'Flee or be killed’: Russia’s chilling message for Ukrainians in cyberattack revealed

Ahead of invasion, Russian cyberattack takes down Ukrainian websites, sends a threatening message to troops warning of consequences


                            'Flee or be killed’: Russia’s chilling message for Ukrainians in cyberattack revealed
A member of the Ukrainian State Border Guard at the border crossing between Ukraine and Belarus on February 13, 2022, in Vilcha, Ukraine. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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Russia formally began its offensive on Ukraine late on February 23, 2022, with rocket launches targeted at several cities including the capital of Kyiv. The move was anticipated but still comes as a shock to much of the world. But even before Russian tanks began rolling in, and rockets were launched, the attack on Ukraine began reportedly with a cyberattack. 

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According to reports, Ukrainian websites were targeted in a series of attacks by Russia, just as western allies anticipated. The attacks came hours after Putin formally recognized the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which led to sanctions by the US and Europe. It appears the sanctions have done little to deter Putin, and now the west is scrambling to respond while Ukraine's invasion goes from being a hypothetical to a reality.

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Early on February 23, several Ukrainian websites were knocked offline including that of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cabinet of Ministers. It wasn't the only thing Russia allegedly did. According to Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukrainian soldiers were also targeted with a deadly message.

Civilian participants in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit train on a Saturday in a forest on January 22, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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Russia's chilling message for Ukraine

Over the past week, Ukrainians have reportedly been receiving multiple messages from the Kremlin, which is believed to be part of Putin's playbook to demoralize them. In fact, it's not even a new tactic. Back in May 2017, Ukrainian soldiers were bombarded with messages that said, "they’ll find your bodies when the snow melts." The messages were reportedly sent to soldiers fighting pro-Russian separatists in the Eastern region of Ukraine.

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It's unclear what the exact contents of the messages sent in February 2022 are, but The Daily Beast reports the messages are "urging them to flee or be killed" in what is described as an "attempt to degrade their morale." Furthermore, there are reports citizens have been receiving SMS' saying ATMs weren't working, which the police have since debunked as fake news. 

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It's unclear at the moment if the same actors responsible for the cyberattack on Ukrainian websites are responsible for sending the messages, but it appears to certainly originate from Russia. Just a week ago, a similar attack took out Ukraine's banks and the Ministry of Defense and Armed Services websites. "This is the old script that the Russians used—and that all militaries used. You’re always going to prepare the battlefield with some sort of propaganda efforts," noted former CIA chief Steve Hall. 

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Hall equated the SMS' with "dropping leaflets behind enemy lines", which the Americans famously did during the early years of the war in Afghanistan. The attacks aren't expected to stop anytime soon either, according to expert John Hultquist. "We expect a lengthy campaign of incidents that may range from simplistic to complex," he told The Beast. However, for now, it's not the SMS' Ukrainians have to worry about. 

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Latest reports indicate rocket launches that have targeted the cities of Lviv, Kharkiv, Odesa, and the capital of Kyiv. There are also reports Russian tanks have begun rolling in from the Belarusian border. In response, Ukraine has imposed martial law and urged citizens to take shelter. 

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