Google Maps responded by temporarily blocking new reviews for sites in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. The reviews system on Maps was not designed to help people communicate about the war in Ukraine, Google told WIRED, adding that it was not possible to ensure high-quality information in this scenario.
These efforts are random and small-scale, the digital equivalent of air-dropping leaflets and hoping the information will make an impact. But people affiliated with the Ukrainian government are trying to chip away at pro-Kremlin propaganda by reaching out to Russians en masse and leveraging two of the country’s most popular platforms, Telegram and YouTube.
On February 27, a website launched called 200rf Look For Yours, which claims to help Russians find out whether their loved ones have been captured or killed in the fighting. The name refers to the Soviet military code word, Cargo-200, used for flying corpses back from Afghanistan in the 1980s. It posts a stream of images showing Russian soldiers dead or in captivity, and then the footage is distributed between YouTube, where the videos of captured Russian soldiers are posted, and a Telegram channel, where the more gruesome pictures end up. The Telegram channel has more than 60,000 subscribers.
The Telegram channel is gory: It shows piles of bodies, men with broken jaws lying dead in the mud. 200rf claims it posts these images because they might contain a detail that could be key to identifying a body back home. “I know that many Russians are worried about how and where their children, sons, husbands are and what is happening to them. So we decided to put this online so that each of you could search for your loved one who Putin sent to fight in Ukraine,” Viktor Andrusiv, an adviser to the Interior Minister, said in a video posted on the 200rf Look For Yours site. It’s unclear whether Andrusiv launched the site independently or on behalf of the Interior Ministry. Neither replied to a request for comment.
“I think it’s a really effective strategy in that it’s not only an appeal to the Russian public, there’s also an appeal to the Russian military, so it’s two for one,” says Edelson. “It’s demoralizing to your opponent’s fighting force to see that, and it is also incredibly demoralizing to their parents and to their friends and family back home.”
But these tactics only work while Russians share parts of the internet with the rest of the world. Tinder, Google Maps, Telegram, and YouTube act as bridges that Russians can use to interact with people who don’t see the same propaganda they do. But the fate of these remaining platforms is uncertain. Since the crisis in Ukraine began, Facebook has been blocked, Twitter has been partially suspended, and TikTok said it would pause livestreaming and video uploads from Russia. With every new announcement, the propaganda wall around Russians grows stronger and becomes less vulnerable to the voices trying to break through.
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