Crisis of Truth: “No one is bombing Kyiv.”
“I didn’t want to scare my mother, but I started telling her directly that civilians and children are dying.”
Televised scenes of the ongoing war in Ukraine are hard to watch. Reports from CNN, the BBC, and major news networks are documenting daily Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian cities, mounting civilian deaths, and the desperate exodus of over 2 million mothers and children.
Americans assume that these reports must be sparking widespread public outrage in Russia. But this assumption is wrong. Putin’s propaganda machine is successfully inundating the Russian public with a very different narrative about their army’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. For example, Russians are being told that a bloodied and bandaged Ukrainian woman who survived a bombing of her apartment is actually a “crisis actor.” State media repeatedly insist that the Russian military does not attack civilians. Instead, it carefully “ targets Ukraine’s military infrastructure with high-precision weapons.”
The Russian propaganda machine is creating an alternate reality in which the invasion is justified and Ukrainian “Nazis” are to blame for the violence. About 11 million Russians have relatives living in Ukraine. Desperate Ukrainian children are attempting to convey the truth to their parents. For example, a 25-year-old Ukrainian woman named Oleksandra reported this conversation with her mother who is in Moscow:
“I didn’t want to scare my mother, but I started telling her directly that civilians and children are dying. But even though she worries about me, she still insists it probably only happens by accident. The Russian army would never target civilians…Russians came to liberate you. They won’t ruin anything, They won’t touch you. They’re only targeting military bases.”
Oleksandra’s distressing experience is common. Even videos from heavily bombed neighborhoods have been unable to convince skeptical Russian parents and relatives who repeat the state line: “No one is bombing Kyiv.”
The Putin regime is successfully denying its citizens access to independent news reports. Putin recently signed a new law mandating up to 15 years in prison for any coverage the state deems “false information” about the military campaign in Ukraine. Denied access to the truth, Russians live in a fantasyland of lies.
The crisis of truth in Russia provides a cautionary tale for America. The statesmen who wrote our Constitution understood the importance of a free press to encourage discussion, independent thought, and dissent. There is a story that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. Franklin’s answered: “A republic, if you can keep it.” Franklin’s admonishment is still true. Democracies are dependent upon the free flow of ideas and information.
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