More than three years have passed since Ukraine’s Euromaidan Revolution, in which protestors took to the streets and ousted their corrupt leader Viktor Yanukovych. But reform has been slow in coming. To be fair, President Petro Poroshenko faces a Herculean task: protecting Ukraine from Russia’s ongoing aggression in the east while reforming the country in a way that is in keeping with the ideals—democracy, transparency, and rule of law—that united Ukrainians during Euromaidan. So far, however, Poroshenko has not handled this dilemma very well. He has used a heavy hand in cracking down on anything Russian and seems, ironically, increasingly determined to adopt Moscow’s authoritarian methods even as he speaks the language of Brussels in advocating for democratic change.
Of course, Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine is not limited to the fighting at their borders. Russian propaganda plays an even greater role in influencing Ukrainian politics than it does in Western countries. One false report that has been recently circulating, for example, claims that the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) is using drug addicts as spies in the country’s east. Another alleges that Ukraine’s newest public holiday, known as Volunteers Day, “glorifies” the killing of separatists in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Poroshenko’s approach to countering Russian propaganda, however, has been blunt and ineffective. Rather than demonstrate to disillusioned Ukrainians, especially in the east, that the postrevolutionary state represents their interests, he has sought to censor any content associated with Russia under the guise of national security.
Last month, Poroshenko issued a decree banning a number of Russian sites, including the social networking platform Vkontakte and search engine Yandex—the Russian equivalents of Facebook and Google. It also banned the mail service Mail.ru. All three were among Ukraine’s most widely used websites on the eve of the ban. In 2016, Vkontakte, for instance, was used by 70 percent of Ukrainian Internet users. The ban followed a similar measure implemented in January when Russia—to repress Dozhd.
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