The army of volunteers who (randomly) phone the Russians to expose Putin’s lies about the war

Of Elena Tebano

The activists of Call Russia, a Lithuanian NGO: “Talking to each other is a way to end the war”

A very special “army” has taken the field against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which seeks to defuse war with words. It was founded last March by a Lithuanian writer and advertising expert, Paulius Senuta, 46, together with a group of IT experts, and is made up of volunteers, mostly Lithuanians, but also Russians living abroad: in everything 51 thousand people. “Arm yourself” with a random number generatorwhich has created a database of 40 million telephone numbers, call Russia without knowing the identity of those who answer and they try to talk about the war in Ukraine. “Direct conversations are a way to spread the truth and end this war,” explains Call Russia on its website. «In the first days of the war, here in Lithuania everyone was doing something. Our idea was to call» says Senuta in an interview with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. I am 180 thousand phone calls made so far by the volunteers of «Call Russia». In about half of the cases there were conversations: “People want to talk,” he adds.

This is already the demonstration that something has changed. In March, when the volunteers started with the aim of give the Russians another vision of the invasion of Ukraine than that provided by pro-government media (since all other media had been silenced by Vladimir Putin’s regime), the people on the other end of the phone were far from welcoming. Mostly they shouted, or insulted the strangers who had called them, or simply repeated the slogans of Russian propaganda and accused the volunteers of being paid agents of Western intelligence services. The phone calls were usually very short, a few minutes at most. Now they have lengthened and can last even two or three hours.

They are never easy. Volunteers developed a method of conversation with psychologiststo be able to continue the discussion. “It only takes one conversation where you feel you’ve made someone doubt what they hear every day in the state media for you to feel it’s worth it,” one of the volunteers, Lidia, a 30-year-old Russian immigrant who lives in Huddersfield, England. It happened to her with a woman named Natalia who at first accused the Western media of wanting to discredit Putin. But she later admitted that she knew people in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro who had witnessed the killing of women and children. Lidia perceived that Natalia’s certainties about the war were cracking.

Many of the people who talk to volunteers are looking above all else information. “We are constantly asked where the front is, what are the losses of the Russian army, how things really are in Ukraine,” says the Lithuanian writer and publicist. Even those who share Putin’s motivations for the invasion no longer believe his news. And there are more and more those who they doubt the victory promised by the regime: “People are losing faith that they can win the war.” Senuta has come to the conclusion that many Russians would like to protest against the president’s choices. But they are afraid to do it. With the extraordinary leverage wanted by Putin to deal with the huge losses of soldiers in Ukraine, the consensus was further undermined. Meanwhile, the volunteers of “Call Russia” are determined to make their contribution to ensure that the war on Ukraine no longer has the support of the Russians. One phone call at a time. “Of course, I can’t change a stranger’s world view in an hour – says Senuta -. But people are starting to think.”

(This article is taken from the newsletter il «Punto – Rassegna» ​​of the Corriere della Sera. You can register here to receive it)

January 2, 2023 (change January 2, 2023 | 7:34 pm)

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The army of volunteers who (randomly) phone the Russians to expose Putin’s lies about the war

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