“Hello, hello, anybody home?” one asked. “Are we ready to fend off an attack in this direction?”
Days later, it became apparent that the answer was no. Ukrainian forces overran Russia’s thin defenses in Balakliya and other nearby towns in northeastern Ukraine. By this weekend, some analysts estimated that the territory retaken by Ukraine amounted to about 1,000 square miles, a potential turning point in what had become a war of attrition this summer.
“It’s time to punish the commanders who allowed these kinds of things,” Maksim Fomin, a pro-Russian blogger from eastern Ukraine, said in a video published on Friday, claiming that Russian forces did not even try to resist as Ukraine’s military swept forward this week.
Some of the bloggers are embedded with military units and work for state-run or pro-Kremlin media outlets, preparing reports for television while providing more detail on their Telegram accounts. Others appear to operate more independently, relying on personal connections for access near the front line and adding their bank details to their Telegram posts to solicit donations.
Mr. Kuznets, a former Russian war correspondent himself, said that Russian military officials appeared to tolerate the presence of war bloggers despite their occasional criticism, in part because they agreed with the bloggers’ hawkish, imperialist views. And the bloggers play a crucial role in spreading the pro-Russian message on social media, where their audience includes both Russians and Ukrainians.
Still, among some bloggers, the anger over the Russian military’s mistakes reached a fever pitch on Saturday. One called Russia’s retreat a “catastrophe,” while others said that it had left the residents who collaborated with Russian forces at the mercy of Ukrainian troops — potentially undermining the credibility of the occupying authorities all across the territory that Russia still holds.
And while the Kremlin still maintains that the invasion is merely a “special military operation,” several bloggers insisted on Saturday that Russia was, in fact, fighting a full-fledged war — not just against Ukraine, but against a united West that is backing Kyiv.