A Scottish Bed and Breakfast owner has inspired a massive propaganda campaign against Putin’s invasion – from an unlikely Highlands hotspot.
Neil Campbell, who lived in Kiev for ten years, was inspired by old World War II images that sought to demotivate German soldiers.
The former editor generated a stream of posting messages aimed at the Russian military, which he sent to top public relations flier Alina Smolina Medynska, whom he used to employ in Kiev. The messages were posted on large billboards across Ukraine within days.
Alina – who was forced to flee her home in Kyiv over the weekend – used her contacts in the Ukrainian government to engage with the country’s military psychologists, which helped quickly adapt and roll out the slogans.
Neil, who runs the Strathassynt guesthouse in Ballachulish with his Ukrainian wife Katya, said: ‘The idea came from my history lessons, in particular the leafleting campaign to demoralize German soldiers.
“The propaganda went both ways, with the Germans handing out leaflets to British troops.
“I became aware that once the Russian soldiers were captured, they made it clear that they had been told that they were a liberating force and that they would be welcomed with open arms by Ukraine.
“They seemed ripe for educating about what’s really going on, so I referred the idea to a few private companies in Kyiv, who weren’t interested.
“Alina was a different story because she took the idea and really got it up and running in a matter of days and it’s amazing how billboards have sprouted in cities all over Ukraine. “
He added: “The messages went from short to sharp – like ‘Fuck off Russian soldiers! to those who targeted their conscience.
“Alina’s first messages were angry and very direct, but the military intervention led to more reasoned slogans. Different regions of the country now produce their own slogans.
Other messages include:
•Russian soldiers, what will you look like in the eyes of your children? Leave, keep your humanity
•Russian soldiers, stop! Don’t kill your soul for Putin’s oligarchs. Leave without blood on your hands
• Russian soldiers, stop! Putin lost! Everyone is with Ukraine. Leave without blood on your hands.
•Russian soldiers, stop! Remember your family. Go back there with a clear conscience.
Public relations boss Alina spoke to the Record from her home in central Kyiv but was forced to flee after a Russian plane reportedly crashed into a block next to her apartment.
Last night it was believed she was seeking refuge in western Ukraine.
She said: “I’m really grateful to Neil because he inspired the idea.
“He just had this idea that during the Second World War there were these postcards or these written paper messages that were distributed by Soviet propaganda among German soldiers.
“And then, little by little, they were throwing various sheets of paper. Along with the slogans and also helped to undermine the morale of German soldiers. So we thought that was a great idea.
“I have a very good friend who was the head of the city’s advertising management unit and he helped organize the printing of slogans in every small town in the country.
“It was impossible to print these banners and posters in one place, so we spread them out. The efforts were due to the courage of each individual who contributed to this project, by printing this banner and placing it on the billboards.
Alina added, “Our original posts were really aggressive, with a lot of our anger.
“But we had discussions with military psychologists and they suggested that we adjust our messages and make them more human, not allowing any hatred to arise.
“So the messages are now for soldiers who have not understood why they are even here on this earth.
“We try to listen to them and tell them that they are not wanted here. They have been deceived. We told them they came here to help us, which is not true, but we don’t need them here.
“We never invited them here. They kill Ukrainian citizens, destroy our homes.
“People are fleeing and hiding in bomb shelters and basements and they have undermined supplies and food delivery.
“So we ask them and we plead with them and we try to appeal to their conscience, their spirit, their human feelings, family stuff and all that kind of stuff.
“And we say Putin lost and the whole world that supports Ukraine – we hope words can be a weapon.”
Poignantly, when the Record spoke to Alina over the weekend, she told us she was ready to flee at any moment.
Just a day before she was forced to abandon her home, she said: “We don’t plan anything even five minutes ahead because every second, every moment, we are ready to rush to run away. We are ready.”
Neil and Katya Campbell helped raise aid for Ukraine, with generous residents of Lochaber and Inverness donating over 150 boxes of goods. The Polish community across Scotland has worked hard to help refugees from their neighboring country.
The aid – which received a massive discount from local retailer Mountain Warehouse – focused on items requested by Home Guard units around Kyiv, such as sleeping bags, thermal underwear, baby clothes, diapers and other items that become scarce as the war descends.