Marina Ovsyannikova, the Russian journalist who protested Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine by bursting onto the set of a flagship television news show, says her colleagues at Kremlin-controlled TV Channel One are scared and she doesn’t regret for one moment her action.
The 43-year-old television journalist last week held up a banner behind the news anchor during a live broadcast denouncing the aggression in Ukraine and shouted, “stop the war.” On the banner she wrote: “No War” and “They are lying to you here.”
“My colleagues are scared,” Ovsyannikova told VOA. “The heads of Channel One forbade them to discuss this incident. Several colleagues quit, the rest — continue to work. They need to feed their families; they cannot find other work in such a difficult time. Because of Western sanctions, people have become real hostages of the difficult economic situation in Russia,” she added.
Ovsyannikova has declined an asylum offer from France after she staged her protest to challenge the Kremlin’s narrative of the invasion, which Russian leader Vladimir Putin has dubbed a “special military operation.” She was detained and fined $290 for loading a video onto YouTube denouncing the invasion, but her lawyer, Anton Gashinsky, told VOA more serious charges could be filed against her.
“Her action on the First Channel live has not yet been assessed by law enforcement agencies” he said. He added: “So far, Marina has not been summoned for interrogation. We do not have any official information about the investigation being carried out against her.”
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation has launched a probe into her actions, according to Russian news agency TASS.
“A preliminary inquiry is being conducted regarding Ovsyannikova to determine whether her actions constitute a crime under Article 207.3 of the Russian Criminal Code [‘Public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation’],” the news agency quoted an official saying. If found guilty of the charge Ovsyannikova could be jailed for 15 years.
Ovsyannikova has a 17-year-old son and a daughter. Her lawyer told VOA: “During the detention she was treated with respect, they were polite, they did not use physical force.” She was held for 14 hours but was denied a lawyer even though she demanded legal representation “about 20 times,” Gashinsky said.
She does not recant a single word of her condemnation of the war. “She is happy that she was able to show the whole world that Russian people are mostly against armed conflicts. And those who support armed conflicts, Marina’s quote: ‘poisoned by state information propaganda.’ Marina is a pacifist. She believes that all conflict situations can be resolved through negotiations,” he added.
Gashinsky said: “It’s not easy for her now. Together with her are her two children and two golden retrievers. She has loans for a car and her house. Now she has lost the only source of income that she had, and she has no savings. She receives alimony from her ex-spouse for the maintenance of children. But she, like a real Russian woman, said that she would cope with all the difficulties.”
Ovsyannikova told VOA, via her lawyer, she is not making plans as “the future of our country is unknown and very foggy now and Russia is plunged into darkness.”
This week, Russian prosecutors also opened a case against journalist Alexander Nevzorov, who has more than 1.6 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, accused of deliberately spreading false information about the war in Ukraine. In an open letter to Russia’s top investigator, Alexander Bastrykin, Nevzorov dubbed the investigation “ridiculous.” The probe is focused on Nevzorov’s postings on Instagram and YouTube about Russia’s armed forces deliberate shelling of a maternity hospital in the besieged Ukrainian port town of Mariupol.
Nevzorov said the case against him was meant as a signal to journalists in Russia to show “the regime is not going to spare anyone.”
Russian authorities have been adding more and more offenses to try to shut down independent reporting on the war or any coverage that challenges the Kremlin version of what is happening in Ukraine, say Russian journalists.
On Tuesday, the Russian parliament passed amendments to the Criminal Code that would expand a new law of spreading of falsehoods to allow authorities to prosecute those deemed to have spread false information about the work of state bodies abroad.
A Moscow court this week granted prosecutors’ request to designate Meta an “extremist” organization and Russia’s federal censor instructed media organizations to stop displaying the logos of Meta, Facebook, and Instagram, all three are now being blocked on Russia’s internet along with Twitter. Television network Euronews is also now being blocked.
Most foreign news organizations have pulled their correspondents out of Russia and Russia’s few remaining independent digital news outlets have also gone into exile.
The editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, who received a Nobel Peace Prize last year announced this week he will auction his medal and donate the prize proceeds to an NGO that supports Ukrainian refugees. The paper has called on the Kremlin to: “Stop combat fire, exchange prisoners, release the bodies of the dead, provide humanitarian corridors and assistance, and support refugees.”
On Tuesday Russian investigative reporter Svetlana Prokopyeva announced she had left her home in the Russian town of Pskov and is now in Riga, Latvia. Two years ago, she was found a guilty of “justifying terrorism” in her reporting but was issued a fine rather than jailed in a case that was closely followed by the international media and rights groups. Her home was raided on March 18 during which she was forced to the floor and handcuffed. She was interrogated at a police station for allegedly spreading lies about the region’s governor.
“Yes, I am in Riga. I never thought this would happen in my life,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “I thought I would renovate the greenhouse, which was bent under the snow, and in the summer, maybe I’ll make a foundation under the house,” she added. “And I will be back. As soon as it is possible,” she added.
Some reporting for this story is from Reuters.