Viewers tuning into Russia’s main evening news broadcast live on Monday night were briefly treated to the sight of something unscripted and which the Kremlin has desperately been trying to hide from them: an anti-war protest.
As newsreader Ekaterina Andreeva introduced a story on the program Vremya, or “Time,” which has aired for decades on the state-run Channel One Russia, another woman suddenly appeared behind her.
“Stop the war! No to war!” the woman shouted.
Clutching a cardboard sign that featured the Russian and Ukrainian flags, the woman made sure people watching at home could read the words imprinted on it: “Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They’re lying to you.”
The camera then cut off as a prerecorded segment began airing.
The remarkable protest was the work of Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One who risked her job — and her freedom — to let Russians know the truth about the deadly havoc President Vladimir Putin is waging on their neighbors in Ukraine.
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Russian human rights activist Pavel Chikov identified Ovsyannikova on Twitter and said his group would be funding her legal defense. Within minutes of her protest, she was already under arrest at the local police station, Chikov said.
Prior to her on-air protest, Ovsyannikova recorded a video. In it, she spoke out against the war and expressed her regret at having spread “Kremlin propaganda.”
“What’s happening in Ukraine right now is a crime and Russia is the aggressor country,” Ovsyannikova said. “The responsibility for this aggression is on the conscience of one man, and that man is Vladimir Putin.”
Noting that she had a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother who had never been enemies, she said the necklace she was wearing — in the colors of the Russian and Ukrainian flags — was a symbol for the need for Moscow to stop “this fratricidal war.”
“Unfortunately, for the last few years I have worked at Channel One and worked on Kremlin propaganda,” she said. “I am very ashamed for this right now — ashamed that I let people tell lies from the TV screen, ashamed that I allowed the Russian people to be zombified.”
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Referring to Russia’s 2014 invasion of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and then eastern territories in Ukraine, as well as the Kremlin’s poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020, Ovsyannikova said, “We just silently watched this inhuman regime.”
“Now the whole world has turned away from us,” she said, “and the next 10 generations of our descendants won’t wash off the shame of this fratricidal war.”
“We are Russian people who think, who are smart. It’s only in our power to stop all this madness,” she concluded. “Go to protests. Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t imprison us all.”
Ovsyannikova’s TV protest is one of the most high profile to have occurred in Russia since Kremlin forces invaded Moscow almost three weeks ago.
Authorities have sought to severely censor news media, ban certain social media platforms, and make criticism of the Russian military a criminal offense — the crime for which Chikov feared Ovsyannikova would be charged with and which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
But on Tuesday, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that Ovsyannikova had so far only been charged with the misdemeanor offense of organizing an unauthorized public event. On the Telegram app, a photo was shared of her, still wearing the same necklace, in court with her lawyers.
Exiting court, she thanked supporters and said she had been interrogated for 14 hours.
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And yet, there have still been defiant protests across Russia — albeit ones that are swiftly quashed.
The OVD-Info protest monitoring group says they have catalogued the arrests of at least 14,653 people in 151 Russian cities since the war began last month. One viral video on Sunday showed security forces swooping in to arrest a woman seconds after she held up a small sign reading simply, “Two words.”