The BBC, which also uses Telegram, says traffic to its Russian-language digital platforms has exploded, including breaking a record of nearly 17 million people in the first week of the war. But the British news giant has also turned to one of media's earliest marvels, shortwave radio, to reach Russian listeners, saying this month it would start broadcasting on new frequencies that "can be received clearly in Kyiv and parts of Russia."
Four hours of daily news reports are now broadcast in the early evening and just before midnight Ukraine time on the frequencies of 15735 kHz and 5875 kHz, the BBC said. In one of the BBC World Service's first shortwave broadcasts, in 1932, King George V said it would connect those throughout the British Empire "so cut off by the snow, the desert or the sea that only voices out of the air can reach them." Its last shortwave broadcast before the Ukraine war was in 2008.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media, which runs Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is not transmitting over shortwave. But the owners of a shortwave station in Okeechobee, Fla., whose radio antennas tower over a cow pasture, told reporters that they have started beaming Voice of America broadcasts over the airwaves to Russia. (An online fundraiser for the operation has raised more than $12,000.)
Thomas Kent, a former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, wrote in an essay last week that Western strategists should consider more imaginative options for fomenting internal dissent in Russia, including organizing campaigns to email audio files, holding closed discussions on small social networks and smuggling flash drives.
"Kremlin leaders cannot eternally ignore public discontent, even if they are willing for now to brutalize anyone who dares protest in the streets," Kent wrote. "The Western world must demonstrate it respects Russia's population, even if the regime doesn't. That means showing commitment to the principle that Russians deserve to be informed."
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the BBC say they've seen audiences for their Russian-language offerings grow dramatically since Russia's invasion and crackdown on independent media.
The RFE/RL website saw its number of unique visitors from Russia spike by 86% in the first two weeks of the war; on YouTube, many of its latest videos have surpassed 1 million views. People are also evading Russian censors by sending the stories over Telegram and email newsletters, said Jamie Fly, president and chief executive of RFE/RL.
"Certainly it is becoming more difficult if you are Russian sitting inside Russia to get independent news and information, but people are still looking to that content, whether they're using VPNs or mirror sites," Fly said. "As we saw throughout the Cold War, in a variety of countries, people always find a way no matter what the jamming tactics are."
Beyond the official efforts, teams of computer programmers have also begun striking out to stir up Russian rage. One group, squad303, named for an air squadron that tore through Nazi warplanes during World War II, has built a website that shows a randomly selected Russian citizen's email address, phone or WhatsApp number - as well as a pre-written message a visitor can send to strike up a conversation from their own accounts.
"Hello, my Russian friend," one text says, roughly translated. "We don't know each other. I live abroad. I know that Russia invaded Ukraine and many soldiers and civilians died there. How do you live in Russia? How is it going?"
One of the group's programmers in Poland - using the name of Jan Zumbach, one of the squadron's ace fighter pilots - said he now works alongside more than 100 volunteers from Estonia, France, Germany, the United States and other countries, broken into teams devoted to software development, cyberdefense, social media and a "help desk" to get new messengers onboard.
Millions of messages, some of which have showed photos of the war or tallies of civilian deaths, have been sent in less than two weeks to the Russian numbers, according to the programmer, who said their database includes tens of millions of phone numbers and email addresses taken from hacked Russian databases. The team has raced to expand its infrastructure, growing from one server earlier this month to 16 servers today. Other mass-distribution operations are currently in the works, he said.
The project is all-consuming, he said, and he's getting about three hours of sleep a night. But he said he remembers how important outside information from Radio Free Europe was to his parents during the 1980s, when they took part in the Solidarity labor movement that shook the Soviet Union. He hopes his work today will have a similar impact.
"We do not expect instant rewards or instant replies. It's a process," he said. "Every single text message sent to a person in Russia is a tiny bridge between two people."
Dey Correa, a volunteer messenger in Panama, said she has sent hundreds of messages to Russians with help from the site, including 50 while she was at home breastfeeding her infant son.
She shared screenshots with The Washington Post showing dozens of messages and conversations, including one in which a respondent said Russians were shocked by the war but afraid to protest due to police crackdowns.
Correa doesn't know if it will have any impact, and she has worried about retaliation. But she said she felt motivated to do something when she saw photos of a devastated maternity ward in Mariupol, Ukraine.
"When I saw the hospital, it became personal," she said. "I think how horrible the nights are for those mothers - the cold. Not all of them have the opportunity to hold their babies, like I do."
Another group has created a search engine, called Rusleaks, that aggregates more than a dozen databases purported to feature the personal information of Russian military personnel, including tens of thousands of people's names, addresses, phone numbers and passport details.
The data have not been fully verified and some of the records have been released by the Ukrainian government, raising the risks of false information.
But one of the group's members, a software developer formerly in Kyiv, said the data could be used to alert the Russian public to what their government is doing or help investigate war crimes.
"I don't know how soon it will happen. I don't know that it will happen at all. But I am doing what I've been training for," he said. "We are fighting on too many frontiers now. And this is clearly one of them. . . . Whatever it takes to make our voice louder."