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As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, pounding Ukrainian cities with cluster bombs, and munitions banned for decades by countries around the world, there is a large portion of the world that does not appear to know what is going on; the Russian people themselves. That’s because in Russia, the government isn’t telling them much, and the news media is banned from telling them the truth.

For the past week as the full-scale invasion continues, it is increasingly targeting Ukraine’s civilian population, bombing residential areas, and hitting transportation hubs in urban areas. It is indiscriminate and cruel. It would be unbelievable if it were not for the fact that we of the world are witnessing it. As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy holds fast, journalists continue to report from the war zone that is the entire country of Ukraine. These journalists include brave Ukrainian journalists who are staying put, announcing that “every Ukrainian man and woman are going to give a fight. We are not being ‘liberated.'”

But in Russia, the Russian news media has been instructed by the government that they cannot use the words “war”, “declaration of war,’  invasion”, “assault” or attack” in their coverage of what the Kremlin is calling a “special military operation”. It is, claims the Kremlin an “operation to secure Russian security”. If they have used those words already, they have been ordered to delete their news stories.

In fact, the Russian media regulatory body known as Roskomnadzor has informed news outlets that they are “required to use information received exclusively from official Russian government sources”. Even Google was informed by the Kremlin that they were to “cease publishing disinformation” in Russia about Russia’s military actions.

Russian state-run news organizations in Russia, including Sputnik and RT (Russia Today) are toeing the line and spewing propaganda that is keeping the bulk of the population in the dark. This creates a distorted view of reality, not just for the Russian President Vladimir Putin (we are all beginning to wonder how tethered to reality he is), but for the people themselves.

Russia is justifying its campaign with lies, but not all journalists in Russia are rolling over and obeying. Rather than spout government propaganda, many independent news sources in Russia are simply taking themselves out of the news business. The Independent Russian Radio Network announced this morning that it would simply disband, saying “we refuse to broadcast lies given to us by the government.”

The thing is, Russia doesn’t have the impenetrable media wall that China has. People do use cell phones there. People there do have relatives in Ukraine.  Which makes Putin’s control of traditional outlets all the more urgent.

NPR reported this morning that propaganda by Russia in Europe reached the point yesterday that the European Union (EU) announced a ban on the Kremlin’s media machine. In a statement by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, “the state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union.”

NPR reports that following suit, Facebook, TikTok and Microsoft are cracking down on Kremlin-backed news outlets RT and Sputnik following the European Union’s ban on Russian state media:

“We have received requests from a number of governments and the EU to take further steps in relation to Russian state-controlled media. Given the exceptional nature of the current situation, we will be restricting access to RT and Sputnik across the EU at this time,” said Nick Clegg, President of Global Affairs at Facebook parent Meta.

A spokesperson for TikTok told NPR it was also blocking the two outlets in the EU. The moves mean people using the social media apps in EU countries won’t be able to access pages or content posted by RT and Sputnik.

Truth is a powerful force that when provided, can make people see the real world, and act based on facts rather than prejudices or lies. Which is why the Kremlin leadership is distorting what we know to be the reality in Ukraine.

This is a war not just between democracy and autocracy, but between truth and lies. As horrifying as this is, once again we are provided a global example of one of the key protections of democracy — the critical role of a nation’s heroic leadership and the fact that a free press shines a light on government that is of, by, and for the people – and those governments which are not.

Those who would prefer that news media tell their version of events, whatever those events are, might do well to remember that there is no real substitute for the truth. Truth can be hard, but it is better that we know it. The Russian people deserve the truth too.  Hopefully, the truth will begin to reach Russia too.

Featured image: A high-rise on fire in Kyiv after being bombed by Russian forces. Ukrainian State Communications photo.