After the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Russian Federation used almost the entire possible arsenal of information weapons in Ukraine. Cyberattacks, deepfakes with statements by Volodymyr Zelensky about surrender, and fake videos with “shootings of civilians by the Ukrainian army” are just a little fraction of all digital operations undertaken over the past year. Although Ukraine has learned to resist Russian propaganda, the information front is still fighting fiercely.

Currently, Ukraine invests considerable resources in the information confrontation with Russia abroad because pro-Ukrainian public opinion in the world is the key to economic and military support for our country. The following priority is the domestic information front where Ukraine promptly detects and debunks Russian fakes, as well as conducts our own information and psychological operations against the enemy. The third critical combat, although not always obvious but no less important, is now taking place in the occupied territories. Due to limited access to Internet, to Ukrainian television or radio, and often because of not even telephone connection available, most residents in TOTs are cut off from Ukrainian news and information resources.

The United Nations recognize access to information as a fundamental right. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes freedom of opinion and expression (freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas by any means regardless of frontiers). Therefore, the restriction of the right to access information in the occupied territories during hostilities can be considered a violation of human rights.

In accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, their Additional Protocols and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), parties to an armed conflict are obliged to uphold and protect the fundamental rights of civilians living in territories under their control. Since Russia has effective control over the occupied Ukrainian regions*, it is responsible for respecting the rights and freedoms there. The occupying country must respect freedom of opinion and expression, as stated in Article 19 of the ICCPR, and must prevent propaganda of war and hate speech, as stated in Article 20.

  • It must be mentioned that the concept of effective control is stipulated in international law. In particular, the European Human Rights Court has recognized Russia’s control over the occupied territories in cases “Ukraine and the Netherlands v. Russia, cases No. 8019/16, 43800/14, and 28525/20”.

Although the intentional obstruction of access to information does not directly constitute a war crime and does not constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, it may result in a violation of international human rights obligations. War propaganda, hate speech and incitement to discrimination or violence can lead to war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.

Despite this, Russia deliberately restricts access to information in the occupied territories, blocking social networks, Ukrainian websites and online resources.

In this report, OPORA described in detail the measures undertaken by Russia to restrict access to the Ukrainian information field in the temporarily occupied territories, as well as the scale and dynamics of the development of an alternative media infrastructure for the information service provision for the needs of the occupation in the social network Vkontakte and in Telegram messenger. We analyzed the content of the occupers’ pages and channels, and classified them by content type. Data collection and processing took place during March 2023.

Key findings:

  • The Russian Federation is trying to create a full-fledged alternative media space in the temporarily occupied territories. To do this, it blocks access to the international and Ukrainian information space, and also actively engages residents of TOTs to their own media platforms.
  • The Russian Federation is seizing the offices and equipment of Ukrainian Internet providers and mobile operators in order to build their own network. Russia is also re-routing Internet traffic on TOTs to Russian providers via Crimea, in order to extend to them the censorship restrictions enforced in Russia.
  • The Russian Federation restricts access to news websites. OPORA identified 979 Ukrainian online resources blocked in Russia. Access to some of them has been banned for a long time but most were blocked by the decision of the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation after the start of a full-scale invasion.
  • The Russian Federation restricts access of Ukrainian citizens to official information. OPORA found 10 websites of state authorities of Ukraine that have been blocked in the temporarily occupied territories.
  • The Russian Federation blocks the access of TOTs residents to social networks, such as Viber, Instagram, Twitter, as well as Google and YouTube. Social networks are often vital platforms for sharing information. Restricting access to them can increase feelings of isolation, fear, and helplessness among civilians, making them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
  • The Russian Federation is focusing on the development of two main platforms for communication with the population in the temporarily occupied territories — the social network VKontakte and the Telegram messenger.
  • In Telegram, we found 640 active channels created to provide information services to the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories. Among them, we identified 5 thematic groups: local media, administrative channels, local organizations, public pages, exchange/sale of goods and services, job search. Most of them were created after February 24, 2022.
  • In the social network VKontakte, we found 1045 active pages and groups created for the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Most of them were created for Mariupol, Kherson, and Melitopol. Among them, we have identified 9 thematic groups: ads, news pages and news groups, administrative pages, job search and job offers, education, real estate, people search, miscellaneous.
  • By blocking access to the registers of blocked websites and not providing secure ways to explore Russian social networks, the Russian Federation impedes the efforts of human rights organizations, journalists and international bodies to effectively monitor the situation in the occupied territories. Such non-transparency can contribute to further human rights violations and prevent accountability for them.

Blocking of news resources

Although the blocking of websites in Russia began in the late 2000s and early 2010s, it was over the past decade that the Russian government adopted a series of laws that expanded its control over the Internet and the ability to block Internet resources. Among these legislative acts, it is worth highlighting the following:

  • "The Blacklist Act" (2012). Officially known as Federal Law No. 139-ФЗ, this document empowered the government to create a blacklist of websites that contain illegal content, such as child pornography, drug-related content, and content promoting suicide. The Attorney General's Office may initiate the blocking of a website if it contains any material from this list.
  • The Law on Bloggers (2014) Federal Law No. 97-FZ requires bloggers with more than 3,000 daily visitors to register with Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal executive body responsible for media surveillance. The law gives the Prosecutor General's Office the mandate to block websites that do not comply with the registration requirement.
  • “Yarovaya Law” (2016): A package of anti-terrorist surveillance legislation, named after its main author, Irina Yarovaya, gives the Prosecutor General's Office the mandate to block websites and online resources that contain information deemed “extremist” or that promotes terrorism.
  • The Foreign Agents Act (2017) targets foreign-funded media outlets and requires them to register as “foreign agents.” The Prosecutor General's Office may block sites that do not meet this requirement.
  • The law “On Fakes About the Army of the Russian Federation” (2022) adds a new article to the Russian criminal code. According to it, for the dissemination of false information about the actions of the Armed Forces of Russia, the offenders face up to three years in prison.

These laws were justified as necessary to protect public and national security. However, they are most often used to suppress dissent, restrict freedom of speech, and strengthen control over the flow of information. As of March 2022, more than 1.35 million websites have been blocked in Russia.

Moreover, with the beginning of a full-scale invasion, Russia began to block Ukrainian web resources. Since the activity of Ukrainian providers at the TOTs is limited, Russia restricts access to information for Ukrainian citizens staying in the TOTs. This struggle is led by the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, which can block websites and individual pages without additional court proceedings.

OPORA analyzed the register of websites blocked in Russia published on the page of Roskomsvoboda, a Russian NGO that monitors Internet censorship, freedom of speech and access to information. Activists monitor the activities of Roskomnadzor, the Russian regulator of communications and mass communications, and other authorities responsible for controlling information online. The register contains information about websites blocked in Russia following court decisions, regulators orders, or legislative initiatives.

OPORA identified 979 Ukrainian online information resources blocked in Russia. Access to most of them was banned by the decision of the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation after the beginning of a full-scale invasion. Most items on this list of media web sites and news portals. These are all the largest all-Ukrainian media (such as Ukrainska Pravda, NV, Radio Liberty, LIGA.NET, etc.), as well as local media, especially from the temporarily occupied territories: CitySites (,, and information portals of the cities of Nova Kakhovka (, Energodar (, Volnovakha (, Mykolaiv (, etc.

Also, official state websites were banned. This is the way the occupying forces limit the access of Ukrainian citizens to official information. For example, by blocking the web resource of the Center for Strategic Communications ( of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, Russia restricts the access of citizens staying on TOTs to recommendations on information security, to updates about information attacks and disinformation campaigns.

  • — President of Ukraine;
  • — National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine;
  • — Ministry of Finance of Ukraine;
  • — Prozorro, public procurement system in Ukraine;
  • — State Border Guard Service of Ukraine;
  • — Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine;
  • — United24;
  • — National Bank of Ukraine.

The Russians also restrict access to the websites of NGOs, human rights groups and volunteer initiatives, in particular those that raise funds for the Armed Forces and document war crimes. The blocked web sites include the following:

  • — state online platform for collecting information about Russian war crimes;
  • — platform for documenting war crimes and losses of Russia;
  • — Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union;
  • — initiative “CrimeaSOS”;
  • — one of the largest funds of assistance to the army “Come Back Alive”;
  • — Ukrainian Crisis Media Center;
  • — Media Detector.

There are several ways to bypass the block:

  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and channels it through a server in another country, masking your IP address and bypassing the block. However, it is necessary to choose responsible and reliable VPN providers that will ensure your privacy and anonymity.
  • Proxy servers: Similar to VPNs, proxy servers are intermediaries between your computer and the Internet, and channel your traffic through a different IP address. However, proxy servers are not as secure as VPNs.
  • Tor Browser: This free and open source browser uses a decentralized network of servers to anonymize traffic. This makes it difficult for Internet providers and government agencies to monitor your online activities. “Tor” can be used to access blocked websites but it can take slower than through a VPN or proxy server.
  • Alternative DNS servers: Changing your DNS server settings to a third-party provider can sometimes help bypass website blocking. One of the most popular applications for its configuration from CloudFlare.

Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that the use of these services under occupation carries certain risks. Not all VPN providers, proxy servers, or alternative DNS services can guarantee your security and privacy. Some of them may register and store your activity and data or have vulnerabilities in the security system, which can be used by hackers or Russian government agencies.

Restrictions for the functioning of mobile operators and Internet providers

A prerequisite for the implementation of Russian bans and restrictions on the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine is control over local Internet traffic and mobile operators. The Russian Federation turns off the Ukrainian Internet and connects subscribers in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk regions to their own Internet space, extending to Ukrainian citizens bans that operate on the territory of the Russian Federation itself.

According to the National Council of Ukraine on Television and Radio Broadcasting, from February, 24, to mid-July, 2022, at least 46 Ukrainian provider companies had to terminate their activities on the temporary occupied territories. As reported by the State Special Communications Service in June 2022, the Russians blackmailed some local Internet providers to make them connect to Russian networks. Others were seized by the occupation authorities, and the traffic was re-routed through Russian providers (mainly through Miranda, the Crimean subsidiary of the Russian Internet provider Rostelecom). According to a New York Times investigation, Russia is using an underwater cable and other infrastructure laid through the Kerch Strait back in 2014 to re-route traffic from southern Ukraine through Russia's Miranda.

At the same time, according to the head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, Oleksandr Starukh, Russia does not seek to bring its own public providers to the occupied territories. On the other hand, they are creating “something hybrid,” the “gray” operators that cannot be brought under sanctions.” At the same time, the newly occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, are “entered” by Internet providers of the so-called LPR and DPR. Back in 2019, they switched to mainstream channels to send Internet traffic from Russia. Thus, there are 11 Internet providers on TOTs: VKT, Phoenix, Trinity, Luhansk home networks, Luganet, Mageal, Terra-line, Orion, Telenet, Newton, Comtel.

To control mobile communications in the newly occupied territories, they bring the operators from the Crimea and ORDLO. Back in 2015, the occupiers seized the offices and equipment of Kyivstar, and created local operators that worked exclusively in the then occupied territories of Ukraine, Phoenix and Luhakom. A similar situation occurred with the operator “lifecell” in 2016. In 2018, Vodafone worked with significant disruptions.

After the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Russian authorities systematically tried to jam the Ukrainian connection in the territories seized after February, 24, 2022, forcing residents to receive cards from operators from Russia or the LPR/DPR. In the southern regions, Russians are announcing the launch of Russian operators from the Crimea, such as Myrtelecom and +7telecom (both are subsidiaries of Russian Rostelecom and K-Telecom).

Since February 11, 2023, the Russians have officially switched off the mobile Internet for users of the occupiers’ operators, Phoenix and Luhakom. However, from April 20, the service was resumed in the Luhansk region, and later the mobile Internet should be connected to other TOTs. Otherwise, you can get a SIM card of the occupation operators only if you provide passport data, which is an additional tool for intimidation, control, and repression.

For Ukrainians staying in the temporarily occupied territories and forced to use Russian Internet providers and mobile operators, it is important to remember that Russian special services can access their personal information and online activities.

Blocking of Social Networks

In the Russian segment of Internet, social networks began to be blocked at the beginning of a full-scale invasion. On March 4, 2022, the first official reports came that the Russian regulator, Roskomnadzor, restricted access to Facebook and Twitter on the territory of the Russian Federation. The formal reason was the “discrimination of Russian media”, such as the pages of the TV channel “Zvezda” of the Russian Ministry of Defense, the news agency “Ria Novosti”, international Russian resources Sputnik and RT, and the websites “” and “”. Subsequently, on March 11, 2022, Meta temporarily allowed posts calling for the death of the leaders of the Russian Federation and Belarus, as well as calls for violence against Russian soldiers. On the same day, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office sent a request to Roskomnadzor to block access to the company's social networks. On March 14, Facebook and Instagram platforms were eventually blocked on the territory of the Russian Federation.

The social network TikTok, although not formally blocked, has had rather limited functions on the territory of Russia from March 6, 2022. Instead of banned Western social networks, Russian developments stayed in Russia: VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. Google, YouTube, and messengers like Telegram, Viber and WhatsApp are still available.

In the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, the situation is somewhat worse than in the Russian Federation itself. Blocking social networks there began a little later. In particular, on May 11, 2022, it became known about the restriction of access to Facebook and Instagram in the territories controlled by the so-called “LPR” and “DPR”. On June 3, the authorities of these entities banned the Viber messenger, claiming that it is allegedly used by the Armed Forces of Ukraine to obtain data on the geolocation of the “critical military-civilian infrastructure of the LPR and DPR”. On July 22, a similar ban was extended to Google and YouTube.

It must be mentioned that the attempts of the invaders to block these resources led to large-scale failures in the operation of phones with the Android operating system: they stopped updating and lost access to the definition of geolocation or the app store. The reason was the close connection of Android phones with Google. In February 2023, it became known that the occupation authorities required local Internet providers on TOTs to add Messenger (Meta) and Zoom video conferencing service to the blocking list.

As you can see, the Russian Federation blocks all social networks they are not able to control. Since the summer of 2022, there has been no free access to popular social media in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, except for those created in Russia, as well as some messengers. In the end, the Kremlin chooses the tactics of imposing its own information agenda and uses channels that are much easier to control, such as Telegram and VKontakte.

Imposition of Russian propaganda

​Since 2014, Russia has consistently imposed its own communication channels on the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. The aim of this tactic is to manipulate public opinion, suppress dissent and strengthen the occupation authorities, which catalyzes the violation of the rights of the civilian population living in these territories.

Propaganda channels on TOTs create a constant flow of biased information that jams alternative viewpoints. Under such conditions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the civilian population to shape their own opinions. Moreover, propaganda often reinforces messages that incite hatred, mistrust and social tensions between different social groups.

In addition, replacing free media with propaganda seriously affects the functioning of civil society and undermines the democratic process. Without access to different perspectives, citizens cannot make informed decisions, demand accountability from their leaders, or participate fully in the political process. Such erosion of democratic rules could have lasting consequences for the occupied territories, and complicate the restoration of peace, stability, and good governance after de-occupation.

All this grossly violates international law and is a direct violation of the principles of freedom of expression and democratic governance. The actions of the occupation authorities contribute to perpetuating the cycle of conflict, which further undermines the prospects for peace and stability in the region.


Telegram messenger was developed in 2013 by a Russian, Pavel Durov, the creator and ex-owner of the popular Russian social network Vkontakte. Durov himself assures that he was forced to sell VK because of his refusal to cooperate with Russian law enforcement agencies and give out personal data of users. In 2018, the Russian authorities have already tried to block Telegram due to non-compliance with the requirements of the “Yarovaya Law.” At that time, Telegram rejected the demands of Russian law enforcement officers to provide them with access to users’ correspondence, claiming the implementation technically impossible. In 2020, Roskomnadzor lifted restrictions on Telegram saying that the company had introduced proactive measures to counter terrorism and extremism in the app spaces. During the full-scale war in Ukraine, the Russian authorities repeatedly tried to block the application but Telegram quickly disappeared from the Roskomnadzor register. This way, the messenger remained the only social network available on TOTs, i.e. beyond the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation.

In the summer of 2022, during a study of Russian propaganda on pseudo-referendums, OPORA formed a database of 118 Telegram channels of the occupied territories. To update the data on the activity of Russian propagandists and collaborators, we analyzed reposts in known channels and expanded our database to 640 channels. Our approach to defining channels as pro-Russian coincides with the methodology described by Detector Media. Analyzing who reposted the known pages, we looked for the channels that Russians use to fill a pro-Russian information field on TOTs.

Among them, we identified 5 groups of channels:

  • Local media:  These channels create semblance of everyday life in the occupied cities and towns, discredit the Ukrainian central and local authorities and the Armed Forces of Ukraine, broadcast Russian disinformation about the war in Ukraine, and build a positive image of the Russian army.
  • Administrative channels. The category includes channels of occupying local, district and regional “administrations”, police, employment centers, regional departments of Russian ministries in the occupied territories, etc.
  • Local organizations. Those are charitable or volunteer foundations, professional associations, etc.
  • Pages of public persons. They are heads of local occupation administrations, deputies of occupation councils, local pro-Russian media, etc.
  • Exchange/sale of goods and services, job search. This category is especially interesting because it gives an idea of the daily life and routines of the inhabitants in the temporarily occupied territories. They self-organize to search for the necessary goods or services. For example, we found a number of Telegram channels for exchanging hryvnias for rubles, searching for building materials and labor for rebuilding destroyed dwellings, pages for exchanging things or food, etc.

The occupation-based Telegram channels began to be launched a few days before the full-scale invasion. The infographics below shows the rate of their creation.

As you can see, since February 2022, new occupation channels have appeared almost daily, often more than one per day. At the same time, the “oldest” pages we found date back to March 2016. In previous years, the intensity of creating new Telegram channels targeting residents of TOTs was much lower: they appeared several times a month, and it was a very rare case when they launched more than 1 channel per day.

The timeline of the creation of channels implies that the information service of military operations in the occupied territories was not prepared in advance but was rather built during the war, even in the territories that fell under occupation almost immediately after the invasion. The surge in the emergence of occupation resources shows that Russia had not been preparing for a full-scale war systematically. Besides, it indicates the asymmetry of available information about the Kremlin's geopolitical and military plans among various branches of the Russian government.

During 2022, we recorded 12 days when more than 5 channels appeared on the network per day. The peak of such activity fell on the summer. At that time, they created coordinated channels with the same visual and stylistic design for different settlements, administrative channels (occupation bodies or personal channels of local collaborators), occupation media, etc.

During the monitoring, we also found a number of pro-Russian Telegram channels created long before the occupation of Ukrainian cities or regions, in particular the territories that the Russians never managed to seize. They include the media channels for the cities in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Odesa, Mykolaiv, and Donetsk regions:

However, given the number of subscribers and activity levels, previously created channels can hardly be called reference information platforms. They also do not testify to the qualitative preparation of information support for the escalation of the Russian war in Ukraine.

In order to evaluate the content broadcast by the occupation-based Telegram resources, we randomly selected 100 channels and viewed their content. We identified the 6 most common themes:

  • Social support for residents of the TOTs: information on the available types of financial assistance to vulnerable categories of the population (pensioners, young mothers, war-affected people, people with disabilities, etc.), explanations about how and where to get the payments in accordance with Russian legislation.
  • Content aimed at integration with Russian and Soviet culture: promotion of works by Russian writers and artists, posts about historical and cultural lectures, exhibitions, events of the so-called “national-patriotic education” of youth, etc.
  • History references to the Soviet era. Although this point can be considered part of the previous item, the high level of attention of the occupiers and collaborators to Soviet history in general, or to the history of a particular settlement in the Soviet period, allows us to refer the historical content into a separate subgroup. Occupation channels promote nostalgia for the USSR: they write about the celebration of significant dates of the Soviet period, make headings like “this day in [Soviet] history”, publish photos of cities and villages of those times, etc.
  • Integration with other regions in Russia: publications on professional support activities of various institutions in the TOTs by relevant institutions from Russia, exchange of experience, charitable assistance, measures of the occupation authorities or local self-government bodies of Russian cities and regions for the reconstruction of damaged or destroyed settlements, measures under the auspices of the so-called “patronage” of Russian cities over Ukrainian ones. It also includes educational publications on Russian legislation, for example, calls encouraging to accept a Russian passport and instructions on how to do it, explanations on the organization of the Russian health care system, etc. It is noteworthy that the issues of business development and promotion at TOTs are hardly covered at all.
  • Discrediting Ukraine and the Ukrainian authorities: misinformation about the Ukrainian state and local authorities, accusations of Ukraine of deliberate shelling of the civilian population on the TOTs, regular reports of “Ukrainian provocations”. In parallel, we see publications aimed at building a positive image of the Russian army.
  • The fight against alcohol, drugs, “counterfeit” and “Ukrainian weapons caches”. Occupation channels regularly inform about the seizure of homemade or illegally imported alcohol and substances. From time to time, the authors of the posts claim that these “clandestiners” are “the Ukrainian Awaiters,” “fire designators for the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” former ATO soldiers — this is the way to further discredit the pro-Ukrainian population, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and Ukraine as a state.


The exploration of VKontakte is not very popular among Ukrainian researchers of social networks and disinformation. Since May 2017, this Russian social network has been blocked in Ukraine, due to the storage of data of all users on the territory of the Russian Federation and full control by the Russian security forces. In particular, during the Revolution of Dignity, the Russian special services forced the owner of the social network, Pavel Durov, to provide access to the data of Ukrainian users who administered the Euromaidan groups. Blocking VKontakte on the territory of Ukraine led to the fact that in 2021 only about 7% of Ukrainians used it on a regular basis. However, now VKontakte is the only large social network that the residents of TOTs have unimpeded access to.

Since VKontakte does not offer any automated analysis capacity, and OPORA did not receive access to the API for security reasons, we conducted this part of the study manually. We selected 103 settlements in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions occupied after February 24, 2022. The villages and cities occupied earlier were not taken into account, since the media infrastructure there had been built for more than 8 years. Therefore, it is inaccurate to compare them with the recently occupied territories. However, we took into account the official pages of the so-called “state bodies” of the DPR and LPR, in order to trace their communication with the newly occupied territories. We used VKontakte community search, by the names of settlements, viewing “related communities”, as well as pages that appeared in reposts of the resources that we had already identified. Although we might have overlooked some pages due to the peculiarities of their names (e.g., ZaporozhyeZA), in our opinion, the selected sample can be approximately indicative of the state of affairs in the temporarily occupied territories.

Among the settlements we selected, 38 did not have VKontakte pages at all, or their pages have been inactive for a long time. Those are mainly the occupied cities and villages in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. For the other 65 localities, we collected 1,039 pages and groups where content was published between February 24, 2022 and March 31, 2023.

The highest number of active pages of VKontakte were found in Mariupol — 182 (17.5% of the total number of the pages detected). Second largest place, with a significant margin, is Kherson. There, the disinformation was spread by 77 pages. The third and fourth go the Novoazovsky district (71 pages) and Melitopol (69 pages). The top ten also included Berdyansk (57 pages), Volnovakha (48), Severodonetsk (45), Lysychansk (37), Nova Kakhovka (26), and Energodar (20). Detailed data for each locality can be found in the visualizations below.

In addition, 97 pages (9.9%) did not relate to a particular settlement but disseminated information for the whole region (for example, the Administration of the Kherson region or the Ministry of Culture of the Zaporizhzhya region). Among them, 39 pages focus on Kherson region, 34 pages — on Donetsk region, 23 pages — on Zaporizhzhia region, 1 page — on Luhansk region.

Although we recorded the activity of pages and groups created in 2007–2008, most often pages were launched either in 2014–2015 or in 2022–2023. It is quite revealing that in both these periods, new pages appeared in approximately the same quantities, both in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. An example is the page of the Ministry of Culture of the Kherson region created in May 2016 with the name “Department of Culture of the Kherson region”. Before the occupation of the region, it was inactive, and on August 17, 2022, it was renamed, and it became the official representative of the occupation authorities. The greatest activity in creating pages for TOTs was observed in the second half of 2022:

Analyzing the VKontakte pages created in 2022–2023, we also noticed a tendency for them to build a full-fledged media infrastructure. Thus, for example, one of the most popular pages of the Headline News in Kherson and the Region has not only the same-name Telegram-channel but also a website, and even a separate Telegram-chat for subscribers. At the same time, on this VKontakte page, you can find calls to follow its counterpart in Telegram, and the Telegram channel encourages you to subscribe to the VKontakte page. Thus, the occupation authorities are trying to attract users from Telegram to VKontakte in order to have full control over their personal data.

After analyzing all 1,039 pages, we identified 9 main topics that they tend to promote: ads, news groups and pages, administrative pages, people search, job search, real estate and education, as well as other pages. The largest category were pages with ads, while news, and administrative pages were only in second and third places, respectively.


This category includes the largest number of pages — 485 (46.7% of the pages detected). Their content is quite diverse, from the sale of cars in Mariupol or Lysychansk to currency exchange and offers to withdraw money from Ukrainian bank cards. In fact, they are replacing platforms for the sale of used goods.

These pages are the oldest: the first of them appeared in 2007–2008, and most of them were created in 2013–2016. After the blocking of VKontakte on the territory of Ukraine, the increase in their number has slowed down noticeably, but they are still actively used on TOTs. After the beginning of the full-scale invasion, there appeared also several hundred more of such pages.

The most important feature of this category is that almost all pages are groups. In other words, all users of VKontakte can post there, even users who are not subscribed to them. Therefore, from time to time political posts of different topics appear here, and they are not deleted. In general, the pages of this group give an idea of the economic and social situation on TOTs, that is why they can be useful for further research.

News Pages and Groups

The second most numerous category includes news pages and groups, with a total of 174. In the chart above, we divided them into two categories: news pages (communities where only administrators can post; we found 150 such publics) and news groups where any VKontakte user can post (there were 24 of them).

The identified newsgroups for TOTs have existed for quite a long time, and their number increased gradually. In 2022, only 2 such new groups were created. In fact, their content is not moderated, and therefore they have both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian posts.

In contrast, news pages are analogues of news Telegram-channels created as a kind of local media. Their content is mostly about the refined Russian propaganda which coincides with topics that we have identified about the Telegram channels. Almost half of these pages (71) were created in 2022.

New pages often try to create an image of a full-fledged media resource, duplicating content in several social networks (VKontakte, Telegram, and sometimes in Odnoklassniki). Sometimes, they have their own websites. Older pages have either long been covertly sharing Russian propaganda, or, presumably, have been stolen from administrators with a pro-Ukrainian position. Thus, for example, we came across the page of the Ukrainian outlet of Kherson-Line | News of Kherson region. It was created in February 2013. It has almost 5,000 subscribers, and now actively shares Russian propaganda. However, the description of the page and the links attached to it remained unchanged. They link to the website of the publication and its Facebook page, where news with a pro-Ukrainian position is shared. We assume that either the page of the publication in VKontakte had been hacked or access to it was handed over to Russian propagandists.

Administrative pages

The third largest category of pages is administrative; we found 142 of them. The main task of these resources is to inform the population about the decisions of the occupation authorities and encourage them to cooperate with the occupiers.

These pages clearly highlight the difference between the territories of the “LPR”, “DPR” and Crimea and the newly occupied Kherson region and Zaporizhzhia. Since VKontakte is deeply integrated with the Russian state, Russian local and state administrations have their official pages in this social network. Usually, they are marked with a tick and the inscription “Verified by Public Services” (Russian e-governance portal). The pages of the local occupation administrations of the “LPR”, “DPR” and Crimea do have those marks. In contrast, the administrative pages of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions do not have any, although they present themselves as representative offices of official authorities.

Job search and education

VKontakte is also actively used as an alternative to a job search website: we found 111 pages for recruiters and job seekers. The specifics of this type of content is that they post hundreds of vacancies of Russian companies in various regions of the Russian Federation who invite Ukrainians from the temporarily occupied territories to work with them. In addition, there are many Russian businesses that open stores in the “new regions” and use these pages to search for employees.

Through VKontakte, Russians are also looking for students and pupils to Russian and “republican” (“LPR”, “DPR”) universities and colleges. We found almost 60 pages of educational institutions (mainly schools) where the main content is announcements inviting for continuing education in local and Russian universities. It is interesting that many posts offer to write a course paper or a diploma thesis as “turnkey” services.

Search for Property

VKontakte is also a platform for finding and selling real estate in the temporarily occupied territories. We found 43 pages with such content. Those pages are often used to find apartments or houses for rent for families of Russian soldiers who arrive to the place of service following the invaders. Also, on these pages we can see the ads about the sale of apartments or houses by local residents, or Russian users are trying to search for real estate in the occupied territories.

People search

Last but not least, OPORA found 7 pages which main purpose is to search for people who went missing on TOTs. The most common cities in this category are Mariupol and Severodonetsk.

We also analyzed the dynamics of creating pages of different types and found that the number of publics about education and people search has hardly changed after the beginning of a full-scale invasion. However, the number of administrative and news pages increased sharply in 2022–2023. An increase in the number, although not as huge, was demonstrated by pages for job search and for real estate. Instead, the largest category of pages, the ads, has been actively growing since 2014. After the beginning of the Big War, it has not grown as much as other categories of pages.

Among other things, VKontakte pages, as well as in Telegram, often make coordinated networks. In particular, we identified 6 networks that aim to centralize informational influence on residents of the temporarily occupied territories.

We also found three smaller networks, each consisting of 4 pages:

As you can see, after the beginning of a full-scale invasion, the Russians are trying to draw the residents of the occupied regions to VKontakte, where the Russian information space dominates, and personal data and user correspondence are accessible to the Kremlin special services.


At present, it is difficult for Ukraine to “reach out” to the occupied territories. The demarcation line of the Russian-Ukrainian information front runs through websites and social networks. After Russia blocked Facebook and Instagram in March 2022, and Meta banned Russians from publishing ads on its platforms, Russia lost opportunities to influence Ukrainian citizens through these platforms. Anlthough recently we have seen a gradual increase in hostile attacks through Meta social networks, Ukraine confidently prevails on these websites.

However, the blocking of these social networks in Russia and, accordingly, in the temporarily occupied territories, deprives Ukraine of the opportunity to speak with TOTs through platforms where the Ukrainian view of the world is loudest. At the same time, the Russian military are checking the smartphones of Ukrainian people under occupation to see if they are following the pages of the Ukrainian authorities and the media. Often, such “filtration measures” are accompanied by violence and torture. That is why any attempts to communicate with Ukrainians in the occupation should not put their lives and health at risk.

On the other hand, it is much more difficult to oppose Russia in Telegram. This platform does not have its own community standards (unlike Meta or Twitter) and hardly moderates any content. However, the lack of moderation and the inability of either Russia or Ukraine to block certain Telegram channels on their territories plays both in our favor and in favor of the enemy. We can talk to TOTs via Telegram but we are not able to counteract the IPSO and manipulations of the Russian Federation against Ukrainians in free territories and the buildup of the occupation information field on TOTs. That is why Ukraine needs at least an established dialogue with the company, which remains the most closed entity for cooperation.

In this context, it seems that VKontakte is exclusively Russian territory. In fact, Russia fully controls this social network, promotes its own propaganda ideas about the world and is unlikely to allow Ukrainian fighters of the information front to conduct information operations freely. However, VKontakte should not be underestimated as a channel of influence. As this study showed, Russia considers this social network their own, and they seeks to draw as many as possible of our fellow citizens there. However, if we cannot return access to the free Internet to the residents of TOTs, the only way not to lose contact with them is to enter the enemy's ground. While the Ukrainian army is preparing for a counteroffensive, we should prepare an information de-occupation, and go on the offensive where the enemy least expects it.

The report was drafted by the Civil Network OPORA with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Any opinions expressed in the report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the Government of the United States of America.


  • Robert Lorian
  • Anastasiia Romaniuk
  • Olha Snopok

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