The war messenger, pt. 1

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Messengers determine our lives. If you look at the usage figures, it quickly becomes clear that messengers are now more important than the classic social media channels. We all use them to communicate, both privately and professionally, and organize our lives through them. But because they are so important, they are also controversial. This is especially true for Telegram. More than three months after Feb. 24, 2022, however, I see this messenger quite differently.

Since the beginning of the war, I have been to Poland and Ukraine several times to help, interpret and lend a hand. There I encountered the war in the form of much human suffering. I spent a lot of time in a camp for refugees on the Polish-Ukrainian border. Here it was a matter of organizing help for refugees quickly and without complications. “Where is the rest of my family?”, “Which bus is going to Warsaw next?”, “My husband has diabetes, where can I get insulin?” I was asked questions like these and many more every minute. We aid workers and refugees mostly got answers via Telegram. Polish and Ukrainian authorities had created various channels. But most of the channels came from private initiatives, such as car-sharing and accommodation agencies and similar channels on Telegram.

Help at home in Germany is usually organized in the same way. Various city channels offer general help. At the same time, there are special channels that clarify legal issues, for example, or job boards where you can find work. At the end of the article I will link some of these channels.

Moreover, the communication of the Ukrainian government and military runs mainly through one channel: Telegram. The English-language channel Zelenskiy Official, i.e. that of Ukrainian President Zelenskiy, currently has over 1.3 million subscribers. The Ukrainian government uses the messenger to disseminate news from areas that are otherwise difficult to access. Also worth mentioning are the Ukraine Now channels, which continuously broadcast news from Ukraine to the world in 6 languages. Together, the channels have more than 220,000 subscribers. All major organizations in Ukraine communicate not only, but also via Telegram.

During my last trip a few days ago, I was traveling for Plast. These are Ukrainian scouts who have been providing supplies for certain units of the army since the beginning of the war. Here, too, the communication was via Telegram. In short, nothing works in Ukraine without the messenger with the bad reputation. At the same time, Telegram was not the country’s most important communication app until the start of the war. During my engagement there, I encountered an app again that I already knew from my travels in the Balkans: Viber. The purple messenger has the role there that WhatsApp has with us. It’s an end-2-end encrypted, very versatile messenger that basically combines the advantages of WhatsApp and Telegram. However, it seems a bit opaque as to who owns the service. It was originally founded in Israel, but also has strong ties to Belarus. More info about Viber can be found here, among other places.

Despite this top dog, Telegram has gained significant ground since the war began. A personal survey among Ukrainian refugees paints an interesting picture. Before the war, Viber was the undisputed number 1. Since the start of the war, Telegram has become the most important source of news. All authorities from the president to the village mayor keep in touch with their people all over the world via Telegram and thus also provide them with news. However, Ukrainians continue to use Viber to communicate with each other.

The question remains why Telegram has taken on such an essential role since the start of the war. Why, of all things, the messenger that is often reported on so critically, especially in Germany? I will deal with this in my next article.

Stay tuned!

Some Telegram channels on Ukraine:

https://t.me/ukrasylumrefugee

https://t.me/naym_germany

https://t.me/pechalbeda200

https://t.me/V_Zelenskiy_official

https://t.me/UAspecialists

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