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Interview: ‘I can see how the Russian propaganda machine works here’

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RFA’s Vietnamese Service interviewed Natalya Zhinkyna, interim representative of the Ukraine Embassy in Hanoi about her country’s struggle under the Russian invasion and her work in the capital of Vietnam, a traditional ally of Russia, a number of whose people have turned out to support Ukraine. In a wide-ranging interview, she thanked the Vietnamese public for participating in recent charity events that raised more than $100,000 for humanitarian relief. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RFA: What is the reaction of the Vietnamese public that you have noticed  since the war broke out?

Zhinkyna: Since the 24th of February, when the war started, every day we receive words of sympathy and support from the Vietnamese public, people write messages come to the embassy there with flowers and donations to help Ukraine, who had to leave their homes to protect their lives, ran our cities have been bombed by Russian army. We have organized charity events for Vietnamese public at our embassy in the beginning of March to raise money in order to address the humanitarian needs in Ukraine. And more charity events are coming soon.

And the Vietnamese people are praying together with us for the innocent Ukrainians who lost their lives in the fierce Russian attacks on peaceful cities of Ukraine.

This money is aimed at humanitarian relief for Ukraine and what is also important here that many Vietnamese opinion leaders took their mission in the informational front and help Ukraine to combat Russia’s propaganda here in Vietnam. Help to refute fakes and disinformation and expand the reasons, the costs, and the consequences of Russia’s brutal aggression for the global rules-based order, as well for the region of Southeast Asia, including for Vietnam.

RFA: Can you tell us, can you give us some examples of how the Vietnamese individually and collectively shown their support toward Ukrainian people that have moved the most?

Zhinkyna: When I see people coming to the embassy to just give us a hug. And I see the tears in their eyes and I hear the kind words from Vietnamese people who even didn’t have an opportunity to visit Ukraine or to know about Ukraine before. This is very touching. This is very moving. And as I mentioned, people have just flowers left at the embassy’s doors. I know this comes from Vietnamese people. This is very touching. And the donations that we receive, it doesn’t matter how much money people bring, but sometimes we will receive a big amounts from like private people like 1,000 or 2,000 dollars. I understand that this is a big donation for Vietnam, this person, and it is made from the bottom of their hearts in order to support and to help. And this is very precious. And are those messages that we receive? I personally receive thousands of messages and I’m very sorry. I cannot respond to all the all of the people who write to me, but it really inspires me or for the everyday work and it inspires my colleagues.

RFA: Did it come as a surprise from you, the level of support from the Vietnamese public?

Zhinkyna: This war itself, it was very much unexpected. We did understand that there is a big threat coming from Russia, but until the very beginning, we didn’t expect it to happen and then we didn’t expect the amount of support coming from the Vietnamese public. But I do understand. I do know that those are Vietnamese people who understand exactly what Ukrainians in Ukraine feel around that and how the rockets are flying over their heads because Vietnamese people, they still have their memories of the wars. Even me and my colleagues here, when we are staying in a peaceful Hanoi and we are very much worried about our relatives in Ukraine, we still do not understand that feeling of being afraid, of being scared or that your life will end just abruptly, or what is worse, your kid’s life could end. And I know that Vietnamese people do understand that. So I cannot say that this was not expected by us to receive support from the Vietnamese public. It came naturally, and we are grateful for that.

RFA: You mentioned that it seems there has been a propaganda effort in Vietnamese language social media, basically propagating pro-Russia rhetoric. And you may be aware that there has been some conflicts-clashes between the pro and against sides since the war started. So are you aware of this ongoing war of information in Vietnamese social media and how do you feel about it?

Zhinkyna:  Of course I’m aware of that. Just yesterday, I saw a reader taking my picture and totally distorting the words that I say, so I can see how the Russian propaganda machine works here and how much money Russia puts into those efforts, into spreading disinformation and to spreading fake news into transferring their own narratives here. This is to some extent a good point. Let them spend their money on propaganda, but not on new rockets and tanks. But of course, it makes our work here difficult.

This is just an information war…and we are very much grateful for all those members of the Vietnamese public who help us to refute those fakes, to help us spread the truth because their every word of truth about this war and condemnation of the aggressor helps to stop Russia from advancing further into Ukrainian land.