word, including its metaphorical layers. Despite the volatile situation around Shchastya, it still remains “in our hands” on the first day of total aggression.

In the tonal range of speech, the anxiety, fright, and confusion of a large number of people correspond to an alarm signal during an enemy attack, or another disaster or cataclysm. This warning bell with panic notes rings the alarm. The general tonal range of Ukrainska Pravda headlines for 24 February 2022 is mostly alarming, and this ‘emergency grab bag’ is headed by a powerful alert of the threat of war to the whole of Europe and global atomic risk.

24 September 2022

In an article in Ukrainska Pravda from September 2022, the Ukrainian historian Mychaylo Dubynyansky observed a “final and irreversible breakdown” in official Kremlin discourse concerning its attitude towards Ukrainians as enemies, with the mobilization meant as a means of protection from them. He characterizes the tonality of this break as “burning hatred and powerless anger, shocked pride and desire to take revenge on Ukraine for shameful military defeats.”[29] So, here, the word ‘brother’ becomes irritating for the Kremlin’s ear as well.

Jumping forward to 24 September, updated themes can be traced in the headlines of Ukrainska Pravda.[30] Although there are overall fewer news items by almost three times than seven months ago, almost half of these are translated into English (apart from the appeals to citizens, for example). The key themes, however, are the same. ‘Foreign reactions’ predominated in Ukrainian titles while ‘the full-scale Russian aggression’ did so in English. Specifically, the list of themes (from the Ukrainian version) is as follows:

  • the reactions of foreign states;
  • the full-scale Russian aggression;
  • the indomitable resistance of Ukrainians;
  • news about victims and requests for help;
  • and appeals to civilians.

The first alarm bell sounded at 2:45 a.m.: “Sumy Oblast: Russian forces fire 140 rockets, bombs and shells on areas near Russian border”. Russia’s aggression is recorded on two levels – in Ukraine (external) and in Russia (internal) – each of which can be further separated into verbal or physical. The news about attacks (in Marhanets), explosions (in Melitopol), that “Russian mercenaries prepare false-flag operations on Belarusian-Ukrainian border”, or that “Armed Russian soldiers conduct door-to-door searches in Zaporizhzhia to find voters for sham referendum” present Russia’s external physical aggression. Comparatively, the news that “Russia may annex occupied territories on 30 September” or that “Mariupol residents threatened with dismissal if they fail to vote” present Russian external verbal aggression. On another level, headlines like “Chechen authorities mobilize over 500 men who applied for passports” or “Anti-mobilization protests in Russia: hundreds of protesters detained, some beaten by security forces” reveal Russia’s internal physical aggression. Lastly, news like “Putin signs law stipulating ten years behind bars for desertion and surrender” and “Kremlin wants to introduce martial law and ban men from leaving the country” voice Russian internal verbal aggression. Some headlines contain hybrid aggression.[31] Meanwhile, the information war has significantly increased. This literal ‘theater of war’ does not shy away from outright absurdity: for example, the ‘vote’ of the dead in the Russian pseudo-referendum: “Sham referendum: even dead people are ‘voting’ in Luhansk Oblast” (with reference to the head of the regional military administration of Ukraine). Six months later, the level of alarm has not weakened: nuclear rhetoric is still heard from Russia. Threats, ultimatums, intimidation, and pressure are predominant tonalities of Russian aggression.

The number of headlines about supportive reactions to the war from the EU and the US and other nation-states overtake the headlines looking at defense when compared to the headlines from 24 February: “‘We will support Ukraine as long as necessary’ – G7 leaders on ‘referendums’” or “ARMA transferred more than 450 million to strengthen Ukraine’s defense capabilities”. Some tonalities become tougher towards Russia: “The USA threatened Russia with hard and fast sanctions in case of annexation”; “The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia joined Ukraine’s lawsuit against the Russian Federation regarding genocide”; and “The US Congress calls on Biden to initiate the exclusion of the Russian Federation from the UN Security Council”.[32] The awareness of danger has increased – “Putin is not bluffing, the EU should take his nuclear threats seriously – Borrell” – but so has informational support.

Some headlines encourage refugees from Russia (citing the head of the European Council, Finland, and the Netherlands). However, subtle alarms ring in a headline about the Russian tricolor in Riga.[33] Their detonations warn that the Kremlin’s appetites are not limited to Ukraine. Anxiety is clearly heard in the headline about foreign representation in sham referendums, social injustice in the aggressor’s country, and certain overseas issues caused by the war in Ukraine. Muted anxiety sounds towards refugees: “German politician: For Putin, refugees from Ukraine are part of the war strategy”. Several huge waves of displaced Ukrainians happened over six months and caused some difficulties for Germany. Another headline voices indignation about signs of sabotage: “Polish MFA: Germany is doing everything to help Ukraine as little as possible and as late as possible”. Although projections (or promises from other states) have almost disappeared, speech acts still prevail over concrete actions. The tonal range is largely restrained by an emphasis on rationality: the headlines stress “appeals”, “investigations”, “demands”, “warnings”, “lawsuits”, and “support”. There are, however, minor emotional outbursts in the form of “threatening” or “protesting”. Sounding the alarm in the word “genocide” tonally resonates with lamentation. Sometimes Russians are mentioned in a disparaging tone as draft dodgers. Overall, the international reaction is polytonal, but this expansion does not change the dominant tone (the support of Ukraine in its indomitable resistance).

© Olha Haidamachuk

The theme of Ukrainian resistance is articulated in fewer headlines. The authority’s confident tones are represented more narrowly: for instance, “Zelensky’s ‘formula of peace’: 5 steps to stabilize international relations” or “Ukraine is capable of protecting people from hunger – Zelensky”.[34] Aside from declarations, current armed resistance is important: “Ukrainian Armed Forces down Russian Mi-8 helicopter, strike 3 areas where Russian personnel were amassed”.[35] Alarm bells ring about traitors among local residents (in Dnipro, Pokrovsk, Kharkiv). However, the encouraging intonations of the indomitable resistance are louder: “‘Licking our wounds and will be back on track’: First post by paramedic ‘Ptashka’[36] after liberation from Russian captivity” and “A hand with blue and yellow bracelets: Zelensky gave ‘Hero’ to a tortured soldier and a number of other defenders”.[37] Against the backdrop of specific negative actions (“destroyed”, “strike”, “occupation”, “shot down”, “injured”, “tortures”, “traitors”, “hunger”,[38] etc.), positive terms including “peace”, “invitation”, “promise”, “liberation”, “Hero”, “defenders”, and “initiative” enrich the tonal range of active resistance.

News about victims with mostly neutral vocabulary are full of implicit grief, but without notes of panic: “Russian forces target residential building in Zaporizhzhia, killing 1 and injuring 7” or “In Kharkiv Oblast, two mushroom pickers step on landmines”.[39] If the words “killing”, “injuring”, and “casualties” set a mournful tone, the headlines about torture are shocking: “The body of a soldier with a blue-and-yellow bracelet on his arm was handed over for burial”; “Azov Regiment Patronage Service comments on condition of liberated defenders: Severe anorexia”; and “Sometimes she ate only two apples a day: The story of a doctor who returned from captivity in the 9th month of pregnancy”. The war impoverished Ukrainians and their fertile soil and you can hear the alarm in a headline about the decreasing grain harvest and finance. Meanwhile there are less requests for support (e.g., for more HIMARS or for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on sham referendums). The tonal range of grief and shock in the September headlines is complicated by the growing number of civilian victims (e.g., “mushroom pickers”) and victims of torture (e.g., a hand “with a blue-and-yellow bracelet”, “severe anorexia”). However, only a few headlines directly appeal to civilians in generally neutral to positive tones, assuring that control is maintained.[40] In September, there is little positive vocabulary. Just like six months ago, various words connected to protection predominate, suggesting that the public demand for security has not faded.

Overall, the tonal range of news headlines for 24 September 2022 is still alarming. This is particularly prominent in relation to the threat of nuclear war and the undertone of lamentation about the genocide of Ukrainians. Russia’s aggression (branching out across the categories of external-internal and verbal-physical) is labeled with a tonal variety, including “threats”, “ultimatums”, “intimidation”, and “pressure”. A significant topic in September is foreign reaction, with a tonal range of “appeals”, “investigations”, “demands”, “warnings”, “lawsuits”, “support”, “threats”, and “protests”. In the themes of protection and of victims, respectively, active resistance and an alarm that borders on wailing encapsulate the tonal ranges. Lastly, appeals to citizens are not as frequent as in the first days. In general, the neutral tonality is broken only by the mournful echo of the word “hunger”. Positive vocabulary, meanwhile, adds a sense of security.

Step 3. Headlines written in all capital letters

Generally, headlines written in capital letters are unusual and reserved for ‘breaking news’, rather than ‘daily’ events. On 24 February, such headlines are present, but not on 24 September. The February headlines ‘sound the alarm’ not only about the start of the war: “ZELENSKY CONVENES A NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL”; “MARTIAL LAW WILL BE INTRODUCED”; “DANILOV, ZELENSKY: WE WILL INTRODUCE MARTIAL LAW”; and “MARTIAL LAW WAS INTRODUCED IN UKRAINE”. Following the introduction of martial law, the headlines no longer apply ‘screaming’ intonation through capital letters.

Russian aggression is still the main topic in September, yet without the use of capital letters. The tonality of the headlines in February and September remains explicitly alarming, varying slightly only in the range. ‘Screaming’ headlines in capital letters are present only six times on 24 February: twice about the start of the war, once regarding the convening of the National Security Council, and three times about the introduction of martial law (as warning, announcement, and confirmation). In the last headline, the past perfect tense of the verb ‘introduce’ (vvely, ввели) seems to symbolically put an end to the ‘hysteria’ of the uppercase headlines and implicitly assures that the government will ensure the necessary level of control.


I began from the assumption that the general pattern of news about a war was supposed to be negative and contain tones of an alarming range. Thus, opening the ‘emergency grab bags’ of Ukrainian news produced by Ukrainska Pravda journalists, we see that the headlines about the war from 24 February and 24 September are characterized by a general tone of maximum alarm (like tocsin and siren). Beyond this, on 24 February, the tonality of sounding a strong alarm includes the threat of war to Europe and global nuclear threat, while on 24 September, global nuclear threat increases and is accompanied by the renewal of the Russian genocide of Ukrainians. The dramatic transformation of the perception of the tonality of ‘fraternal concern’ from positive to negative under the influence of events in Ukraine unfolded throughout 2022 as an eloquent warning against the treachery of false tones to all sympathizers of both the ‘Russian world’ and ‘Russian peace’.

Despite the fact that news discourse is mostly aimed at rational perception and neutral vocabulary usually prevails, even a single emotionally expressive or evaluative word can set the tone for the entire message, thereby influencing its perception. Furthermore, some of words (such as “hunger”, “genocide”, “Chornobyl”, etc.) can evoke traumatic memories of the historical past.

In the next part of this essay, I will investigate how memories are reflected in the headlines of select Russian and German news sources, representing the perspective of the aggressor and that of the foreigner observer, respectively.


[1] An ‘emergency grab bag’ is a backpack full of essential things needed in urgent evacuation. In the headlines of the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda on 24 February, the term was used literally: the mayor of Kyiv asked the citizens to keep their ‘emergency grab bag’ ready. I often use it figuratively, asking which memories people are able to take with them in emergencies.

[2] More about the painting here: Kharkivskyi khudozhnii muzei KhKhM, Facebook post, 22 March 2020.

[3] There were many critical thoughts about this ‘brotherhood’. See, for example: Maryna Starodubska, “Why Russia and Ukraine are Not and Have Never Been Fraternal Peoples”, ZN,UA, 8 May 2022; International audience outreach, “Why Ukrainians and Russians are not one people, and why Russians are not Ukraine’s indigenous people”, Ukraine Crisis Media Center, 2 July 2021; and Larysa Tamilina, “What makes us, Ukrainians, different from Russians? Aspirations for freedom, liberal democracy, and inclusive society as the primary markers for the Ukrainian-Russian divide!”, Vox Ukraine, 24 March 2022.

[4] Svitlana Ivanenko, Polifonia tekstu (Polyphony of a Text), (Кyiv: Vydavnychyj centr KNLU, 1999), 77.

[5] Volodymyr Pavlyk, “Osoblyvosti perekladu ironiyi publicystychnyx tekstiv” (“Peculiarities of Translating Publicistic Texts Irony”), Visnyk Zhytomyrskoho derzhavnoho universytetu, no. 3, vol. 75 (2014), series “Philological sciences”, 259.

[6] Chen Gua, Denghui Chenb, Raluca Stanc, and Aizhong Shen, “It is not just What you say, but How you say it: Why tonality matters in central bank communication”, Journal of Empirical Finance, vol. 68 (September 2022), 216.

[7] The word cloud in the shape of TV was created with the online word cloud generator Word Art and contains Ukrainian words for Ukraine, AFU, enemy, war, Kyiv, explosions, territorial defense, full-scale aggression of Russia, bomb, cannonade, occupiers, ammunition, damage, сaptivity, shelter, etc.

[8] I analyzed the Ukrainian version of the news from day as I found it more informative (only 30 out of 235 news items were translated into English).

[9] I analyzed the Ukrainian version of the news during the day for the same reason (41 out of 83 news items were translated into English).

[10] I performed the analysis of the most frequently used words in the headlines with the online tool Advego.

[11] The word “Ukraine” in Ukrainian was used in different declensions and that is the reason why counted them separately.

[12] All referenced headlines from 24 February 2022 can be found here.

[13] Except reactions, as this theme very different kinds of foreign responses, so it has the general and neutral formulation.

[14] Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Mariupol, Frankivsk, Luhansk region, Skadovsk, Uman, island Zmiiny, Brovary, Vuhledar, Kherson region, Hostomil, Henichesk, Chornobyl, Oleshky, Sumy, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv, Romny, and Konotop.

[15] E.g., “The enemy opened fire on border guards from mortars in the Kharkiv region”; “The occupiers demand surrender, threaten the border guards on Zmiiny”; etc.

[16] According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word ‘tocsin’ comes from the Vulgar Latin verb ‘toccare’ (to ring a bell). Tocsin formerly referred to the ringing of church bells to signal events of importance to local villagers, including dangerous events such as attacks. Its use was eventually broadened to cover anything that signals danger or trouble.

[17] Shchastya is a city in the Luhansk region. The Ukrainian word ‘shchastya’ means ‘happiness’. So the phrase ‘happiness is in our hands’ has an important symbolic meaning, ‘we are lucky’.

[18] The city Chornobyl is notorious to the whole world because of the disaster at the nuclear power plant (1986). Thus it is associated with traumatic memories from the past and with an increasing threat to the future since the Russian troops entered there.

[19] For further examples, see: “The Ministry of Education and Science urges citizens to stay at home: All educational institutions work remotely”; “Medical facilities will provide a help to everyone who needs it”; “Defense structures are being built at the entrances to Kyiv”; “Banks and energy system work as usual”; “Ukrzaliznytsia (Ukrainian railway) starts evacuation trains from the demarcation line”.

[20] “In Donbas, the Ukrainian military shot down 5 Russian planes and a helicopter”; “4 Russian tanks were destroyed near Kharkiv”; “The Ukrainian army destroys the enemy with the help of Bayraktars”; “In Sumy region, Ukraine’s armed forces neutralize 15 enemy tanks using Javelin missiles”; “A military squad surrendered to the Ukrainian Armed Forces close to Chernihiv”; “Zelensky gave orders to inflict the maximum losses to the aggressor”.

[21] There are few semantically positive words: “Shchastya” (as happiness), “help”, “defense structures”, and “freedom”.

[22] “Mobile communication works, but interruptions are possible, call only if necessary”; “The police gave instructions in case of an accident: Take pictures and remove the car from the road”; “If you see a sign call the Security Council of Ukraine and destroy it: Law enforcement officers call for vigilance regarding the actions of the enemy”.

[23] “Kyivans are asked to take shelter urgently”; “Terekhov calls on the residents of Kharkiv to go down to the safe underground and shelters for the night”; “List of official government sources from which information can be obtained”.

[24] “Supermarket chains continue working in Kyiv and other cities”; “Civilian flights over the entire airspace of Ukraine have been restricted”; “Trains run from the capital to the west, with stops in the east”; “The NBU opened a special account to collect funds for the needs of the army”; “A curfew has been introduced in Ukraine”; “Martial law: Ukrainian men aged 18-60 cannot leave the country”.

[25] “The regulator of the Ukrainian stock market temporarily stopped the circulation of all securities”; “In the ‘Diya’ system, access to some services will be temporarily unavailable”.

[26] “Biden spoke with Zelensky and is preparing the G7 meeting and sanctions”; “Biden will soon announce weapons for Ukraine and new sanctions against the Russian Federation”; “The EU promises tough sanctions against Russia within 24 hours”.

[27] “Biden convened a meeting of the US National Security Council”; “Rosatom’s application to participate in the German nuclear plant has been withdrawn”, etc.

[28] “Ukraine calls on the EU to provide anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems”; “Zelensky called on the world to form an ‘anti-Putin coalition’”; “Ukraine asks Turkey to close the Dardanelles to Russia”; “Zelensky once again appealed to the Russians: It’s time to come out against the war with Ukraine”; “Ukraine appeals to partner countries to sever diplomatic relations with Russia”; “Zelensky asks the EU to shut Russia out of SWIFT and stop oil and gas trade”; “Russian aggression results in deaths of 57 Ukrainians, 169 more injured”, etc.

[29] Mychaylo Dubynyansky, “Narod-nebrat” (“A non-brother nation”), Ukrainska Pravda, 24 September 2022.

[30] All referenced headlines from 24 September 2022 can be found here.

[31] “Russians massively hand out mobilization notices to Crimean Tatars who have to flee from Crimea”; “Kremlin considers mobilizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia residents”; “Changes in Russia’s Ministry of Defenсe: ‘Mariupol butcher’ Mizintsev becomes deputy minister”. The word ‘butcher’ combines a node of external and internal as well as physical and verbal aggression.

[32] “France is investigating seven cases of crimes committed against the French in Ukraine”; “Lithuania opposes the granting of asylum to defectors: The Russians should fight against Putin”; “Biden threatened the Russian Federation with additional punishments for pseudo-referendums”.

[33] “The signpost of one of the microdistricts of Riga was painted in the colors of the Russian flag”.

[34] “Security Service of Ukraine identifies Russian commander who ordered torture of Ukrainians in Kherson”, etc.

[35] “Ukrainian Armed Forces strike over 40 areas where Russian troops were concentrated”; “Ukrainian Air Defence shoots down Russian missile over Zaporizhzhia”; “Head of occupation ‘police’ in Izium, traitor of Ukraine, captured in Kharkiv Oblast”, etc.

[36] The Ukrainian word “Ptashka” (пташка) means a “little bird” and therefore it sounds gentle.

[37] “Destroyed bridges: Another crossing will be built on the Irpin River”; “Grain initiative: Eight more ships will go with agricultural products”.

[38] When considering the word ‘hunger’ in this appeal, it is likely resonant with the powerful and emotionally negative historical experience that Ukrainians associate with the word ‘famine’. Almost every Ukrainian family has relatives who died because of artificial famines arranged by Soviet authorities in 1921–23, 1932–33, and 1946–47. The memory of these three waves of extermination of the people is called ‘Holodomor’ in Ukrainian (stating that it was the part of policy of ‘genocide’). The echo of this mournful background detonates a shaky restraint of the appeal.

[39] “Zaporizhzhia attack: Number of casualties rises to 9, people spent night in bus”.

[40] “Ukrainian energy is capable of compensating the EU for 5–6 billion cubic meters of Russian gas”, etc.

Olha Haidamachuk received her PhD in Philosophy from the V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University in 2021. Her dissertation is titled “Intonation in a Philosophical Text: The Philosophical-Culturological Dimension”. Her background is in philology. In 2006–2022, she worked at the National Technical University “Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute”. Since 2019, she is a member of the Kharkiv Historical and Philological Society. Her research interests include the philosophy of culture, philosophical anthropology, Ukrainian studies, Ukrainian and European culture, the philosophy of language, the history of philosophy, ethics, and aesthetics. Olha Haidamachuk is 2022/23 Prisma Ukraïna Fellow from September to December 2022.

Further articles in the TRAFO series War, Migration and Memory:

Taisiia Ratushna, What the Telegram Channels of Ukrainian Migrants in Germany ‘Talk’ and ‘Keep Silent’ About, 09 March 2023

Denys Shatalov, Merging in Space: The Ongoing War and Previous Wars in Ukraine, 17 January 2023

Viktoriya Sereda, War, Migration and Memory: An Introduction, 10 January 2023

Citation: Olha Haidamachuk, The ‘Emergency Grab Bag’ of Memory, or the Tonalities of News Headlines About the War in Ukraine – Part One, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 21.03.2023,

OpenEdition schlägt Ihnen vor, diesen Beitrag wie folgt zu zitieren:
Forum Transregionale Studien (21. März 2023). The ‘Emergency Grab Bag’ of Memory, or the Tonalities of News Headlines About the War in Ukraine – Part One. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 17. Juli 2024 von

Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. More...

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