People around the world try to break through censorship to reach Russians

Volunteers around the world are reaching out to Russian citizens in unusual ways, trying to break through the Kremlin’s censorship over the war in Ukraine.

One cyber security expert who calls himself Jan says a website he set up to reach random people in Russia has placed him in the Kremlin’s crosshairs. People around the world have clicked on the website more than 50 million times, sending pre-drafted messages about the war in Ukraine, such as: “Putin is attacking cities and helpless people. He’s lying.”

“We want to start a peaceful dialogue,” Jan told CBS News’ Roxana Saberi. “They [people in Russia] cannot obtain the truth about the war in Ukraine.”

In Russia, the government has essentially criminalized the spread of information opposing its own narrative on the war. Most independent media have shut down. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are blocked.

During the Cold War, the U.S. used to crack the Kremlin’s wall of censorship with radio programs and anti-communist leaflets carried in balloons.

Today’s grassroots efforts are more advanced. A website “Call Russia” randomly generates 40 million numbers inside Russia, so volunteers can make calls.

“Most … people don’t want to learn the truth. But people still are humans. You know, no one is OK with massive amounts of people dying,” co-creator of Call Russia, Paulius Senuta, said.

Senuta and other campaigners says they’ll keep reaching out to Russians to share the realities of the war in the hope that eventually, they will help end it.

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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