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As Russian forces lay siege to Ukrainian cities and shell sites throughout the country, Russians to the north are largely unaware of how severe the war has become due to rampant censorship and misinformation, according to a Russian-born U.S. citizen who now lives in Texas.
Putin has cracked down on dissenting voices who don’t toe the Kremlin’s line, blocking foreign social media platforms in the country and shutting down independent news outlets.
As a result, normal Russians are being fed a warped view of the Ukrainian invasion, which Russian authorities insist must be called a “special military operation” under threat of up to 15 years in prison.
“Russians don’t understand the whole severity of the situation. I’m looking at their social media and stuff they’re posting, it’s almost like the war is not happening,” Vadim Ismakaev, who was born in Omsk, Russia, and moved to the U.S. when he was 18-years-old, told Fox News Digital.
“They’re going about their lives, they’re posting pictures from restaurants and all those things that, to me, is kind of bewildering, because of the severity of everything that is going on. But that’s the reality, for so many people, the war doesn’t exist.”
Putin and Russian intelligence agencies are infamous for their ruthless information warfare tactics, which were on full display during the Russia-Georgia war in 2008, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“This whole information strategy that Russia has been implementing now for many years — it’s doing its job and it goes to show you just how dangerous something like this is,” Ismakaev said, noting that he still maintains close contact with friends and family back home in Russia. “Even when something is so black and white, it’s still possible to make a large chunk of the population be either indifferent or be on the wrong side of the story.”
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As fierce resistance from Ukrainian soldiers appeared to slow down the Russians’ advance, authorities to the north decided to step things up.
“[Russians] went ahead and just figured, ‘Let’s ban any potential source of truth out there and let’s make sure that it’s going to be heavily penalized,’” Ismakaev said. “The divide keeps on growing in how the general Russian population sees the war and how the rest of the world sees the war.”
Russia’s state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor cut access to several foreign news outlets last week, including the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Voice of America. Russians can also no longer access several social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Soon millions of ordinary Russians will find themselves cut off from reliable information, deprived of their everyday ways of connecting with family and friends and silenced from speaking out,” Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs at Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said last week.
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Some Russians have taken to the streets to protest Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but Ismakaev said it would take more coordinated efforts and awareness to make a difference.
“If you think about Moscow, a city of almost 20 million people – how many people went out to protest? It’s a very small number,” he said.
While Russians have been cut off from any information that isn’t pre-approved by state media, harsh sanctions coordinated by the U.S. and Europe are already hitting everyday Russians.
“This war is terrible tragedy — it already forever changed the world,” Ismakaev, whose girlfriend is Ukrainian, said Monday.
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“At the same time, while we all are well aware about the tragedy that’s happening in Ukraine, we need to understand that there is a whole other tragedy happening in Russia as well with a lot of people who are actually against the war,” he said. “The economy is crumbling. The regular state of things is no longer there. People are still processing what exactly that new reality is going to look like.”