From the start, Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine has faced a string of humiliating setbacks – and as the war continues to stall, more and more Russians are turning on their leader.
In a nation where public defiance of the government is rare, and often results in harsh punishments, thousands of citizens took an unexpected stand against the February 24 invasion in the form of daily anti-war protests.
From that date until March 13, almost 15,000 were arrested, sparking reports of police brutality and even torture, with the government rolling out widespread censorship measures as a result.
But rather than be silenced, since then, a growing number of Russians have taken bold stands against the war.
Reporters fight back
Russian state TV employee Marina Ovsyannikova interrupted her own network's live news broadcast.
In mid-March, Russian state TV employee Marina Ovsyannikova interrupted her own network's live news broadcast to protest against the war in Ukraine, at great personal risk.
Ovsyannikova made global headlines after crashing the broadcast with an explosive poster bearing the words: "Stop the war. Don't believe the propaganda. Here they are lying to you."
And last week, two more reporters followed her lead by pulling off a stunt of their own, publishing dozens of articles ripping into Vladimir Putin on pro-Kremlin news site Lenta.ru on Victory Day.
The symbolic day is held every year on May 9 to celebrate the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany, and is marked with military parades and speeches from leaders.
But this year, reporters Egor Polyakov and Alexandra Miroshnikova jumped on the significant day to upload at least 30 articles to the site, blaming Putin for starting one of the "bloodiest wars of the 21st century".
According to CNN, the articles were swiftly removed, but not before the reporters were able to claim that "Putin and his circle are doomed to face a tribunal after the end of the war", and that "Putin and his associates won't be able to justify themselves or flee after losing this war".
Within weeks of the invasion, a law was enacted which allows the authorities to fine or imprison reporters who publish information which is critical of the war.
But it's not just journalists who have stood up to Putin, with a slew of pro-Russia military bloggers also recently taking to Telegram to lash out at a disastrous recent military operation – and expose the truth to a public used to nothing but positive propaganda from their leaders.
On May 12, high-profile military commentator Yuri Kotenok took to the social media site to criticise the botched crossing of the Siverskyi Donets river, which claimed more than 400 lives – including Colonel Denis Kozlov, commander of Russia's 12th Separate Guards Engineer Brigade.
Russian troops had been attempting to cross the river, located between the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, in order to advance further, but were intercepted by Ukrainian forces who bombed a pontoon bridge the invaders were attempting to cross.
Russian tanks roll during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9. Photo / AP
While the disaster has been one of the deadliest of the war so far, few were expecting so many pro-Russia bloggers to publicly call out the failure – but the backlash has been swift and savage.
"If you want fairytales, then you have come to the wrong place. In such a case you should go to officialdom," Kotenok posted, adding he was there "to provide with correct assessment, to speak good of the good, and bad of the bad, but to say the TRUTH.
"If you want the truth, have the truth. He who has ears, let him hear, eyes, let him see.
"War is such a thing, folks. Bloody," he continued, after sharing proof of the doomed crossing.
"In war it happens that we suffer losses. Know this and … be silent if you have nothing to say in essence. Listen, and draw conclusions, if there is anything."
Another blogger, Vladlen Tatarskiy, was even more scathing, directly holding the commander who led the operation to account.
"Until we find out the name of this 'military genius' who wasted the BTG [battalion tactical group] near the river and he publicly answers for this, there will be no reforms in the army," he posted.
"The offensive in the Donbas is being hampered, not only due to the lack of effective intelligence from UAVs [drones], but also due to such generals."
War blogger Yuri Podolyaka also joined the chorus, blaming the calamity on "stupidity".
"I emphasise, because of the stupidity of the Russian command – at least one battalion tactical group was burned, possibly two", while another, Starshe Eddy, said the deaths were the result of "not idiocy, but direct sabotage" by commanders.
Those bloggers have millions of followers between them, and experts believe they could cause real problems for the Kremlin by exposing the truth.
That's because Russian authorities are still pushing the invasion as an overwhelming success, insisting to the masses that troops were making progress and that a victory was undeniable.
But the claims by those popular bloggers, and other dissidents, seriously threatens to disrupt that official line.
"The commentary by these widely read milbloggers may fuel burgeoning doubts in Russia about Russia's prospects in this war and the competence of Russia's military leaders," the Institute for the Study of War think take wrote in response.
- by Alexis Carey, news.com.au