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What’s behind the ‘enemies of Ukraine list’ allegations by far-right US politicians?

by Nate Ostiller June 13, 2024 3:59 PM 8 min read
Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene holds up a "Make Ukraine Great Again" hat outside the U.S. Capitol on May 1, 2024. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
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Republican Congressman Jim Banks sent letters in recent days to a number of high-profile figures in the U.S. far-right, saying that they had been added to a Ukrainian NGO's list of individuals and groups responsible "in the U.S. impeding aid to Ukraine."

The congressman alleged that Texty, the Ukrainian NGO in question, previously worked with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Texty released a statement on June 13 that its team was facing "unprecedented pressure, manipulation, slander, demands to strip us of donor funding, and threats of physical violence."

Banks, who is running for Senate in Indiana, had said on June 11 that "other Ukrainian NGOs have published similar lists, which have published the personal information of those named in apparent attempts to intimidate them."

Banks added that he sent an accompanying letter to key congressional committee members, urging them to stop "partnering with any actors overseas who encourage the harassment of Americans."

Banks also posted on his personal X account that he was put on an "enemies list" that was "compiled by the Ukrainian government.

What's really behind the governmental funding allegations?

Inna Gadzynska, a journalist at Texty and one of the authors of the report, told the Kyiv Independent that the outlet has no connection to either the Ukrainian or U.S. governments, does not consider its report to be a "hit list," and did not publish any personal information.

Gadzynska added that Texty did not receive any government funding for the project.

The following day, Banks wrote that Congressional Republicans had moved to "defund" the "Ukrainian NGO that created a 'watch list' that consisted of conservative lawmakers and private American citizens."

The Kyiv Independent reached out to Banks' press office for comment several times, but received no response.  

Elon Musk then commented below the post, saying that the NGO should be "added to the list of sanctioned terrorist organizations."

Rogan O'Handley, a prominent "MAGA influencer" active on X with the handle "DC_Draino," shared the letter he had received from Banks, claiming that "(President Volodymyr) Zelensky has added (him) to his 'enemies' list."

O'Handley then added that a "Ukrainian NGO 'funded with our tax dollars' has labeled me an enemy of their state."

Texty's report has been widely shared on social media, with false claims about the organization, the list's contents, and its connections to the Ukrainian and U.S. governments growing with every retweet.

Far-right conspiracy theorist and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote that Zelensky's "thug regime has deemed me an enemy of the state" and put "elected members of Congress like me on their state KILL list."

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What exactly is Texty's report?

Texty's report, labeled "Roller Coaster: From Trumpists to Communists. The forces in the U.S. impeding aid to Ukraine and how they do it," was released on June 6.

The report contains an in-depth exploration of 388 individuals and 76 organizations involved in the "ecosystem of mutual support" of opponents of aid for Ukraine.

Texty's website states it is a media outlet founded by Anatoliy Bondarenko and Roman Kulchynsky in 2010 and has won several journalism awards, including the European Press Prize in 2024. Texty says its research is "funded exclusively" by its readers.

The claims about the alleged financial support by the U.S. State Department appear to stem from the fact that Bondarenko previously was a volunteer trainer at the TechForum Ukraine almost ten years ago.  

The forum was a program from TechCamps, a "public diplomacy program hosted in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. State Department."

The program "brought together more than 60 local journalists, civil society, community leaders, and private sector partners in Eastern Europe with local and international technology experts."

"The two-day workshop helped increase digital and media literacy and gave participants the tools to communicate effectively in the 21st century."

Besides the single two-day workshop conducted almost 10 years ago, there is no other evidence to support the claim that the U.S. State Department or any other government entity has supported Texty, financially or otherwise.

In a statement on X on June 9, Texty said that it had "faced an unprecedented wave of hate" after the report was published.

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"Claims that the list of U.S. opponents of aid to Ukraine is a 'kill list,' persecution, or doxxing, or that the Texty editorial team is trained or funded by the U.S. government is an outright lie."

Texty reiterated that "Bondarenko was a trainer who taught activists at one of the TechCamps" but said that it was just one of many training sessions it had conducted.

Gadzynska told the Kyiv Independent that Bondarenko was not paid for his work as a trainer. Bondarenko did receive a grant from the U.S. Embassy in 2020 to help "counter disinformation about Coronavirus," she added.

Texty also previously received USAID grants via other organizations, but Gadzynska emphasized that the report in question was not funded by any institutional donor.

In any case, Bondarenko had "no relation" to the report and did not contribute to it, Gadzynska said.

The aim of the report was not to "harass" or "intimidate" the individuals and groups named but rather to "openly and objectively examine issues that are key to our country's survival, such as who the U.S. opponents of aid to Ukraine are and why they oppose it," Texty said.

Gadzynska emphasized that the report did not call the listed individuals and groups "enemies."

Texty "operate(s) as an NGO and never takes money from the Ukrainian government," she said, adding that the outlet has criticized Zelensky "before and after the presidential election in 2019."

Gadzynska also shared with the Kyiv Independent some of the vitriolic and threatening messages that Texty received after the report was published, which insulted Ukraine and claimed that the report was an act of "declaring war" on the U.S.

Which other figures are mentioned by Texty?

As the title suggests, the report is not limited to the far-right politicians and commentators who are often the face of American opposition to Ukraine.

It also includes a number of prominent individuals and organizations from the left, such as the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (QI) and the "anti-war" organization CodePink, mostly known for its opposition to Israel.

Anatol Lieven, a U.K. journalist and director of QI's Eurasia Program, told the American Conservative media outlet that "it is completely inappropriate that a foreign institution that participates (in) training funded by U.S. taxpayers' money should use that money to try to limit public debate in the U.S. on a matter of vital U.S. interest."

Lieven has written about the need for a ceasefire in Ukraine and says that the war is "Russia's fault," but also regularly references Russian talking points, such as the unfounded assertion that "most Crimeans still appear to want to be part of Russia."

To support his claim, Lieven cited a survey by the independent Russian polling firm the Levada Center conducted in 2019 when Crimea was already under Russian occupation.

Previous polls conducted before the illegal annexation, such as one by the International Republican Institute in May 2013, found that only 23% of respondents wanted to be part of Russia, compared to 67% who wanted some form of autonomy within Ukraine.

In a co-written article with George Beebe published by QI in January 2024, Lieven wrote that the U.S. "will have to offer some serious incentives" to Putin to end the war.

"If we want a prosperous Ukraine with a viable path toward liberal governance and European Union membership, we will have to concede that it cannot be a NATO or U.S. ally, and that this neutral Ukraine must have verifiable limits on the types and quantities of weapons it may hold."

Lieven's comments were indicative of the wide range of narratives harmful to Ukraine that come from across the political spectrum.

Anti-war protestors led by CodePink protest outside the U.S. Capitol on March 16, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

CodePink, an ostensible left-wing "pro-peace" organization, also mentioned Texty's report, reiterating claims that Bondarenko "trains foreign journalists and media companies in the State Department's TechCamp."

While regularly calling for an end to the conflict, CodePink also says that "expansion of NATO and the aggressive approach of Western nations have helped cause the crisis, and we demand an end to NATO expansion." CodePink is also opposed to sanctions that "harm ordinary Russians."

Medea Benjamin, one of the co-founders of CodePink, has also repeated Russian propaganda talking points. In a November 2022 interview with Chris Hedges, a political commentator who has a show on the Russian state-owned media outlet RT, Benjamin falsely claimed that Crimea is a part of Russia and that Russian speakers are being discriminated against in Ukraine.

CodePink takes a "leftist position," Texty said, but "uses every Russian propaganda thesis to support its beliefs."

Tucker Carlson's allegations of Ukraine's 'hit list'

It is not the first time that far-right figures in the U.S. have falsely claimed that the Ukrainian government has created a public "hit list" of opponents of Ukraine.

After far-right political commentator Tucker Carlson interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin in February 2024, a widely distributed post on X claimed that Carlson had been placed on a "kill list" by the Ukrainian government.

Carlson traveled to Moscow to record the two-hour and seven-minute interview, during which he seldomly interrupts Putin as he echoes Russian propaganda and shares false narratives on a wide variety of topics, including his justification for Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

In fact, Carlson had been added to a list compiled by the Ukrainian NGO Myrotvorets, which studies threats to Ukraine's national security, and has been in the Myrotvorets database since 2023.

U.S. far-right political commentator Tucker Carlson speaking at an event in Esztergom, Hungary on Aug. 7, 2021. (Janos Kummer/Getty Images)

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