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Ukrainian flags are seen as people in Frankfurt, Germany, watch Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a screen addressing anti-war demonstrations in several European cities, on March 4 2022. Picture: REUTERS/TIM REICHERT
Ukrainian flags are seen as people in Frankfurt, Germany, watch Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a screen addressing anti-war demonstrations in several European cities, on March 4 2022. Picture: REUTERS/TIM REICHERT

Lviv/Kyiv — Russia blocked Facebook and other websites and passed a law that gave Moscow much stronger powers to crack down on independent journalism, prompting the BBC, Bloomberg and other foreign media to suspend reporting in the country.

Fighting back in the information war, Russia’s parliament passed a law on Friday imposing a prison term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.

“This law will force punishment — and very tough punishment — on those who lied and made statements which discredited our armed forces,” said Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.

CNN and CBS News said they would stop broadcasting in Russia, and other outlets removed Russian-based journalists’ bylines as they assessed the situation.

Russia is blocking Facebook for restricting state-backed channels and the websites of the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.

Major cities under attack

War raged in Ukraine for a tenth day on Saturday as Russian troops besieged and bombarded cities in the biggest attack on a European state since World War 2.

The fighting has created over 1-million refugees, a barrage of sanctions that are increasingly isolating Moscow and fears in the West of a wider global conflict that has been unthought-of for decades.

Moscow says its invasion is a “special operation” to capture individuals it regards as dangerous nationalists, and has denied targeting civilians.

Ukraine’s state service of special communications and protection of information says Russian forces have focused efforts on encircling Kyiv and Kharkiv, the second-biggest city, while aiming to establish a land bridge to Crimea.

Kyiv, in the path of a Russian armoured column that has been stalled outside the Ukrainian capital for days, came under renewed assault, with explosions audible from the city centre.

Ukrainian media outlet Suspilne cited authorities in Sumy, about 300km east of Kyiv, as saying that there is a risk of fighting in the city’s streets, urging residents to stay in shelters.

Russian forces have also encircled and shelled the southeastern port city of Mariupol — a key prize. There is no water, heat or electricity and food is running out, according to mayor Vadym Boychenko.

“We are simply being destroyed,” he said.

President Vladimir Putin’s actions have drawn almost universal condemnation, and many countries have imposed heavy sanctions as the West balances punishment with avoiding a widening of the conflict.

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