Criticism of war in Ukraine spreads on Russian social media as loved ones die | world news

Calls for an end to the war and questions about its goals appear in the messages left by online commentators, including mourning Russian soldiers who will not return home.

By Sanya Burgess, Digital Investigations Journalist @sanyaburgess

Monday, February 20, 2023 6:47 PM, UK

Online posts condemning the loss of Russian soldiers and criticizing the war in Ukraine are published on one of Russia’s most popular social media sites, despite the country’s tough stance on dissent.

The posts are written in Russian and appear to come from real Russian citizens’ accounts on VKontakte (VK), a Facebook-like platform.

“This damn war has taken another person that I care deeply about… Well for what!!??” wrote an angry young woman grieving for her late partner.

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She also posted a photo of the two with big smiles for the camera and with her on his lap. Her arm is over his shoulders and he hugs her tightly.

Image: The couple hugs tightly in the photo the woman shared

Others post similar messages.

Another grieving woman wrote: “Now you will be a forever young 22 year old boy with bright blue eyes and a bright smile [but] this damn war wiped your face off the face of the earth.”

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One user called for an end to the war, branding it a “meat grinder” in an apparent reference to the large number of lives it has claimed. Another wrote: “These men died horrible deaths.”

These comments were published on pages set up to commemorate the men who died fighting in Ukraine.

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But Sky News also found a number of similar posts on community sites. Previous discussions on these local sites have focused on the weather, crime rates and road repairs, but now they also include messages paying tribute to fallen soldiers.

One such recent post reported the deaths of six men from Vologda, a city in northwestern Russia.

“Stop the war!!!!!” is a brazen comment below. Another argues, “Why shouldn’t the armed forces of Ukraine defend their home if it was attacked?” on the same post.

These people are taking a risk by posting publicly as VK is monitored for comments that aren’t allowed.

Users know this because some of the community pages on VK refer readers to their encrypted Telegram channels. One such page wrote: “Only there we publish uncensored news that is not available on VK.”

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Other users also play a role in shutting down these types of critical comments. Some will argue against the angry posts and threaten to report the comments to the moderators. These users also often attack the person who posted the anti-war message by insulting them, such as calling them “scum”.

These negative comments are scattered throughout other posts, the overwhelming majority of which are praising the dead. The deceased soldiers are celebrated as war heroes and users express their condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.

“Thanks to such soldiers, the country can sleep peacefully,” reads a typical post.

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Praise for Russia’s actions in Ukraine is widespread on both VK and other platforms.

TikTok is very popular and videos glorifying Russia, Putin and the war are viewed by millions.

A clip showing an excerpt of a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin with uplifting music has been viewed more than 1.7 million times. In it he tells a huge crowd that Russia will win against Ukraine.

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Another clip that has been viewed more than 2.1 million times is an animation showing Russia expanding to take over all of Ukraine. It is posted with a caption that this would happen if Russia unleashed its full force on the country.

The war started almost a year ago, Russia suffered heavy losses. According to US estimates, around 200,000 Russian soldiers were injured or killed in the Ukraine war. Moscow says its casualties are much lighter.

The war has brought new censorship laws in Russia, including a ban on the word “war”. The fighting in Ukraine is described as a “military special operation”.

This censorship has teeth. Earlier this month, Russian journalist Maria Ponomarenko was sentenced to six years in prison, becoming the first journalist to be jailed under the new censorship laws. Her trial had been sparked by a negative comment she posted on social media about the war.

OVD-Info monitors human rights in Russia and reports that as of February 24, 2022, at least 440 people have been recorded as “suspects and convicts in anti-war criminal cases” and more than 19,000 people have been arrested in anti-war protests, according to its website.

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Sky News has decided not to share the names of those posting critical messages in this article over security concerns.

The Data and Forensics Team is a multi-skilled entity dedicated to providing transparent Sky News journalism. We collect, analyze and visualize data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite imagery, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling, we want to better explain the world while showing how our journalism is done.

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