ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports on the fight to keep Russian citizens informed about the horrors of the Ukraine war
It was Napoleon Bonaparte who said war is 90% information. And while the French emperor was mistaken to think he could successfully invade Russia, he was right about that. Over 200 years later, Moscow’s determination to control the narrative inside Russia is chilling. The Kremlin has been tightening restrictions around reporting for at least a decade, but the devastating invasion of Ukraine has been accompanied by an onslaught of propaganda.
With even a mention of the word “war” enough to earn dissident voices 15 years in prison, accurate journalism from within Russia has become all but impossible.
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Independent radio and television stations like Rain TV have been taken off air, leaving the Russian public ever more reliant on state-owned television channels, which despite all the horrifying evidence, insist Ukrainian civilians aren’t being targeted. Facebook and Twitter have already been effectively banned in Russia and now Moscow has begun the process of classifying Meta - the tech giant that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp - as an extremist organisation. All of this making it harder by the hour for Russians to access any information that isn't controlled by the Kremlin. But independently-minded journalists aren’t giving up. Meduza is an independent news service run by Russian reporters that was set up in neighbouring Latvia eight years ago. Since then, its provided a lifeline for many people inside Russia seeking news they can trust.
Last Thursday, its website saw record traffic; by the following day it had been blocked inside Russia by Moscow. But enterprising Russians are still managing to access Meduza’s output. Some get its newsletters sent to their emails. Others use VPN’s, a service which helps you stay private online, to circumvent the ban. But secure VPN’s cost money to use - and the recent sanctions which stop Russian credit cards working mean many users are no longer able to access Meduza.
Nor can they make donations to the news service, which since being branded a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin, has relied on crowdfunding to survive.
Meduza is appealing to European and American supporters to step in. At least in its Latvian home, another country that shares a border with Russia and knows what it means to be occupied by Soviet forces, there is nothing Moscow can do to control the narrative. On the doorstep of the Russian embassy a giant banner has been hung depicting Vladimir Putin’s death mask. Motorists honk their horns in anger as they pass it, on a stretch of road that's just been renamed Ukrainian Independence Street. The information war is being fought here, outside of Russia, to prevent Putin’s view from prevailing within it.