Skip to main content
  • Share to or

Russian propaganda attempts a YouTube reboot The hosts of ‘Z-Girlfriends’ want fellow women to work their femininity harder for the cause

Source: Meduza

A new Russian propaganda show debuted a few days ago on YouTube, which has blocked numerous channels connected to the Russian state, including Russia Today, the “LDNR” People’s Republics, Vladimir Solovyov, and others. Parent company Google started purging this content well before the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine on the grounds that it violates YouTube’s community rules. Now one project is trying to claw back that audience with a program called “Z-Girlfriends,” whose creators say their main goal is to support Russian troops as they fight in Ukraine.

‘Z-Girlfriends’ is modeled on popular lifestyle content, but the first episode demonstrates that its aim is pro-invasion propaganda

The show’s name is clearly borrowed from “Girlfriends,” a Russian-language YouTube show that included more than 40 episodes and wrapped up in 2021. On that earlier program, the hosts discussed “taboo themes related to sex,” attracting millions of views.

The first episode of Z-Girlfriends features three hosts, each with a background in propagandizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There’s Anastasia Kashevarova, a former aide for State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, and Ekaterina Agranovich, who worked as a producer on a recently released miniseries called “Mobilization,” which tells the story of a disillusioned man living in Donetsk who leaves for Moscow on the eve of Russia’s full-scale invasion and then returns as a draftee. (The miniseries was filmed entirely in occupied Ukrainian territory.) Agranovich is also known as the “chief media figure of the Donetsk Empire,” and she serves as the editor-in-chief of a pro-invasion Telegram channel with 190,000 subscribers. Joining Kashevarova and Agranovich is Ulyana Strizh, a “volunteer” who promotes the war by organizing fundraisers for Russia’s invasion force.

All three women are active pro-invasion bloggers. In their debut, they also teased the arrival of another, still-unnamed host on the next episode.

The first episode of Z-Girlfriends, titled “Women at War,” was released on May 26 and has roughly 30,000 views at the time of this writing — a relatively small number, considering the large audiences the show’s hosts reach individually on social media. (Kashevarova’s Telegram channel has 260,000 subscribers, and 74,000 accounts subscribe to Agranovich’s personal channel.) According to journalists at Vot Tak, other pro-invasion channels also promoted the new show, though that seems to have done little to generate interest.

It’s unknown who finances the production of Z-Girlfriends. The show itself mentions no production studios in its credits. Agranovich calls it a “show-experiment that we thought up in a café.”

The hosts criticize Ukraine for ‘worshipping evil’ and call on men to go to the front to find new friends

Agranovich credits her late friend, Vladlen Tatarsky (a fellow propagandist and “war correspondent” who was killed in a bombing in St. Petersburg in April 2023), with inspiring a show that tries to put a woman’s face on the invasion: “He had this idea that [Russia] lacks women who are public-opinion leaders. Young, beautiful women for whom soldiers will fight. In terms of relationships, nothing motivates [men] to go to the frontlines.”

The show’s opening graphics indicate that Z-Girlfriends is devoted to topics including the “special military operation,” “mobilization,” “war correspondents,” body armor, drones, the Verkhniy Lars border crossing between Russia and Georgia (where long lines of Russians fleeing south formed in September 2022 after President Putin initiated a draft), and more.

The show’s hosts spent much of the first episode talking about how women who support the war in Ukraine ought to present themselves. At one point, Kasheverova complained that the women who host programs on Russian network television present too “asexually.” She urged Olga Skabeeva (one of state TV’s best-known propagandists) to do more to “express her femininity,” citing Joan of Arc as a role model who aroused men in more ways than one, Kasheverova argued.

Later in the show, Agranovich lamented that Russia has yet to produce its own “Marilyn Monroe in a beautiful, shiny dress singing in front of the troops.” Instead, she said, Russia relies on “an old granny with a flag” and “a boy who waves at soldiers” — allusions to Anna Ivanova outside Kharkiv, who confusedly waved a Soviet flag at Ukrainian troops, and “Little Boy Lyosha,” who famously saluted a military convoy passing through Belgorod.

More about women in Russian war propaganda

‘Maybe the Lord Himself sent me’ BBC journalists interview ‘Granny Anya,’ the elderly Ukrainian woman whose Soviet nostalgia made her an icon of Russian war propaganda

More about women in Russian war propaganda

‘Maybe the Lord Himself sent me’ BBC journalists interview ‘Granny Anya,’ the elderly Ukrainian woman whose Soviet nostalgia made her an icon of Russian war propaganda

The women of Z-Girlfriends explained that a woman’s image in Russia is represented by “the Virgin Mary and the Motherland,” but in Ukraine it’s “the image of a witch and death.” According to Agranovich, this is because “on TikTok they do debaptisms. Why? Because, when Vladimir baptized Rus’, he actually enserfed it. And, like, ‘Our pagans were cool, and Christianity sucks.’ That’s why all the women are witches.” Kashevarova then added that Ukrainians reject “spiritual bonds” and “worship evil and some skulls or something.”

The show’s hosts claimed that most Russian men who fight in Ukraine want to return to the frontlines because of the friendships they make there. “You finally understand how you’re needed and what life means,” said Kashevarova. “They’re waiting for you there, and your arrival is the coming of the Sun.” Agranovich, on the other hand, acknowledged that many returning soldiers battle posttraumatic stress, but she herself stressed that “war is a real place where people come alive.”

During their first episode, the women of Z-Girlfriends also took time to condemn Vladlen Tatarsky’s accused killer, Daria Trepova, calling her a “terrorist” and “the world’s saddest person.” The hosts endorsed a rumor spread by the pro-Kremlin Telegram channel Mash that Trepova accepted 20,000 rubles ($250) in cryptocurrency from Ukrainian officials to carry out the assassination, and they advocated sentencing her to a “legal firing squad” (though Russia observes a moratorium on the death penalty). Z-Girlfriends’ hosts also mocked blogger Elena Blinovskaya (recently placed under house arrest on charges of evading 900 million rubles — $11,100 — in taxes), complaining that “not one ruble” of her earnings were shared with the Russian military.

Pivoting to gay soldiers in the U.S. army, Kashevarova said the American military is “packed with all the freaks,” while Agranovich warned of a “big army crisis” in the United States and claimed that “the lowest percent of people” in the West are willing to take up arms for their country.

But the Russian authorities didn’t escape all criticism, either. The Z-Girlfriends hosts are surprisingly upset with Russia’s own Defense Ministry, accusing the military of being too slow to respond to questions from the state media about developments at the front. The ministry’s work isn’t transparent enough, the hosts argued.

Kashevarova and her cohosts went even further, too, faulting the Kremlin for failing to explain why it unleashed a full-scale war in the first place. “The state offers no ideology,” they complained. “Nobody understands what demilitarization and denazification are. Nobody spells it out for us. There are no ideological booklets. I mean, the ones that exist are written in incomprehensible legalese.”

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

  • Share to or