Illustration: Boris Khmelny / Mediazona
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, new words and phrases have found their way into the Russian vernacular. Not merely serving as tools for describing a new Russian reality, they have become a means of replacing reality with politically correct and safe fictions for those in power. Mediazona has been recording these words and phrases since the launch of the invasion on February 24 in order to decipher the true meanings behind Putin’s speeches and the Ministry of Defense’s reports.
This dictionary not only cracks open the newspeak of Russian officialdom but also includes words and phrases from the counter-culture, which are essential to understanding Russia as it exists today.
Anglo-Saxons (Англосаксы). A term used to refer to the imagined community of English-speaking countries, often demonized by Russian propaganda. Historically, it refers to two Germanic peoples from southern England that were conquered and assimilated by the Normans after the invasion of 1066.
Anti-Russia (Анти-Россия). A likely descendent of “Anti-Soviet”, a term originating from a propaganda vocabulary with an updated subject. Ahead of the invasion of Ukraine, Putin frequently used the term to describe Ukraine as “anti-Russia,” most notably in his pseudo-scientific article on “the historical unity of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples” published in the summer of 2021.
Anti-Russian Enclave (Антироссийский анклав). An acknowledged territorial entity mentioned by Putin at a summit in Kaliningrad on September 1. The Russian president stated that the “liquidation of the enclave” was the goal of Russia’s “special military operation,” which contradicted his earlier statement on February 24 that the separatist republics of the Donbas “asked for help from Russia,” and the goal of the offensive was to protect residents there.
Artificial obstacles to payments in foreign currency (Искусственные препятствия для платежей в валюте). Sovereign default.
Babushka Z (Бабушка с советским флагом). An elderly woman from the Kharkiv region of Ukraine who gained overnight fame after mistakenly greeting incoming Ukrainian soldiers with a Soviet flag. At the beginning of the war, her image became a propaganda tool to justify the Russian invasion. Later, the woman clarified that she had simply confused Ukrainian soldiers with Russians. After this revelation, vandals targeted sculptures and murals dedicated to “Babushka Z” in at least two provincial Russian cities.
Banderites (Бандеровцы). Ukrainian nationalists who consider Stepan Bandera their hero. The term is often mispronounced by Russian officials who are all too eager to denounce “benderovtsy” or even “binderovtsy,” a possible influence of the Soviet-era film “The Golden Calf” and its charming protagonist, Ostap Bender (completely unrelated to Bandera).
Bavovna (Бавовна). A term that Ukrainians use to describe explosions on Russian territory, which become more frequent shortly after the start of the war. Originally, the Ukrainian word for cotton, it is now used to ridicule the “pops” (in Russian, cotton and pop are homonyms, khlopok), a peculiarly meek term used that Russian official media employ to refer to explosions in order to downplay their significance.
Smoke Spread (Задымление). A large, potentially high-risk fire. The term used by Russian official media to downplay the threats presented by fires existed before the war, but it gained renewed popularity with the beginning of the conflict.
Canceling Russian Culture (Отмена русской культуры). Refers to the cancellation of concerts by Russian artists who publicly support the war outside of Russia. Importantly though, cancellations of concerts by anti-war artists in Russia are never considered “canceling Russian culture.”
China’s Final Warning (Последнее китайское предупреждение). A Soviet-era idiom that propagandist Margarita Simonyan of RT infamy often uses at random on her Telegram channel when describing an approaching threat. However, as the phrase actually refers to a fruitless warning, none of those threats are followed by action.
CIPSO (ЦИПсО) Initially, this referred to the Center for Information and Psychological Operations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. According to Russian news, this is the origin point of phone scammers calling Russian citizens. Additionally, the center’s employees apparently organize rallies and “spread panic and protest sentiments” across Russia. Now it is used to explain any unconfirmed information, usually not very plausible, but accepted as such based on belief. See “Copium.”
The Collective West (Коллективный Запад). An expression common among the Russian elites, referring to a villainous coalition of western countries that is “stepping up efforts to contain Russia.” According to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, this group of countries includes the “USA and its satellites.”
Confidence in Tomorrow (Уверенность в завтрашнем дне). Refers to something that residents of the occupied territories in Ukraine, according to Russian state media, should expect to acquire with the invasion.
Copium (Копиум). A combination of the English words “cope” and “opium,” describing an imaginary opiate that helps one hold on under difficult circumstances. A “copium” is, in other words, a forced attempt to justify a serious failure instead of admitting defeat. The term, originally prevalent in online gaming communities, entered the wider vernacular in wartime to describe certain “unrecognized” failures.
Cotton (Хлопoк). An explosion. See Bavovna above.
Decision-making centers (Центры принятия решений). No one really knows what these are. But Russian officials and media personalities keep making threats and demands to “strike the decision-making centers” in Ukraine. The missiles then hit targets like civilian houses and factories. There is no particular certainty about where those centers would be located, in Kyiv or Washington.
Demilitarization (Демилитаризация). Same as denazification. One of the stated goals of the “special military operation.”
Denazification (Денацификация). Same as demilitarization. One of the stated goals of the “special military operation.”
De-Ukrainization (Деукраинизация). Further evolution of demilitarization and denazification.
Desatanization (Десатанизация). Occasionally used used in place of denazification and demilitarization but failed to catch on.
Dirty Bomb (Грязная бомба). In October and November, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned his Western counterparts that Ukraine was preparing to use a “dirty bomb” to accuse Russia of using nuclear weapons. However, later on, all mention of the “dirty bomb” disappeared from official rhetoric and we are unlikely to learn what it meant.
Echeloned defense (Эшелонированная оборона). Defensive structures made of concrete blocks in the occupied regions of Ukraine and the border regions of Russia.
Economic Perestroika (Перестройка экономики). Refers to Russia’s efforts to persist under Western sanctions.
Economic war against Russia (Экономическая война против России). Sanctions.
Evader (Уклонист). Someone who consistently avoids registering for the army service in Russia. On September 24, amendments to the Russian Criminal Code toughened repercussions for evading the army, desertion, and damage and destruction of weapons.
“Exalted, bloody clowns” (Экзальтированные, кровавые клоуны). The term Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council and former President and Prime Minister, uses to describe enemies of Russia, for whom one day “Judgment Day will come at once.”
Extrication (Высвобождение). Layoffs in the creative industries affecting not only employees but also the buildings that can be “extricated from visual art.” Not to be confused with “liberation” (освобождение).
Fake news [about the Russian army] (Фейки о российской армии). Refers to the phenomenon of “public dissemination of false information about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” i.e. posting anything contradicting Russian MoD’s position, now punishable by jail time in Russia.
Fascism (Фашизм). In Russian propaganda, it is a catch-all word that often refers to everything except, well, fascism, a regime opposed to liberalism, built on revanchism, the cult of personality and the unlimited power of the state.
Filtration (Фильтрация). The process of inspecting and interrogating Ukrainian citizens who seek to leave the occupied territories, which is often accompanied by torture.
Forced Re-Registration (Принудительная перерегистрация). Refers to theft of passenger aircraft located in Russia at the outbreak of the war from foreign leasing companies.
Foreign Agent (Иностранный агент). A person or an organization engaged in something extremely inconvenient to the authorities, or simply someone who opposes the war.
Fulfilling duties (Выполнять задачи). A euphemism referring to the act of fighting, indirectly participating in hostilities or who knows what. The term is often used in reports of the Ministry of Defense and obituaries of servicemen killed in Ukraine.
Goida-a-a-a-a! (Гойда-а-а-а-а!). According to Ivan Okhlobystin, an actor turned hyper-conservative pundit, this is an “old Russian interjection”, a battle cry of sorts. He used it in his colorful speech at a concert in honor of the annexation of the occupied Ukrainian territories in September. The stunt was most likely inspired by Vladimir Sorokin’s novel “The Day of the Oprichnik” that mocks a grotesquely conservative version of a future Russia.
A goodwill gesture (Жест доброй воли). The official spin term to decribe the retreat of Russian troops from Snake island in early summer after the destruction of the cruiser “Moskva” by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Grandpa in a bunker (Бункерный дед). A nickname that stuck with Putin during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia. After the start of the war in Ukraine, the name was revitalized as a reference to Putin’s alleged network of secret bunkers. It implies his incompetence due to deliberate isolation and his habit of avoiding solving obvious problems. In a parallel effort, Russian propaganda often imagines Zelensky in his “bunker” because he is supposed to either hide in some kind of dungeon or record his video messages from the safety of Poland.
The hero’s desk (Парта героя). Furniture with portraits of “Heroes of Russia” that Putin’s United Russia party installs in schools where deceased servicemembers studied. Later, convicts enlisted to fight for Wagner PMC were commemorated this way as well.
High-precision strikes (Высокоточные удары) According to the Ministry of Defense, this is what the Russian army is using to hit military facilities in Ukraine (residential infrastructure and civilian deaths don’t count).
Hybrid conflict (Гибридный конфликт). The interaction of various methods of military confrontation, from military operations to covert sabotage and psychological warfare. Lessons of the same name are conducted in Russian schools, colleges, and correctional colonies.
Import substitution (Импортозамещение). Attempts to replace Western goods with domestic Russian designs. However, this often involves merely pasting Russian branding over Chinese or covering goods with logos from AliExpress, a Chinese online retail store.
“Important conversations” («Разговоры о важном»). Classes in Russian schools, where children are told about the war in Ukraine and threatened with expulsion for skipping.
An incident unrelated to the special military operation (Инцидент, не связанный со специальной военной операцией). A phrase that the authorities of Russian regions bordering Ukraine used in the spring to calm the local population in the event of any emergency. Outdated.
Ingria (Ингрия). A historical region in northern Russia where St. Petersburg is located. Most prominently mentioned by Oxxxymiron, the preeminent Russian rapper, in his anti-war track “Oida” proclaiming that Ingria “will be free.”
Junta (Хунта). Russian official characterization of the government in Ukraine following the flight from Kyiv of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych in early 2014.
Juvenile justice (Ювенальная юстиция). An idea haunting the mind of Russian politician Yelena Mizulina, something referring to a system of institutions and bodies overprotecting the rights of minors, obviously nonexistent.
Leaving for Sochi (Уехать в Сочи). Escape from the war. Russian abbreviation SOCh stands for “unauthorized abandonment of a [military] unit,” recently gained new prominence.
Liberation (Освобождение). Capture of any settlement in Ukraine.
Mobile crematorium (Мобильный крематорий). Trucks equipped with ovens for the body cremation. Since 2015, Russia has been accused of using them on Ukrainian territory. In April 2022, the mayor of Mariupol Vadim Boychenko claimed that residents of the besieged city who died from shelling were being cremated in these devices.
“No war!” («Нет войне!»). The most common anti-war cry of the past twelve months.
Nuclear terror (Ядерный террор). Frequently used in mutual accusations by the Russian and Ukrainian sides when it comes to the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station.
Parallel import (Параллельный импорт). Actions ranging from “gray” importing (the import of goods into the country without the consent of the manufacturer) to outright smuggling.
Partial mobilization (Частичная мобилизация). Massive draft campaign to enlist adult Russian men to war, announced by Putin on September 21. Contrary to initial promises, the mobilization has not been formally concluded yet.
Planned regrouping of troops (Плановая перегруппировка войск). The retreat of Russian troops. The phrasing was used by the Russian-appointed heads of the occupied territories and the Ministry of Defense when withdrawing troops from the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. Retreating from Kyiv and Chernihiv regions at the end of March was characterized by the Ministry of Defense as “reduction of hostilities.” See “A goodwill gesture” above.
Provocation (Провокация). Literally anything.
Public dissemination of false information about the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (Публичное распространение ложной информации о Вооруженных силах Российской Федерации). A criminal offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Any statement that is at odds with the reports of the Ministry of Defense can be prosecuted under this article. The most senstive use case involves mentions of murders in Bucha.
Respected partners (Уважаемые партнеры). A slightly more polite term for “unfriendly countries” and “the collective West.” Before the war, Putin often used this phrase, but now it is used sarcastically by his supporters.
Risks of non-payment to the final recipients (Риски недохода платежа до конечных получателей). Sovereign default.
Russophobia (Русофобия). Almost anything. Used to to explain why “unfriendly countries” do not support the “special military operation.”
Shaman (Шаман). Yaroslav Dronov, a 31-year-old singer who became famous during the invasion with his unapologetically jingoistic anthems “I am Russian” and “We Stand Up.” The latter is played at military funerals and military-themed ceremonies.
Shift to the right (Сдвинуть вправо). A term used to describe postponing, canceling, or failing to complete a previously announced project.
Shifting deadlines (Смещение сроков). The same as “Shift to the Right.”
Simplified Car Models (Упрощенные модели автомобилей). AvtoVAZ announced the production of cars with a “reduced list of equipment” in August. Earlier, the Russian government allowed the production of cars without an anti-lock system, electronic vehicle stability system, or airbags.
Simplified output (Выведен в простой). A covert form of unemployment, which is the first stage of “extrication.”
Special military operation (Специальная военная операция). War.
Stated for extrication (Заявлены к высвобождению). To be fired.
Sweeps (Зачистки). A term used to describe deliberate crimes committed by Russian troops against civilians during the capture of Ukrainian territories. The term has been known since the war in Chechnya.
Territorial integrity (Территориальная целостность). Something that cannot be legally challenged in Russia, and Putin threatens to “use all available means” to defend it.
TikTok-troops (Тикток-войска). A mocking nickname given to Chechen fighters in Ukraine. Ukrainian sources claimed that most of the videos published on Ramzan Kadyrov’s TikTok and Telegram channel about the siege of Mariupol were actually staged.
Ukrainian nationalists (Украинские националисты). People opposing the Russian invasion with weapons in their hands, but also civilians dissatisfied with the occupation. They usually appear in reports from the Ministry of Defense. A year into the invasion, Russia still cannot admit that it is fighting against the country and the army, not the “junta” and nationalist “gangs.”
Untrodden horizons of leadership (Неизбитые горизонты лидерства). Russian reorientation towards domestic producers due to Western sanctions.
Unfriendly countries (Недружественные страны). All countries that do not support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
V. Latin-script letter painted on Russian military vehicles during the invasion of Ukraine. Means nothing, same as Z.
Verkhny Lars (Верхний Ларс). The only checkpoint on the border of Russia and Georgia, where long miles of traffic jams formed after the announcement of Russia’s “partial mobilization” in September. A meme about those who managed to cross the border designated them as “Verkhny Lars Veterans.”
War correspondents (Военкоры), also milbloggers. Reporters for state news channels whose profession, according to Russian propaganda, is “no less dangerous than the work of soldiers,” with their goal being “to arouse hatred of the enemy.”
Washington Party Committee (Вашингтонский обком). An ironic expression from the late 1980s used in earnest by conspiracy theorists these days. It implies a kind of behind-the-scenes decision-making center that controls the whole world. In American conspiracy culture, the analogue would be the “Deep State.”
Young Alyosha (Мальчик Алeша). An eight-year-old boy from the Belgorod region who became famous after a video of him chasing and waving at passing Russian military vehicles went viral on Telegram. As a result, he was featured in news stories, a special chocolate was named after him, and he was accepted into the “Youth Army” (see below). The Russian Federation Council even gave him and his brother awards for providing moral support to Russian soldiers. He later disappeared from the public eye.
The Youth Army (Юнармия). The youth paramilitary unit devised by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Its purpose is to provide children and teenagers with military training and patriotic education. In 2022, children stood guard of honor at funerals of those killed in the “special military operation.”
Z. A Latin-script letter painted on Russian military vehicles during the invasion of Ukraine. Means nothing, same as V.
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