Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs launched a website to track dead and captured Russians, with the goal of countering Russian propaganda hiding death tolls. The site is also helping families identify those killed in action, according to a tech CEO-turned-underground freedom fighter amid Vladimir Putin’s full-scale military invasion of his homeland.
“One of our tasks is to convey the truth to the citizens of Russia that Putin unleashed a war and attacked all of Ukraine,” said Oleksii Shaldenko, a college professor and the head of the Wantent AI firm.
Shaldenko is conducting IT operations for his country’s defense while holed up in a gritty bomb shelter with a laptop and spotty internet service, sleeping on a pallet and sharing the space with his dog and his mother.
He told WHD News Digital that the name of the website, 200rf, is a reference to the 2007 Russian horror film “Cargo 200.”
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“This is one of the most heartbreaking Russian films,” he said.
The film’s title itself is a reference to soldiers killed in action and evokes a certain symbolism in Russia, according to Shaldenko.
“Two hundred means death and all the horrors of war,” he added.
It runs counter to Russian propaganda, which is not even characterizing the invasion of Ukraine as a war at all, he said.
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“The authorities and the media call it a ‘military operation’ and claim that the action is taking place in the ‘LDNR,’” he said, using an acronym for small separatist regions on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.
But Ukrainian cyber operatives are countering that narrative by providing evidence of the Russian presence across their country.
Putin’s troops entered Ukraine last week from three directions – the north through Belarus, at the border near the city of Kharkiv and from the south through Russian-occupied Crimea.
A 40-mile-long column of military vehicles has stalled north of Kyiv amid fierce resistance from Ukraine’s defense forces.
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The battle in Kharkiv has raged for days with increasing reports of Russian artillery shelling civilian targets. Another battle was raging in the Ukrainian port city Mariupol.
Violence had not yet reached Odesa, although sources there said the air raid sirens had begun blaring, and explosions and gunfire could be heard off in the distance Wednesday.
The exact number of combat deaths in the war’s first week is unclear.
Russian authorities on Wednesday reported almost 500 soldiers killed in action. Ukrainian officials said their defense forces had killed more than 10 times that. Independent verification was not immediately available.
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Ukraine’s cyber defenders are behind a massive digital effort to counter Russian propaganda on other fronts as well. And they’re working to share crucial information to the country’s citizens, ranging from practical guides on how to act in emergencies to how to mix up a Molotov cocktail.
Shaldenko’s students are even involved.
Hackers inside and outside of the country are also conducting cyberattacks and spreading their own information that they hope will turn public opinion against Putin on the other side of the border.
“We distribute anti-war messages via emails, text messages, chats and a feedback system,” Shaldenko said. “Our main task is to make the Russians understand that they can stop the Putin regime.”
The invasion so far, he said, has been “terrifying.” He said he spent the first four days underground. And when he ventured upward after that, he took a photo of an explosion through his window. But he’s stocked up on supplies of food and water, and there is power and a “very bad internet connection” that allows him to keep fighting.
At one point, he cut a conversation short with Russian bombs exploding in the background. More dropped the next day.
Despite the chaos, the professor and other cyber warriors are joining forces to accomplish their missions, divvying up tasks like a corporate IT department, with detailed project management, he said. Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation and Ministry of Culture and Information Policy are coordinating the efforts.
“There is always communication and coordination,” Shaldenko said. “Everyone has the right to offer their idea, form a team and work.”
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Their efforts appear to be paying off. Western analysts say Ukraine is being boosted by public appearances from defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and is winning the information battle.