Resignation of Oleksiy Arestovych
When a country goes through a severe crisis and people’s daily lives abruptly and profoundly change, the government needs a spokesperson who can inform and educate the public. The war in Ukraine is one of these cases. Oleksiy Arestovych was chosen for this vital role in the government structure.
Who is Arestovych, and Why Him?
Oleksiy Arestovych has a diverse portfolio that includes performing skills and psychological training. He graduated from the Odesa Military Academy as a military translator, and he has been an army officer.
In 2005, he first entered politics seriously. At the time, he anticipated that Ukraine shouldn’t become a member of the EU and NATO, since it would lose strategically significant objects and be unable to maintain Ukrainian culture. Therefore, Ukraine would lose its independence and become economically and politically reliant on the West. Instead, the government of Ukraine should concentrate on helping its small and medium-sized enterprises expand and create jobs.
As the conflict in Donbas escalated and Russia launched its first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Oleksiy began making television appearances in which he presented as a military specialist. Furthermore, he founded a charity to provide military troops in that area with emotional and mental health services.
In addition to these activities, Oleksiy Arestovych spent time cultivating his online persona by uploading videos to YouTube and expanding his presence on other social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram. There, he would share his thoughts and opinions on the news of the day. He had around 500,000 followers on YouTube after the events of 2014 and now has over 1.6 million.
Due to his military experience, social media activity and clear view of the problems, Oleksiy Arestovych was assigned as the formal spokesman of the Ukrainian mission to the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine at the Minsk negotiations to end the War in Donbas on October 28, 2020. Arestovych was appointed in December of the same year to advise on national security and military communications.
Since Arestovych already predicted in 2019 that Russia might initiate a full invasion of Ukraine between 2022 and 2024, the Ukrainian people initially placed a lot of confidence in him and his expertise.
People were ready to take his word for it, and beginning in February of 2022, Arestovych started giving daily reports on the conflict via his social media accounts. Especially in the first three weeks after the Russian invasion began, when Ukrainian people were suffering from the shock and devastation of both their tangible and intangible losses, hopefulness was what they desperately needed. And Arestovych encouraged this hope. His predictions regarding the outcomes of the war were quite optimistic. Soon, he was confident, the Ukrainian troops would drive the invaders back to their boundaries, and people could unpack their bug-out bags. Because of this, Oleksiy Arestovych's reputation grew. He eventually earned the nickname "public sedative" among Ukrainians. He quickly became everyone's favorite, and Arestovych couldn't have been happier about this image of him.
Arestovych: Fast-Acting Sedative | Source: https://telegraf.com.ua/ukraina/2022-03-11/5698991-ne-lishe-kim-golovniy-psikhoterapevt-ukraini-arestovich-stav-geroem-memiv
Oleksiy Arestovych, speaking with confidence in April 2022, predicted that “active phase” would cease within two to three weeks. Given that no party benefits from ongoing hostilities, the constant bombardment of towns and Russian attempts to capture Ukrainian territory would end. He also added that Ukrainians who fled the country could safely go back home in a couple of months. The remarks made by Arestovych caused a wave of anticipation, but they were ultimately dashed. Later, when Arestovych attempted to explain his statements, he claimed that he had merely discussed Kyiv's hostilities, but his explanation did little to restore his credibility. People began using the spokesman's original pledge of "2-3 weeks" as a mocking way to express doubt or even outright absurdity as the actual timeframe grew and grew.
Reputation of Arestovych deteriorated more, when he, during one of the interviews, referred to Ukrainian culture as "small and insignificant," which sparked another surge of dissatisfaction among the Ukrainian people. The spokesman elaborated by arguing that cutting off all contact with Russian society is not an option. Ukrainians shouldn't completely forbid Russian artists and oppositionists from coming to Ukraine to produce, but instead should be more welcoming and accommodating of their presence. If anything, this would enrich and diversify Ukrainian culture. However, these assertions were in line with those made by Russian propagandists, who often referred to Kyiv as the "capital of Rus." Naturally, this way of thinking incensed the Ukrainian people, who promptly took up arms to defend their nation's sovereignty and heritage, - especially now, when Russia is attempting to destabilise Ukraine and turn it into a puppet state. Arestovych's words were also severely criticized by Ukrainian activists, in addition to the general public. Oleksiy Arestovych responded to the criticism on Facebook in June, writing, “Ukrainian culture impresses and fascinates. Until these activists were not allowed there”.
Activists in Ukraine have long argued that he doesn't deserve to be a Strategic Communication Advisor and that he isn't qualified to represent the country with his pro-Russian attitude. Yet, despite the backlash and calls for his resignation, Andriy Yermak, head of the President's Office, said in an interview in December 2022 that Arestovych is in the proper position and does his work professionally. Moreover, a number of people still believed Oleksiy Arestovych and his military expertise, regardless of the fact that some of the spokesman’s comments were contradictory and didn't reflect the general consensus.
Point of No Return
So what was the point of no return for Arestovych? It was a tragedy that happened on the 14th of January, 2023, when Russians launched a rocket attack on a residential building in Dnipro. Reporters say 46 individuals died, 80 were injured, and 9 are still missing after this attack.Arestovych made a comment about this tragedy in the “Feygin Live” program. A little remark here: Mark Feygin is a former Russian lawyer and activist. According to Arestovych, the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces shot down the missile, which subsequently crashed into a structure and exploded. Russian media caught up on this and began claiming that the disaster in Dnipro was the responsibility of the Ukrainian military for failing to shoot down a rocket properly, and that the Russian military never intentionally targets civilians.
The Ukraine armed forces responded swiftly to this claim, proving it false. They stated that the Ukrainian forces lacked the means to intercept KH-22 missiles - exactly this rocket hit a residential building in Dnipro. After the incident, evidence showed that the shot had been a straight hit. For this reason, many Ukrainians resented Arestovych for his comments, which they saw as aiding Russian propaganda and harming Ukraine.
Arestovych initially expressed regret for his comments, explaining that he hadn't double-checked the details of the tragedy and had been suffering from sleep deprivation. Later, however, he began to dispute that he had ever mentioned the event in Dnipro in question. In the end, he couldn't find a way out of his own head as he tried to make sense of everything. Therefore, ex-public sedative Oleksiy Arestovych formally retired as Strategy Communication Adviser in the Office of the President of Ukraine on January 17th, 2023. In this position such mistakes might have crucial consequences. That false report was the last straw that relegated the once successful man to a resented apologist.