Prisma Ukraïna

Yuliia Soroka

People under occupation during the war in Ukraine: media representations, everyday life, and the perspective of postwar conflict transformation

Previous Fellowships: 2022/ 2023

Yuliia Soroka is a sociologist of culture. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology, and is Professor of Sociology at the N.V. Karazin Kharkiv National University (Ukraine) and a senior researcher in the Human Geography Unit of the Department of Geosciences at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). Her research considers symbolic spaces of Ukrainian society in different empirical fields. Previously, she looked at new independent media from the middle of 1990s, post-Soviet sociocultural transformations, social attitudes toward material wealth, the past, and the recognition of heroes, popular culture and films, and changes in urban symbolic space (i.e. toponyms), among other things. Currently, she focuses on culture and power relations. She asks, how does culture ‘work’ in the reproduction of power relationships in society? She has already empirically applied and justified the concept of ‘cultural mechanisms of power’ in prior research, including that on discourses on Muslims in Ukrainian media, social theater, hate speech, dialog, collective identities in pro-Euromaidan discourses, hostility towards internally displaced persons (IDPs), and standing greeting rituals. Located in Fribourg, Switzerland, Yuliia Soroka has been a member of the War, Migration, Memory research group since 2022. In 2024-25, she is a Prisma Ukraïna fellow of the Gerda Henkel Foundation.


People under occupation during the war in Ukraine: media representations, everyday life, and the perspective of postwar conflict transformation

In her ongoing project, Yuliia Soroka investigates how individuals under occupation are portrayed in media during times of war. As a sociologist of culture, she delves into the symbolic dimension of Ukrainian society, particularly through media representations. Her exploration unfolds in two aspects: firstly, as a means of preserving Ukrainian society amidst wartime material devastation and shifts in values; and secondly, as a realm for shaping new images of Ukrainian society marked by war-induced disparities. Her forthcoming study focuses on the discourse of individuals in occupied territories, leveraging her previous research experience with social groups in Ukrainian society that face limitations in self-expression.

Her theoretical foundation for examining discourse in occupied regions adopts a critical perspective and encompasses various post-structuralist concepts, including Michel Foucault's power and discourse, Pierre Bourdieu's symbolic space and symbolic power, and Roland Barthes' notion of naturalization as a function of myth. An important objective is to expand this theoretical base into the realm of postcolonial criticism, particularly concerning media representation of those under occupation.

Her research methodology merges D. Loseke's formula story (data analysis) with Laclau and Mouffe's discourse analysis (data collection). The data collection strategy involves compiling media messages about people under occupation, those within occupied territories, and individuals liberated from such areas during and after military operations. These sources encompass Ukrainian, international, and Russian media outlets, along with official speeches by Ukrainian state and government representatives, international organizations, and Russian authorities.

In the subsequent phase, the amassed data undergoes multifaceted analysis to explore perceptions within vulnerable and marginalized groups. The research then delves into the broader conceptualization of “people under occupation” across a range of social science domains. This inquiry extends to disciplines such as interpretative sociology, critical theory (including post-Marxist, feminist, and post-structuralist perspectives), sociology of culture, cultural power dynamics, political science, civic identities, and the realm of liminal geography.

Giving a Voice to People under Occupation: Media Representations of War in Ukraine

The project analyzes Ukrainian media discourses about occupied Ukrainian territory and people under occupation during the full-scale Russian aggression, which began on 24 February 2022. Specifically, it looks at residents of the occupied territories – Ukrainian citizens and those part of Ukrainian society – who survived the capture of their regions by enemy forces, yet lost (entirely or partially) access to life support resources and information, as well as jobs, property, and a safe space for existence. Although they are technically under the protection of international law, these people are now threatened with various forms of oppression and violence from the occupying authorities. This research asks: How does the media represent people under occupation? Do such representations correspond to the interests and experiences of this group? Which aspects of their social position does the media discourse hide, and which does it construct? And what kind of perception of the rest of society does this discourse cause? The project will collect data from open media resources. Methodologically, it combines Donileen Loseke’s idea of the ‘formula story’ and Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s ‘discourse analysis’.