Russia blocks animal care and Sudoku websites over anti-war messages

  • Russia has cracked down on reports of the war in Ukraine that contradict state propaganda.
  • Investigation found that Russia blocked 300 peripheral websites hosting identical blocks of text about the war.
  • These websites include a pet care site, a scary story blog, and a tattoo parlor website.

Russia is wiping incredibly obscure parts of the internet in its efforts to prevent its citizens from viewing information about… Russian invasion of Ukrainenew research suggests.

Data collected by digital rights and privacy group Top10VPN and shared with Insider showed that Russia blocks hundreds of small websites. These include a pet care site, a short horror story blog, and a tattoo parlor website.

Russia has cracked down on messages that contradict the propaganda line that the invasion of Ukraine is nothing more than a ‘special military operation’.

Blocking these niche sites shows how the Russian state is attacking even the most peripheral parts of the internet to control information about the war.

Top10VPN found that many of the niche sites blocked by Russia contained the same piece of Russian-language text that was trying to educate readers about the war in Ukraine.

Samuel Woodhams, a researcher at Top10VPN, told Insider that he found about 300 sites with the same text about the war. He found that they had been blocked by Russia by searching a publicly available list of blocked websites from the Russian prosecutor’s office.

The pet care site, the horror story blog, and the tattoo parlor website all have the same text.

It begins: “Russia has attacked Ukraine! We Ukrainians hope you already know this. For the sake of your children and some hope of light at the end of this hell – please read our letter,” reads an automated translation . provided to Insider by Woodhams.

Woodhams said the text was often tucked away in hard-to-find resource pages on these websites.

It goes further in direct contradiction to Russian state propaganda, including Putin’s statement that Russia “denazifies” Ukraine

“While it is unclear who is responsible for spreading this message, it is clear that efforts are being made to reach Russian citizens and [Russia’s] huge censorship device,” Woodhams told Insider.

“While these obscure websites are unlikely to have huge reach, the numbers are strong and with so many affected domains, it’s likely some have evaded the Russian censorship apparatus,” he said.

Woodhams found other blocked websites, including a sudoku website, which also contained information about the war in Ukraine.

Sites are also blocked in other ways and refer to the conflict. “For example, sports websites are often blocked from interviewing a football player who speaks out about the conflict,” Woodhams says.

Russia has already blocked mainstream online platforms and sites, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Since the start of the invasion, 960 news domains have been blocked in Russia Top10VPN

On April 24, Russia also blocked chess.comwhat had publicly declared his condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine on February 26.

Chess.com said in a statement that his apps continued to function even though the website was blocked.

“We are happy to encourage our Russian members to continue using our site with our apps or one of the many excellent


VPN

services that are so essential in Russia,” it said.

There was a strong rise in Russian demand for virtual private networks (VPNs), after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. VPNs give users access to information that is otherwise blocked in their country.

After the invasion, Ukrainians and activists found ingenious ways to circumvent Russian internet censorship.

Some posted Google reviews of restaurants and locations with posts about Ukraine, leading to: Google blocks such reviews in Russia beginning of March.

Ukrainian advertising professionals have formed a volunteer group to target Russian internet users with ads exposing misinformation about the invasion, Insider’s Lara O’Reilly reported in March.

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