Criticism of Ukraine war spreads on Russian social media as loved ones die
Online posts condemning the loss of Russian soldiers and criticising the Ukraine war are being 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 the accounts of real Russian citizens on VKontakte (VK), a platform similar to Facebook.
"This f****** war took another person dear to me... Well, for what!!??," wrote one angry young woman mourning her late partner.
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She also posted a photo of the two of them with wide smiles for the camera and with her sitting in his lap. Her arm is draped over his shoulders and he is cuddling her close.
Others post similar messages.
Another grieving woman wrote: "Now you will be an eternally young twenty-two-year-old boy with sparkling blue eyes and a bright smile [but] this damn war has wiped your face off the earth."
One user called for the war to end, branding it a "meat grinder" in an apparent reference to the large number of lives it has claimed. Another wrote: "These men died a terrible death."
These comments were posted on pages set up to memorialise the men who have died fighting in Ukraine.
But Sky News also found a number of similar posts on community pages. Previous discussions on these local pages focused on the weather, crime rates and road repairs but now include messages paying tribute to soldiers who died.
One such recent post reported the deaths of six men from Vologda, a city in northwest Russia.
"Stop the war!!!!!," reads one brazen comment underneath it. Another argues "why shouldn't the Armed Forces of Ukraine defend their house when it was attacked?" on the same post.
These people are taking a risk by posting publicly as VK is monitored for comments that are not allowed.
Users know this, with some of the community pages on VK pointing readers to their encrypted Telegram channels. One such page wrote: "Only there we publish uncensored news that are not available on VK."
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 will often also attack the person who posted the anti-war message by insulting them, for example calling them "scum".
These negative comments are scattered among other posts, the overwhelming majority of which praise the dead men. The late soldiers are lauded as war heroes and users send condolences to the loved ones of those who lost their lives.
"Thanks to such soldiers, the country can sleep peacefully," is one typical post.
Praise for Russia's actions in Ukraine is widespread on VK as well as on other platforms.
TikTok is hugely popular and videos glorifying Russia, Putin and the war are clocking up millions of views.
One clip showing a segment of a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin put to uplifting music has been viewed more than 1.7 million times. In it, he tells a huge crowd that Russia will win against Ukraine.
Another clip, viewed more than 2.1 million times, is an animation showing Russia expanding to take over the entirety of Ukraine. It is posted with a caption that this is what would happen if Russia unleashed its full force on the country.
The war began almost one year ago, with Russia suffering heavy losses. Around 200,000 Russian troops have been injured or killed during the Ukraine war, according to US estimates. Moscow says its losses are much lower.
The war has brought with it new censorship laws in Russia, including a ban on the word "war". The fighting in Ukraine is referred to as a "special military operation".
This censorship has teeth. Earlier this month, Russian journalist Maria Ponomarenko was sentenced to six years, becoming the first journalist imprisoned under the new censorship laws. Her trial had been triggered by a negative social media comment she posted about the war.
OVD-Info monitors human rights in Russia and reports that at least 440 people have been recorded as "suspects and convicts in anti-war criminal cases" and that more than 19,000 people have been detained at anti-war protests since 24 February 2022, according to its website.
Sky News has decided not to share the names of those posting critical messages in this article over safety concerns.
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