In Ukrainian town, reality doesn’t match government boasts of victory over Russian forces

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Mar 24, 2022

MAKARIV, Ukraine — At first glance, the Ukrainian government’s report that its forces had pushed Russians out of this town seemed true: Armed Ukrainian soldiers stood guard at a checkpoint at the entrance to this rural enclave west of Kyiv, seemingly in full control.

Since Tuesday, top Ukrainian government officials had been touting what they called a key victory in their month-long war against invading Russians. They said Makariv, a key gateway for Russian forces to potentially surround and seize Kyiv, had been liberated from Russian forces — and that Ukraine’s flag was now flying victoriously over the town’s center.

Media around the world reported the news as the latest indication that Ukrainian forces were waging skillful counterattacks and defeating the Russians in vital locations.

But as a team of Washington Post journalists passed through the checkpoint on Wednesday, Ukrainian soldiers ordered them to quickly leave the town, warning of incoming Russian rockets or artillery. Minutes later, reporters heard the sound of shells falling. Black plumes of smoke rose over the houses. Soon more blasts followed.

Makariv remains a contested front line.

“The military doesn’t control all of Makariv, only partially,” said Mayor Vadim Tokar, standing on the town’s outskirts shortly after the shells landed. “It’s 100 percent no-go for civilians to return.”

What happened here is emblematic of the two different yet intertwined wars unfolding in Ukraine, one taking place on the battlefield, the other in the realm of propaganda to shape public perceptions and bolster morale and support. Russia has been by far the more aggressive source of wildly inaccurate information — starting with Vladimir Putin’s false and historically inaccurate justifications for the invasion. But, as the Makariv situation illustrates, Ukrainian officials have also sometimes spread overly rosy information about the war.

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