The ‘Emergency Grab Bag’ of Memory, or the Tonalities of News Headlines About the War in Ukraine – Part Twо
By Olha Haidamachuk
The war forces you to hastily gather your whole life into a small emergency grab bag and urgently leave your home. Only your memories stay fully with you. The headlines in media outlets and their vocabulary set the tone for the perception by the reader and certain kinds of “emergency grab bags” of memories about a war. In this blog I argue that, tonality as the concentrate of expressive means of a text with its multifaceted and variable nature often imposes its dominant tone in an expressive word of a heading. Assuming that the tone of headlines 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, I explore these three tonalities in this two-part essay.
In the first part, I analyzed the tonality of headlines from the Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth) that focus on the full-scale Russian war in Ukraine. I considered the headlines and key terms on 24 February, 2022, the first day of total war, and compared them with headlines on 24 September, 2022, seven months later. Assuming that the general picture of news about the war was supposed to be negative and contain a wide range of the alarming tones, I examined the archives of the Ukrainska Pravda and found out that the headlines of both dates were characterized by a general tone of maximum alarm (siren). But if the media-“emergency grab bag” of memory on 24 February, mainly activates the tone of strong alarm regarding the threat of war to Europe and the global nuclear threat, then on 24 September, the tension regarding the global nuclear threat increases with the background lamentation over the Russian genocide of Ukrainians. Despite the predominance of neutral vocabulary in the news discourse, which usually appeals to rational perception, it is possible to notice how even a separate emotionally expressive or evaluative word affects the tone of the entire message, and, therefore, its perception. For example, the words “holodomor”, “genocide”, “Chоrnobyl” can evoke traumatic memories of Ukrainians about their historical past in Soviet Union.
The tonality of headlines about the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine in Der Tagesspiegel and Die Zeit
Would headlines in a foreign country be more dramatic in tone than news published in a country that is being invaded? This seems unlikely, particularly on the first day of a war. To answer this question, I consider the media-“emergency grab bags” of foreign memories – those of observers and aggressors – to find out their tonal difference. At first, to analyze the observers’ discourse I compare the headlines on 24 February, 2022, of two German newspapers, daily Der Tagesspiegel and weekly Die Zeit, and also closely read the headlines on 25 February, 2022, of Der Tagesspiegel. Then, to analyze the aggressor’s media discourse, I read the headlines of Russian RIA Novosti on the same day. Lastly, I compare three tonalities to find out the difference between tonalities of resistance, observation and aggression.
Der Tagesspiegel is a liberal-centrist mass media. Die Zeit is a German national newspaper (centrist and liberal or left-liberal). I explored their print issues from the perspective of a Ukrainian reader, who is focused on the headlines about the war.
|Der Tagesspiegel, 24 February, 2022||Die Zeit, 24 February, 2022|
|1. Berlin shows solidarity||1. And if Putin wins?|
|2. Ukraine is equipping with arms for war||2. Anarchist|
|3. Putin’s New Order: Caesura and Benchmark||3. Between all fronts|
|4. Putin’s circle||4. What is happening in Donetsk now|
|5. The West punishes Moscow||5. In the field of vision|
|6. Good morale, bad odds||6. Creator of history|
|7. Crisis Chancellor Scholz||7. Only the devil can drive them away|
|8. Where is the peace movement?||8. When will Ukraine become independent?|
|9. Putin’s attack and the weakness of the West|
As we can see in Table 2, the word ‘war’ is used only once. Instead, attention of the media falls on Vladimir Putin (including the titles 2 and 6 in Die Zeit) and his relations with the West. Ukraine appears in some headlines, but none of them directly mention the beginning of a total Russian war in Ukraine, just because the materials were prepared for publications the day before. In addition, while in Der Tagesspiegel solidarity with Ukraine was chosen as a key tone of the issue, Die Zeit mainly questions Putin’s victory (see the first headlines of both in Table 2). It’s worth mentioning that almost every headline in these newspapers has a subheading comment that reveals and clarifies the content of the main title.
I have to take into account the fact that printed newspapers do not provide news as quickly as online publications and actually it is worth reading the next day’s printed newspapers (on 25 February 2022) to know the first headlines about the start of the full-scale invasion in Ukraine.
It is easy to verify this by simply comparing the number of times the word ‘war’ (as a key in my research) is used in publications of different dates, that is on 24 February and on 25 February 2022. As we can see in Table 3, the word ‘war’ is used seven times, which is significantly more than on the eve (see Table 2). That confirms the argument about a certain delay of printed news from online news.
|Der Tagesspiegel, 25 February, 2022|
|1. Russia invades Ukraine||12. Russia is a rogue state|
|2. What the West can still do now||13. My heart is bleeding|
|3. The horrors of war||14. When there’s no turning back|
|4. NATO’s weakness||15. It’s going to be a long war|
|5. Search for effective penalties||16. Hush and worry|
|6. When the war came to Europe||17. Explain and support|
|7. Putin’s declaration of war in exact wording||18. Bundeswehr hospital treats Ukrainian soldiers|
|8. Before the expulsion||19. Police are tightening protective measures for ‘relevant objects’|
|9. Don’t repress, but don’t panic either||20. ‘Stop the aggression’|
|10. NATO has given free rein to Putin||21. Ukraine war drives German inflation higher|
|11. Between words and war||22. Russia’s act of war threatens everything|
The longer the texts are prepared for publication, the more balanced the selected vocabulary in the headings are supposed to be. Now, I will try to find out if that is the case. What is noticeable, in general, is that the news about Ukraine is twice as much as it was the day before, and attention is definitely focused on the ‘war’ (see in Table 3 the headlines 3, 6, 7, 11, 15, 21), but not directly on ‘Putin’ (only twice: see 7, 10 in Table 3), as it was the day before. Anxiety caused by the frequency of the word ‘war’ is reinforced by such words as ‘invaded’, ‘horrors’, ‘aggression’, and ‘the warlike act’ (Table 3: 1, 3, 20, 22). ‘Russia’ is mentioned exclusively in a disapproving context: as an invader, a ‘rogue state’ or a ‘threat’ (Table 3: 1, 12 or 22), while the number of direct references to Ukraine did not increase here. Nevertheless, it is clear both that Ukraine is the victim of Russia’s attack and that Germany supports Ukraine: ‘Bundeswehr hospital treats Ukrainian soldiers’ (Table 3: 1, 18). The word ‘expulsion’ (Table 3: 8) articulates the problem of forced displacement of people. There is also an understanding of the threat to all of Europe and the long-term nature of this war (Table 3: 6, 15). Although ‘weakness’, some perplexity, and ‘panic’ (Table 3: 4, 2, 9) are traced here, at the same time there are also reflections about responsibility, punishment, and counteracts (Table 3: 10, 5, and 19, 20). Certain fatality (‘no turning back’) or sympathy (‘bleeding heart’) echo among meditative ‘silence’, ‘concern’, ‘explain’, and ‘support’ (Table 3: 14, 13, 16, 17). It is important to note that Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is defined as a war as well as an existing articulation of the threat to all of Europe. Most titles contain at least one expressive word (like ‘war’, ‘bleeding’, or ‘inflation’) that causes rather unpleasant associations. In general, the headlines sound quite alarming.
The tonality of Russian news headlines about the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine
In what tones does the aggressor deliver news about the war they unleashed? And how do Russian news headlines on the first day of a full-scale invasion reflect reality? To answer this question, I consider the headlines about the war in Ukraine on 24 February 2022 of RIA Novosti (Russian Information Agency News), that is a Russian state propaganda media conglomerate targeted on international audiences and whose archive is available online. Among the first Russian news that day was the one about the USA and the EU: that the former will not go to war with Russia, and the latter is imposing sanctions against the Russians. The target audience of this informational ‘theater of war’ is the so-called ‘collective West’.
From 6:14 to 7:40 a.m., a number of Putin’s statements were made public: about Russia’s aspirations ‘to demilitarizeUkraine’ and about an ethical assessment of NATO’s actions, which were deemed ‘contrary to morality’. A statement about “support for neo-Nazis in Ukraine” by leading NATO countries was marked by a lightning symbol. Later came a statement about the ‘empire of lies’ inside the USA, and an emotional claim about the ‘genocide in Donbas’, which ‘cannot be looked at without sympathy’. Characteristically, the emotional statement is formulated impersonally, as it is not specified who caused or carries out the genocide. Instead, there is only a hint: if, as is suggested, Putin sympathizes, then he is probably not responsible for it. The outright cynicism is wrapped in the form of sympathy.
Against this backdrop of appeals to compassion and ‘righteous’ anger, the following statement broadcasts the sentiment in an emphatically contemptuous form that Russians are threatened by supposed neo-Nazis: ‘neo-Nazis in Ukraine will invade Crimea with war’. The “scarecrow” of neo-Nazism, used here to intimidate Europeans and discredit Ukrainians, is obviously aimed at a Western audience. But the misused prepositions are rather aimed at Ukrainians and Russians, who understand the deliberately detonating accent of this misuse: about Donbas exclusively “in”, but about Ukraine – exclusively “on”, as if Ukraine is supposed to be part of Donbas, and not the other way around. This intimidation, however, is aimed not only at Russians in Crimea. In general, as released, ‘the situation with the expansion of NATO is becoming more dangerous’. And although, again, it is not specified who exactly is endangered, the president of Russia states, ‘I am sure that the soldiers loyal to Russia will fulfill their duty’, especially since other news inform, that ‘all flights from the Rostov airport were canceled’, or that the operation of southern airports was restricted.
If at first Russians were assured that their ‘armed forces do not carry out missile or other strikes on the cities of Ukraine’, then Putin threatened to crush an unspecified ‘aggressor’ for any attack on Russia. Later a statement assured readers that ‘the special operation in the Donbas will not last long’.
In official Russian discourse, the full-scale war in Ukraine was mostly defined as a “special operation”. Impersonally, it appeared as the ‘special operation in the Donbas’ and the ‘special operation on Ukraine’. With the words of an unnamed ‘expert’, the subject of the war was finally identified: ‘Russia’s special operation in Donbas’. Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the President of Belarus, called the war a ‘special operation on Ukraine’ and a ‘full scale conflict’, and a statement was made on behalf of Brazilians, who named it ‘Russia’s military operation in Donbas’. Finally, the Russian position is about the ‘special operation of the Armed Forces of Russia on Ukraine’. Putin named the invasion a ‘forced operation in Donbas’ and a ‘special operation of the Russian Federation in Donbas’. Lastly, Ram Nath Kovind, the then President of India, echoed the statements above with the phrase ‘military operation on Ukraine’.
Meanwhile, RIA NOVOSTI also shared other foreign statements regarding the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine. According to them, the British Ministry of Defense defined it as ‘aggression against Ukraine’; German Chancellor, Scholz labeled the invasion as ‘violations of international law’ and invoked (not demanded) Russia to ‘stop the operation to demilitarize Ukraine’; Pedro Sánchez, the Prime Minister of Spain, expressed ‘condemnation of Russia’s actions in Ukraine’; Britain supported ‘the issue of the self-defense of Ukraine’; and the leaders of the G7 – condemned the ‘special operation for the demilitarization of Ukraine’. In this roundup of the international reaction to the actions of the Russian Federation in Ukraine – at least from the point of view of the Russian Federation – an alarming tone voices in the range of: discomposure, concern, appeal, and condemnation.
In Russia, news about the ‘special operation’, which was meant to be quick, is consistently given in the context of ‘internal troubles’ in Ukraine. Additionally, headlines dehumanize supposed Ukrainian ‘neo-Nazis’ and point out the incompetence of Ukrainian authorities: ‘Ukraine did not take measures to evacuate resident’. News about the start of a full-scale war as such is absent. Instead, impersonal constructions prevail in all cases that silence the target of aggression: ‘in Horlivka, the resumption of shelling was reported on’; ‘at the entrance to Kyiv, the territory of the military unit is on fire’; and a ‘curfew was introduced in Kyiv’.
News related to Ukraine on 24 February 2022 on RIA NOVOSTI mainly define the full-scale war as a “(special) operation”, which reduces the scale of total aggression and mostly keeps silent about who exactly is the aggressor. Similarly, the abuse of ethical categories in the headlines designed to give the impression that Russia is rather an outside observer, than a direct participant. This includes the use of terms such as “morality”, “lies”, “compassion”, “genocide”, “duty”, “condemnation”, “conflict”, “truth”, “wrong”, “concessions”, “backstabbing”, and “forced character”.
Regarding the same event – that is, the beginning of the Russian Federation’s full-scale war against Ukraine – three different tonal “emergency grab bags” emerge from: Ukrainska Pravda, Der Tagesspiegel, and RIA NOVOSTI. I researched the expressive words of headlines about the war in the relevant three media discourses, based on the assumption that tonalities of resistance, observation and aggression should be voiced differently.
The Ukrainian media-“emergency grab bag” (Ukrainska Pravda) mainly activates an alarming tonal range which reflects the point of view of the attacked side. A powerfully sounding alarm that warns of the military threat to the whole of Europe and the global atomic threat is dominant in this “bag”. The event is called ‘a war’, and the Russians are named ‘occupiers’, ‘enemies’, and ‘barbarians’. From the first day, indomitable resistance tones, mood of overcoming panic, and hopes for decisive international support have sounded expressively.
In comparison, in the German “emergency grab bag” of media-memory with headlines from 25 February 2022 from daily Der Tagesspiegel, as the observers’ side, distinct alarm bells sound that the “the war came to Europe”. The emphasis is clearly on the attitude (of Germany as an observer) towards Russia and Ukraine: Russia is mentioned as an invader, a ‘rogue state’ and a ‘threat’, while Ukraine is mentioned as an ‘invaded’ side, whose soldiers are treated in Germany. Obviously, the observer’s tonality cannot be neutral either, because he must understand whose side he is on, but at the same time keep a safe distance so as not to be drawn into the war.
Finally, the “emergency grab bag” of Russian news headlines connected to Ukraine from 24 February 2022 in RIA NOVOSTI also apply tones in an alarming range and try to imitate the observer’s discourse. The first news of this day concerns the USA and the EU, because the target audience of the Russian informational ‘theater of war’ is the so-called ‘collective West’. Beyond this, for both external and internal audiences, the Russian Federation’s full-scale war in Ukraine mainly was defined as a ‘(special) operation’, avoiding any news about the beginning of a full-scale war as such. The media machine produces mostly impersonal constructions about Ukrainian news, so it is often not clear who exactly is conducting the “(special)operation”. However, the hybridity of this war is clearly manifested in the Russian media discourse, whose crude speculations, despite the setting to imitate the “discourse” of the observer, contain signs of verbal aggression and outright contempt to Ukrainians.
How this war affected the tonality of the memory of Ukrainians who were forced to leave their homes, packing their whole lives into their personal “emergency grab bags”, is a subject for my further research.
I am sincerely grateful to Victoria Sereda, Natasha Klimenko, Simon Kötschau, and Tamara Beresh for their useful remarks, comments and help in preparing this blog for the publication.
 Svitlana Ivanenko, Polifonia tekstu (Polyphony of a Text). Кyiv. Vydavnychyj centr KNLU (Publishing center of the Kyiv National Linguistic University), 1999, 77.
 Only headings and subheadings were analyzed here. Interviews of Ukrainians about the perception of these headlines were not conducted.
 The BILD newspaper is Germany’s most popular tabloid (see there: https://www.deutschland.de/en/topic/knowledge/national-newspapers), whose news portal is also supposed to be the most popular (https://www.statista.com/statistics/442988/most-visited-news-websites-germany). As a tabloid, it contains news in condensed and rather sensational form, while I selected news addressed to a more thoughtful audience for analysis. For comparison, on February 24, 2022, BILD proposed such news: “Ukraine – Crisis. BILD reveals Putin’s undercover Army / Ukraine – Krise. Bild entdeckt Putins Geheim-Armee”; “Putin is the enemy, not the Russians / Putin ist der Feind, nicht die Russen”; “Why don’t we punish Putin / Warum bestrafen wir Putin nicht”; “This is where Putin’s war column is headed straight for the Ukraine border / Hier fährt Putins Kriegs-Kolonne direkt auf die Ukraine-Grenze zu”; Ukrainian Foreign Minister [Dmytro Kuleba] warns ‘End of World Order’ / Ukrainischer Außenminister warnt ‘Ende der Weltordnung’”.
 1. “Berlin zeigt Solidarität”; 2. Die Ukraine rüstet sich für einen Krieg 3. Putins neue Ordnung / Zäsur und Maßstab. 4. Putins Kreis, 5. Westen straft Moskau; 6. Gute Moral, schlechte Chancen; 7. Krisenkanzler Scholz; 8. Wo ist die Friedensbewegung?
 1. Was, wenn Putin gewinnt?; 2. Der Anarchist; 3. Zwischen alle Fronten; 4. Was geschieht jetzt in Donezk; 5. Im Visier; 6. Der Geschichtsvollzieher. This is a pun on the word “Gerichtsvollzieher” (bailiff), i.e. one, who forcefully executes the will of the court. Calling Putin Geschichtsvollzieher implies both the violent creation of history and that history forces him to do it ex officio (I thank Simon Koetschau for this comment); 7. Nur der Teufel kann sie vertreiben; 8. Wann wird die Ukraine unabhängig?; 9. Putins Attacke und die Schwäche des Westens.
 As was said above, Die Zeit is a weekly newspaper, that is why I use only the headings of daily Der Tagesspiegel on 25 February 2022.
 1. Russland überfällt die Ukraine; 2. Was der Westen jetzt noch tun kann; 3. Die Schrecken des Kriegs, 4. Der Schwachstelle der Nato; 5. Suche nach wirksamen Strafen; 6. Als der Krieg nach Europa kam; 7. Putins Kriegserklärung im Wortlaut; 8. Vor der Vertreibung; 9. Nicht verdrängen, aber auch nicht in Panik verfallen; 10. Die Nato hat Putin freie Hand gegeben; 11. Zwischen Worten und Krieg; 12. Russland ist ein Schurkenstaat; 13. Mein Herz blutet; 14. Wenn es keinen Weg zurück gibt; 15. Es wird ein langer Krieg; 16. Schweige und Sorge; 17. Erklären und Rückhalt geben; 18. Bundeswehrkrankenhaus behandelt ukrainische Soldaten; 19. Polizei verschärft Schutzmaßnahmen für ‘relevante Objekte; 20. ‘Stoppen Sie die Aggression’. 21. Ukraine-Krieg treibt deutsche Inflation höher. 22. ‘Der kriegerische Akt Russlands bedroht alles.’
 The Russian versions of the news were analyzed, which were translated into English.
 Federal State Unitary Enterprise International Information Agency Rossiya Segodnya (IIA Russia Today) is the official founder of the media. From this I conclude that the target audience of the RIA Novosti is international.
 ‘Psaki said that the United States will not fight with Russia’
 ‘The EU imposed sanctions against several hundred Russians for recognizing the DNR and LNR’
 ‘Putin said that Russia will seek to demilitarize Ukraine’
 ‘NATO actions are contrary to morality, Putin said’
 ‘An empire of lies has been created inside the United States, Putin said
 ‘Putin: One cannot look at the genocide taking place in Donbass without compassion’
 ‘Putin: neo-Nazis in Ukraine will climb into the Crimea with the war’
 A false tone used deliberately has subversive power (like a kind of “slow-acting mine”).
 ‘Putin: situation with NATO expansion becomes more dangerous’
 ‘Putin: I am sure that soldiers loyal to Russia will do their duty’
 ‘All flights from Rostov airport were canceled’
 ‘Russian aviation imposed restrictions on the operation of airports in southern Russia’
 ‘Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation: The Armed Forces do not carry out missile or other strikes on the cities of Ukraine’
 ‘Putin said that any attack on Russia will lead to the defeat of the aggressor’
 ‘The State Duma is confident that the special operation in the Donbass will not last long’
 ‘Belarusian troops are not participating in a special operation on Ukraine, Lukashenko said’
 ‘Expert on Russia’s special operation in Donbass: Kyiv stole all its cards from itself’
 See footnote 52.
 ‘Full-scale conflict on Ukraine can be prevented, says Lukashenko’
 ‘”The lion finally roared”: Brazilians about Russia’s military operation in Donbass’
 ‘The results of the special operation of the Russian Armed Forces on Ukraine’
 ‘Putin announced the forced nature of the operation in the Donbass’
 ‘Putin assessed the possible consequences of the special operation of the Russian Federation in the Donbas’
 ‘Putin explained to the Prime Minister of India why the military operation in Ukraine began’
 ‘The head of the British Defense Ministry called the special operation in the Donbass “aggression” against Ukraine’
 ‘Scholz called the military operation in Ukraine a violation of international law’
 ‘Scholz invoked Russia to stop the operation to demilitarize Ukraine’
 ‘Spanish Prime Minister condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine’
 ‘Britain vows to support Ukraine in self-defense’
 ‘The leaders of the “Big Seven” condemned the special operation to demilitarize Ukraine’
 ‘Ukrainian media wrote about explosions in several cities’; ‘Kyiv itself played all the trump cards’; ‘The Ukrainian Armed Forces attacked the Red Partizan settlement in the DPR’; ‘The National Guard of Ukraine blocked all exits from Mariupol’; ‘Clashes between civilians and representatives of the Armed Forces’.
 ‘Putin said leading NATO countries support neo-Nazis in Ukraine’, and also see footnote 39.
 ‘The head of the LPR (Lugansk People’s Republic) said that Ukraine did not take action to evacuate residents’
 ‘In Horlivka, the resumption of shelling was reported on’
 ‘At the entrance to Kyiv, the territory of the military unit is on fire, eyewitnesses report’
 ‘Curfew introduced in Kyiv’
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.
Other recent articles in the TRAFO series War, Migration and Memory:
Alina Mozolevska, The Power of Maps and Geographic Imagery in Digital Communication: Narrating Russia’s War in Ukraine, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 04 May, 2023
Mykola Homanyuk and Janush Panchenko, From a Pilfered Nail to a Stolen Tank: The Role of a Media Event in the Consolidation of the Ukrainian Political Nation, 4 April, 2023
Olha Haidamachuk, The ‘Emergency Grab Bag’ of Memory, or the Tonalities of News Headlines About the War in Ukraine – Part One, 21 March 2023
Citation: Olha Haidamachuk, The ‘Emergency Grab Bag’ of Memory, or the Tonalities of News Headlines About the War in Ukraine – Part Two, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 20.06.2023, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/47670