(CNN) — It’s hard to know what’s going on inside Russia as its military rages in Ukraine. So those looking to get past the propaganda and get news of what’s going on there are looking to neighboring Estonia, CNN’s Scott Mclean reported from his capital Tallinn for “Reliable Sources” on Sunday.
“Estonia’s eastern neighbors have long been hooked on the programming coming out of Russian state television,” said CNN Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter.
Estonia, a country of 1.3 million people, has taken in 30,000 Ukrainian refugees since the war began. Like Ukraine, it was once part of the Soviet Union, has a large Russian-speaking population and a well-founded fear of Russian aggression.
The majority of its population is ethnically Estonian, but it has a large Russian minority. In towns across the Narva River, which separates the country from Russia, many elderly residents do not speak Estonian well, if at all.
“In the absence of many Russian-language media outlets in Estonia, Russian state media have filled the void, giving people a constant dose of Kremlin propaganda,” Mclean said.
Estonia’s fight against Russian propaganda
But now even that source has been cut off since the invasion. When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Estonia blocked many Russian media outlets and TV channels.
“A lot of people here are buying some systems to pick up Russian channels,” said Vladimir Zavoronkov, president of the city council of Narva, Estonia’s third-largest city, located on the Russian border.
Many buy antennas in electronics stores to pick up Russian channels and the most technologically advanced create their own VPNs, he added.
Ilya Federov and his father Oleg, who live in Narva, have connected one television to a Russian satellite dish and another to an antenna, but they only tune in part of the programming they can receive.
“I can only watch them for 15 seconds maximum due to the levels of aggression and paranoia and outright lies,” Ilya Federov said. “It’s crazy.”
Russian propaganda runs deep, and most Narva residents believe what they hear on such news, said Oleg Federov.
But Russian state media is not the only option. ETV+, a channel launched by Estonian Public Broadcasting in 2015, gives Russian-speaking Estonians access to reliable news about their own country and the world.
ETV+ presenters have to be especially careful when covering the war. “Our viewers are ready to blame us or accuse us because they don’t believe us,” says Margarita Tanajeva, presenter of ETV+.
“But we are willing to talk to them. I don’t want to judge them… I am willing to give those people time and make them believe me,” she said.