What’s happening in Ukraine is a special military operation, not a war. Its aim is to liberate the country from a neo-Nazi-dominated government whose defenders use children as human shields. Vladimir Putin is a hero, standing up to Western powers obsessed with Russia’s destruction.

This is the story that most Russians have been getting from the state TV channels that dominate the country’s airwaves. For everyone’s sake, Russians need better information – which is why the international community must support the dwindling number of journalists who, at great personal risk, are trying to provide it, either in Russia or while reporting on Russia from abroad.

Even before the war, committing journalism in Putin’s regime had become a hazardous task. There was almost nowhere to work: One after another, independent venues had shut down or otherwise succumbed to Kremlin pressure – and the few that remained operated on a knife’s edge, sometimes from bases set up outside the country, reaching a tiny fraction of the audience that state television commanded. Officially classified as “foreign agents,” many reporters and editors had to include lengthy disclaimers with everything they wrote or even posted on social media. Perceived transgressions were punished with fines, beatings, prison and worse.

Now, though, Putin’s regime is going further, turning the practice of journalism itself into a crime. A new law threatens 15 years in prison for disseminating “false information,” which appears to mean anything that deviates from the official Kremlin narrative – including calling what’s happening a war. Together with other forms of pressure, this has forced the remaining nongovernment outlets in Russia – including TV Rain and Ekho Moskvy radio – to shut down or curtail coverage. Local bureaus of foreign news organizations (including Bloomberg News) have suspended operations, too. To silence voices from abroad, Russia has blocked services such as Twitter, Facebook and the Russian-language website of the BBC – which had seen viewership more than triple since the war started, and which responded by restarting its Russian-language shortwave radio service, a relic of Cold War days.

Still, Russian journalists aren’t giving up. Meduza, a Russian-language news service based in Latvia, has shifted to reaching its audience via a smartphone app and old-fashioned email, which is much harder to block. Various outfits – including Meduza, Mediazona and Agentstvo (which focuses on investigations) – maintain channels on the communications app Telegram, which has been operating relatively well. The Bell, originally a twice-daily business news digest, has gone into wire-service mode to cover developments surrounding what it carefully calls the “military operation” in Ukraine.

These efforts are extremely precarious. Already unable to attract advertisers, offshore outlets such as Meduza – thanks to sanctions – now also can’t receive payments from Russian subscribers. All are scrambling to find refuge for scattered correspondents.

So what can the international community do? Funneling state aid to Russian media organizations, as some have called for, would be a mistake: It would undermine the independence these outlets have fought to preserve and play into Putin’s assertion that the West is bankrolling his enemies. Far better for governments to look for ways to ensure independent news keeps reaching Russians – and to directly assist Russian journalists by quickly granting them asylum and work documents.

Individuals, philanthropies, universities and nongovernmental organizations can also do their part. They can make donations. They can maintain and expand fellowship programs, instead of expelling Russian students, as some have foolishly proposed. They can provide help in obtaining housing and extending visas. They can seek ways to deliver free virtual-private-network access in Russia, to help people bypass information blockades. They can and should do everything possible to support Russian civil society in what may prove to be a long exile – in the hopes that its proponents can do some good from abroad, and someday return to a very different home.

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