The 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine refers to the tension between the two Eastern European countries that came to a head in late 2021 and early 2022 after concerns arose over Russia's possible invasion of Ukraine. The conflict also involved Western countries like the United States and Germany, who supplied weapons to Ukraine and sanctioned Russia. One of Russian President Vladimir Putin's stated goals in launching the invasion of Ukraine was to prevent the country's further alignment with NATO and the Western bloc. Memes about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine appeared in abundance on Twitter and Reddit, among other platforms, in 2021 going into 2022.
Notable events such as the Battle of Snake Island, the Ghost of Kyiv, Ukrainian Farmers vs. Russian Army or "Ukrainian Farmers Stealing Russian Tanks," 2022 Russian Rubles Crash, the Moskva Sinking and the Azovstal Steel Works inspired reactions and memes across social media.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have existed for many years. Some of the land that currently makes up Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the two nations have traditionally shared some cultural and religious traits. Under the Soviet Union (1917-1991), Ukraine was one of several countries in a political union led by Russia, suffering a generation-defining planned famine in the 1930s and the trauma of the Second World War, which killed up to 10% of the entire Soviet population. The Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986 devastated a significant chunk of the country. 
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, countries like Ukraine gained independence. In the decades after, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expanded into the region, bringing in 14 new countries, including the three Baltic nations (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) which were once part of the Soviet Union itself, and several nations like Poland that were formerly in the Soviet bloc.
Ukraine is not in NATO, but in 2008, the country applied to NATO. Putin has long seen the expansion of NATO, including possibly into Ukraine, as a threat to Russia. Ukraine's 2008 NATO application was shelved after Victor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian president, was elected in 2010.
2014 Russian Invasion of Crimea
In 2014, Yanukovych was overthrown by a popular color revolution in Ukraine. Russia, claiming the revolution (like others in post-Soviet states) had been instigated by the United States or other actors, took aggressive military action and seized Crimea, the region bordering the Sea of Azov known for its strategic military position and natural resources. This prompted a response from the West, with the U.S. providing the Ukrainian government with weapons and other armaments in order to help them defend against further Russian aggression. Overall, Putin's remarks on Crimea suggested a wish to secure his political legacy, as well as to prevent Ukraine from becoming a potential base of operations for the West.
In addition to attacking Crimea, the Russian government funded and supported nationalist insurgencies against Ukraine in two eastern areas of the country, Luhansk and Donetsk (called Donbas). Armed conflict has been ongoing in these two areas since 2014.
2021 Russia-Ukraine Border Troop Deployments
On March 3rd, 2021, Russia started deploying troops outside of Ukraine's border, eventually gathering together 100,000. This prompted a response from the U.S., which launched military exercises known as "Defender Europe 2021." The exercises involved 28,000 troops from 27 nations within NATO, one of the largest deployments from the alliance in its history. In response, President Putin said that the military movements were "not of any concern" for neighboring countries.
In April 2021, the tension escalated further. On April 3rd, Russia accused Ukraine of operating a drone attack, causing the death of a child in the Russian-occupied part of Donbas. More soldiers in Ukraine and Russia were killed during multiple, randomized attacks going into April. On April 22nd, the Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu announced a withdrawal of military exercises. The Russian troops then retreated from the border, quelling worries from the Western world for the foreseeable future, until late 2021 when tensions arose again as troop buildups began.
2022 Russia-Ukraine Conflict
On January 23rd, 2022, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine came to a head when 100,000 troops were spotted surrounding Ukraine's northern border. Additionally, Russian troops were deployed into neighboring Russian ally Belarus, towing in large tanks and weapons, seemingly preparing for an offensive. The West raised concerns about Russia's military movements but Putin affirmed that his country had no intention of invading and blamed the U.S. for revving up the tension by arming Ukraine.
On January 26th, Russia threatened to take “retaliatory measures” if the U.S. and its allies rejected Putin’s security demands. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted saying, “If the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow will take the necessary retaliatory measures.” This alluded to the more threatening possibility of large-scale war between the U.S. and Russia in the near future.
On January 23rd, 2022, Twitter users reacted to the news, citing their thoughts on the reasoning for the most recent spike in the conflict. For instance, political analyst Bruno Maçães tweeted that the reasoning for the attack was based on the West's recent weaknesses, highlighted in late 2021 by the Taliban Offensive in Afghanistan, as well as the departure of Germany's Angela Merkel. His tweet (shown below, left) received over 180 likes in three days.
Others on Twitter reacted to the news with negativity about the U.S. helping Ukraine. For instance, on January 23rd, political podcaster Matt Walsh posted a tweet that led with, "Ukraine is not our country and not our problem." The tweet (shown below, right) received roughly 31,000 likes in three days.
Political scientist Ian Bremmer tweeted on January 21st with an infographic of Ukraine's military forces against Russia's, showing the glaring difference between their military power. The infographic (shown below) received roughly 5,300 likes via the tweet over the course of five days.
Memes about the Russia-Ukraine Conflict started appearing across platforms in large numbers around mid-January 2022, relating to various topics surrounding the conflict. For instance, on January 19th, 2022, Instagram  page unfiltered.politics posted a video that paired a clip of female U.S. Army soldiers dancing on TikTok with a humorous caption. The video (shown below) received roughly 23,500 likes over the course of one week.
A 2014 tweet from the official Twitter account of Canada NATO resurfaced in regards to the 2022 tension (shown below). It was reposted to Instagram and quote tweeted on Twitter in January 2022. On Instagram, the screenshot received roughly 58,500 likes in one day when the account historyinmemes posted it on January 25th.
Twitter users posted many humorous tweets about the conflict going into the remainder of January. For example, on January 24th, Twitter user rainylandscapes posted a tweet that read, "I'm an expert on ukraine and russia. but i'm shy," earning roughly 6,100 likes over the course of two days (shown below, left). On January 23rd, Twitter user MrTooDamnChris tweeted a funny tweet but with a more serious and aggressive tone, trying to make a point about the perspective of the Ukrainian people in regards to the U.S.'s possible involvement in an all-out war within the country. His tweet (shown below, right) received roughly 11,300 likes over the course of three days.
On January 25th, Twitter user EclecticHams tweeted a fake news headline about Ukrainians defending their homeland, attaching an image of an older woman holding Cloud's giant sword in reference to the video game _FFVII. The meme (shown below, left) received roughly 10,700 likes in one day. Also on the 25th, Twitter user KidDiabeetus posted a tweet that captioned an image with, "Fuck you mean we left the percs in the Ukraine," receiving roughly 1,900 likes in one day (shown below, right).
They/Them Army refers to memes referencing the United States Army as a "They/Them Army," in an attempt to label them as weak in a politically correct sense. The memes emerged after a tweet was posted on January 24th, 2022, by former RT journalist Sameera Khan. The tweet (shown below) attempted to criticize President Joe Biden by calling the U.S. Army a "They/Them Army," and it received roughly 2,000 likes in two days.
Biden, you should be VERY afraid of taking on Russia. Your they/them army wouldn’t last ten minutes. pic.twitter.com/HH75ywVaZ9
— sameera khan (@SameeraKhan) January 24, 2022
Memes emerged using the reference, like one posted by Twitter user isTrashAccount on the same day, captioning an image of Putin holding his head with, "He Couldn't Handle The They/Them Army," in reference to memes made about They/Them Pussy. The meme (shown below) received roughly 11,200 likes over the course of two days.
Beginning Of Invasion
Russia Invades Ukraine / Putin Recognizes Donetsk and Luhansk
On February 21st, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a televised meeting with his ministers and security council, wherein he recognized two "breakaway regions," Donetsk and Luhansk, located in Eastern Ukraine as independent, urging an appeal for recognition of these two regions. This would essentially involve the invasion and occupation of these two regions controlled by Russian-backed separatists within the Ukrainian population. Additionally, Putin was quoted saying that the acquisition of the two regions would protect the citizens within them from the "bloodbath" that would ensue.
The development as a whole was reported on by BBC News, which posted a video to its YouTube channel on February 21st that received roughly 771,400 views in two days (shown below, left).
Putin then reportedly signed decrees that ordered Russian troops to move into Ukraine, according to the Washington Post. A video surfaced later on February 21st of a Russian military convoy making its way into Ukraine. The video was uploaded to YouTube and reported on by Guardian News, receiving roughly 66,300 views in two days (shown below, right).
U.S. Sanctions Against Russia
Soon after Putin's meeting on February 21st, 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among other leaders of the Western world, condemned Putin's actions and decisions. They subsequently responded by levying economic sanctions against Russia. Biden was quoted saying in a meeting at the White House, "This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine … so I'm going to begin to impose sanctions in response." White House officials also stated that the sanctions announced would be "swift and severe."
The United Kingdom announced its own sanctions levied against Russian banks on February 22nd, spoken on by Barbara Woodward, the permanent representative of the United Kingdom to the UN. She was quoted saying, "There will be severe economic consequences to [Russia's] actions."
U.S. President Biden's entire speech at the White House regarding the new sanctions was uploaded to YouTube on February 22nd by the channel of CTV News, earning roughly 23,900 views in one day (shown below).
Explosions In Kyiv And Kharkiv / Full-Scale Invasion Of Ukraine
On January 23rd, 2022, President Vladimir Putin gave a televised speech in which he authorized a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine. Soon after, Dmytro Kuleba, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, posted a tweet that declared Russia had "launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine," earning roughly 30,000 likes in less than an hour (shown below, left). Later, explosions were heard in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, reported on by CBS News.
In response, U.S. President Joe Biden posted a tweet that claimed, "President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering," earning roughly 50,100 likes in less than an hour (shown below, right). In turn, #JoeBidenIsAFailure started to trend amidst the development.
Over the coming months, the Russian invasion caused a humanitarian crisis in which millions of people were displaced within Ukraine and became refugees. Public opinion in European Union countries hardened against Russia, leading to mass protests and an escalating sanctions regime. By the spring, Russia had been cut off from the global banking network and European countries were considering ceasing the import of Russian fossil fuels, which are the primary source of Russian economic power.
Sinking of Moskva
The Moskva Sinking refers to a Russian warship and guided-missile cruiser named Moskva that sunk in the Black Sea due to an alleged attack from Ukrainian forces in April 2022. The Russian military denied the attack, stating that the ship instead sunk because of a fire on board. The event caused controversy and discussion online regarding the ongoing conflict and war.
Azovstal Steel Works
The Azovstal Steel Works is a steel and metal-making plant in Mariupol, Ukraine that became a battleground and holdout during the 2021-2022 Russia-Ukraine Conflict. In early 2022, Russian forces tried to take over the plant, however, they did not toward the end of April 2022 due to the elaborate tunnel system beneath the region. The military action generated reactions and memes online.
World War 3 Memes / WWIII
The term "World War 3" started to trend in memes following Russia invading Ukraine and the response from the Western world. For instance, on February 21st, 2022, Twitter user adnannhussainn tweeted about playing Wordle despite World War 3 going on in the background, earning roughly 4,300 likes over the course of two days (shown below, left). Also on February 21st, Twitter user RedLightning420 posted a tweet that joked about regretfully killing Hasbulla Magomedov once the war started, earning roughly 39,300 likes in two days (shown below, right).
Sam Hyde Ukrainian ID
On February 21st, 2022, Twitter user jnyboy posted a photoshopped Ukrainian ID featuring a photograph of internet comedian and artist Sam Hyde. The tweet (shown below) received roughly 4,700 likes in two days.
"Due To The Ukraine"
Due to the developing tension between the U.S. and Russia going into the end of February, gas prices, among other things, increased in price due to sanctions levied against the Western world. Russia exports a lump sum of the West's oil supply. On February 22nd, 2022, the catchphrase "Due to the Ukraine," started to trend online, specifically on Twitter, due to the sanction developments. It was most notably popularized by a tweet from CBSNews, who reported on the increased gas prices, inflation, and supply-chain issues due to the Ukraine crisis. The tweet (shown below) received roughly 3,100 likes and 10,700 quote retweets in one day.
Mostly conservative-leaning Twitter users reacted to the article with outrage, claiming that the article was fake news. Some of these users believed that the economic problems the U.S. was facing were in regards to President Biden's incompetence rather than in regards to Ukraine and Russia. For instance, Twitter user ledgerstatus posted a humorous quote retweet of the article on February 23rd stating, "I haven’t been working out due to the Ukraine crisis," earning over 900 likes in less than a day (shown below, left). Twitter user jonesville posted a meme referencing both Donald Trump and Joe Biden's Crack Pipe on the same day, earning roughly 1,900 likes in the same amount of time (shown below, right).
U.S. Ukraine Embassy in Kyiv Tweet
Read the full article here. On February 22nd, 2022, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine posted a tweet regarding the ongoing crisis. The tweet (shown below) received roughly 155,900 likes in less than 24 hours. It depicts Kyiv versus Moscow's industrial and architectural progressions from the years 998 to 1108, favoring Ukraine's development over time, labeling themselves as more culturally advanced in comparison.
Stephen King Putin Tweet
Read the full article here. On February 22nd, 2022, fiction author Stephen King posted a tweet that claimed President Putin had made a "serious miscalculation," regarding the absence of former U.S. President Donald Trump and the presence of current U.S. President Joe Biden during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis. The tweet was seen as cringeworthy by many on the political right and over the course of two days, it received roughly 143,200 likes and 23,400 retweets (shown below, left).
On February 23rd, after it was reported that Russia had officially invaded eastern Ukraine, King posted a follow-up tweet that read, "What most of us learned as kids on the playground: You don't stand by while a big kid beats up a little kid. You might take a punch or two making the big kid stop, but that's the right thing to do," earning roughly 55,500 likes and 8,700 retweets in less than 24 hours (shown below, right).
Both tweets in comparison to each drew criticism from both sides of the political aisle where many internet users found King's statements hypocritical and labeled them as "not aging well." Memes ensued going into the rest of February. For instance, Twitter user DefiantLs posted a meme that earned roughly 35,800 likes in less than 24 hours (shown below, left). Twitter user QuarantinedCoof posted a humorous quote retweet that received roughly 1,700 likes in 24 hours (shown below, right).
Ghost of Kyiv
The Ghost of Kyiv, alternatively written Ghost of Kiev, refers to a Ukrainian Fulcrum fighter pilot flying a MiG-29 who, during the first stages of the initial Russian invasion regarding the Russia-Ukraine Conflict, had reportedly taken out six Russian fighter jets in less than 24 hours. Memes were posted about the Ghost of Kyiv that used images and videos of the jet as an exploitable reference. Many memes appeared on Twitter in late February 2022 with many tweets referencing the "badass" nature of the nickname, as well as praising the pilot for their efforts in posts or fan art. The viral story was also widely covered in the media.
— Aldin 🇧🇦 (@aldin_ww) February 24, 2022
Battle of Snake Island
Battle of Snake Island refers to an event that took place during the first stages of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in late February 2022 where Ukrainian soldiers were defending a small island in the Black Sea called Snake Island, resulting in 13 of them dying in battle. The first moments of the attack were documented in a livestream from one of the soldiers on the island, whose video quickly spread to YouTube and Reddit alongside the audio between the two groups of soldiers. Memes about the Battle of Snake Island centered on the heroic nature of the soldiers for defending such a small island solely based on pride for their nation, particularly due to their response to the Russian warship. The memes were similar in nature to the ones made about the Ghost of Kyiv at the same time. Additionally, many meme creators called the soldiers the "Snake Island Chads." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy later awarded each of the soldiers with the posthumous title "Hero of Ukraine," the country's highest military honor.
St. Javelin / Saint Javelin
St. Javelin or *Saint Javelin refers to an image of Madonna Kalashnikov (the Blessed Virgin Mary) holding a javelin missile that became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Although the image is an exploited version of a 2012 painting, it was first re-edited and created in early 2018 on the Russian social media site VK where a user replaced the original AK-47 with a javelin missile. The image received an uptick in usage in February 2022 coinciding with the escalation of the conflict and invasion of Ukraine by Russia, effectively becoming a symbol of Ukrainian resistance on social media and resulting in lots of redraws and fan art. St. Javelin was also seen as controversial by some for promoting violence and the war at large.
Putin's Long Table
Putin’s Long Table, also known as Putin's Large Table, refers to a photograph of President Vladimir Putin meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron where the two men are seated at opposite ends of a long, gleaming white marble table about six meters long. The image was released in February 2022, following a meeting between Macron and Putin regarding the Russia-Ukraine Conflict. The image became an exploitable going into the rest of 2022 where meme creators mocked the length of the table and depicted the two men engaging in a variety of unexpected activities.
Wide Zelenskyy, sometimes spelled "Wide Zelensky," refers to a viral video and exploitable image of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walking towards the camera but stretched to appear shorter and wider in stature, set to the tune of Piano Fantasia’s “Song For Denise” (Maxi version). The meme is a variant of Wide Putin and was made to contrast Russian President Vladimir Putin in regards to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The first version of it was posted to YouTube in 2020 but picked up in usage in early 2022 during Russia's invasion.
Ukrainian Farmers vs. Russian Army
Ukrainian Farmers vs. Russian Army, also known as "Ukrainian Farmers Stealing Russian Tanks," refers to memes made about farmers in Ukraine humorously defeating the Russian military and Vladimir Putin during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The meme trend started after multiple videos surfaced in early 2022 of Ukrainian farmers purportedly stealing Russian tanks, towing them away with their tractors and even selling them on websites like eBay.
Here is addition to it pic.twitter.com/0USlvDa738
— Yegor Petrov 🔑⚡️🇺🇦 (@yeg0rpetrov) February 27, 2022
2022 Russian Rubles Crash
2022 Russian Rubles Crash refers to the official currency of Russia, the ruble, drastically decreasing in value due to President Vladimir Putin ordering the invasion of eastern Ukraine. As a result of the military invasion, the Russian economy suffered with the value of the ruble dropping significantly in comparison to other major currencies like the European euro and the American as well as joke currencies like Roblox's robux. Russian ruble memes surfaced most notably on Reddit and Twitter.
Russian Z Military Symbol
The Russian Z Military Symbol refers originally to the Russian practice of painting military equipment with the letter "Z" in order to signal a nationalist pro-war stance. The "Z" symbol has since moved beyond the Russian military and been featured throughout Russian state propaganda. Over the course of the conflict, it has become become strongly associated with the invasion.
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