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5 Facts To Know About The Russian Websites Ban in Ukraine
17 May, 2017

Ukrainian ban on Russian social media networks kicks in. It is a part of new set of sanctions targeting Russian companies in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Ukrainian President signed a National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine decree authorizing the ban on April 28th 2017.

Here are five key facts you must know about the Russian websites ban:

#1

Ukraine Intends On Blocking Access To Russian Websites For Three Years

By signing this decree, President Poroshenko has banned use of the Russian social media sites "VKontakte" and "Odnoklassniki", the email service Mail.ru and the search engine company Yandex. All four are in the top-10 most popular websites in Ukraine. According to the research company Gemius, 10.8 million people over the age of 14 use “Yandex” online services in Ukraine, excluding mobile. According to Kantar TNS CMeter, 78% of all internet users in Ukraine use “VKontakte” (based on data from April 2017). That constitutes at least 20 million users.

The Russian sites for the antivirus companies "Kaspersky Lab" and "DrWeb" will also be blocked.

Sanctions will also be imposed on the television channels belonging to the Russian media group "RBC, Information Systems", these include: "TV Centre", "The All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company", "NTV Plus", "REN TV" and "Zvezda". The sanctions will come into effect from the date of their publication.

The decree requires internet providers to block access to the sites for three years.

"The President’s decree to ban Russian social networks and email services is a continuation of the government policy to block all activities of Russian companies in Ukraine. So first of all, it is a step against Russian businesses that make profit from Ukrainian citizens, but on the other hand, it’s the restriction of access for Ukrainian citizens to Russian social networks," told Hromadske Vitallii Moroz, Head of New Media at "Internews Ukraine".

#2

 Russian Social Networks Will Be Banned As Part of An Expansion of Sanctions

Russia's biggest social media networks and internet services were banned in Ukraine under new sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and the war in the eastern part of the country. The decree by Petro Poroshenko will include 468 companies and 1,228 people.

Poroshenko said that sanctions would be lifted after Russia stops its agression against Ukraine.

"I can tell that right after Russia stops its agression against Ukraine, after the last soldier leaves the sovereign and independent territory of Ukraine, we will be ready to reverse this decision," he said during the press-conference in Strasbourg.

According to the head of National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, Aleksand Turchynov, including 'Vkontakte', 'Odnoklassnili' and 'Yandex' in the sanctions was initiated by the Security Service of Ukraine.

"In 2014 when the war in Ukraine started and the Russian authorities strongly denied the military presence of the Russian army on the ground, the social network 'Vkontakte' became the first proof that the Kremlin lied," explained Russian journalist Irina Borogan. "Russian soldiers started posting a lot of information about their units, their photographs, and even what they were doing there on the social network 'Vkontakte'. They even posted this information under their own names. This was the first real proof that the Russian army was on the ground. The social network helped."

#3

 The Ban Raises Concerns About Freedom of Speech in Ukraine - Whilst Others Support It

The opinions of journalists and media experts are divided. Most of the media community representatives oppose the decree, seeing it as attack on freedom of expression. “We are turning into Russia, except we have no oil,” commented philosopher, Michael Minakov.

Other experts are openly delighted the decree. “If this is possible, it will be the greatest contribution to the protection of information sovereignty in Ukraine ever,” – commented Yevhen Fedchenko, StopFake founder.

In a comment to Hromadske, Freedom House Ukraine's Project Director, Matthew Schaaf, said:

"Freedom House and other organizations are concerned about the tendency of the Ukrainian government to block information and block access to resources, to websites and so on, because we think that it will make it more difficult for people to access information, news, to express themselves."

The decision was heavily critisized by the Human Rights Watch and The Reporters Without Borders as well.

#4

 Blocking Russian Websites Is Technically Impossible, Experts Say

Ukrainian experts also say that blocking the Russian sites is currently technically impossible. The chairman of the Internet Association of Ukraine, Alexander Fediyenko told "Interfax Ukraine": "As of today, it can not be done." He also added that the implementaion of the block would take time and large sums of money to upgrade equipment and make network topology changes.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian wireless operator ‘Kyivstar’ and telecom firm ‘Ukrtelekom’ have started preparations to implement the bill. ‘Ukrtelekom’ Director of Corporate Communications Mykhailo Shuranov told Hromadske that it could take from couple of days to a week.

Russian social Media VK has already shared instructions on how to bypass the block to its 20 million users.

"I see this decision as more tactical than strategic, although I am sure that the Ukrainian government considered the strategic decision, certain contributions in the future etc. However, I think it’s more tactical because it just affects the current situation, and this tactic is more symbolic than practical, it means that they can share themselves on social media the fact that they are actually doing something, but, in fact, there are so many means to avoid this control and this block, and all those means are pretty familiar to people," explained to Hromadske Svitlana Matviyenko, a media and information war researcher.

#5

 This Is Not The First Case of Banning Websites In Ukraine

The popular Ukrainian file-hosting website ex.ua was shut down in 2016 amid a cyberpolice crackdown on internet services allowing copyrighted music, videos, and software to be illegally downloaded.

This also created discontent among Ukrainian internet-users, but in 2017 it resumed operation under a new domain, FEX.ua.

/by Liuda Kornievych