On day 19 of the Ukraine war – that Putin calls a “special military operation with humanitarian aims” – Russians who protest the war and risk 3 to 15 years of detention for doing so have just acquired an icon: Marina Ovsyannikova, an employee of Russia’s state TV Channel One. Yesterday, she ran on the set and interrupted a live news bulletin on the channel, brandishing a sign behind the studio presenter and shouting slogans denouncing the war in Ukraine.
The sign, in English and Russian, read: “NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.” Another phrase, which looked like “Russians against war”, was partly obscured.
While she upheld the sign, she shouted “Stop the war. No to war,” as the news anchor raised her voice in an attempt to drown her and continued to read from her teleprompter.
This went on for several seconds before the channel switched to a different report to remove her from the screen. Pavel Chikov, head of Agora human rights group, said Ovsyannikova had been immediately arrested and taken to a Moscow police station.
Tass news agency said she may face charges under a law against discrediting the armed forces. This is a new law, passed by the Russian Parliament on March 4, that makes public actions aimed at discrediting Russia’s army illegal and bans the spread of fake news or the “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”. The offense carries a jail term of 3 up to 15 years.
Ukraine and most of the world have condemned that as a false pretext for an invasion of a democratic country. When the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted a motion on March 2 calling for the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine, 141 countries voted to condemn Russia and the motion was opposed, as expected, by Russia and Belarus, joined by only three countries: Syria, Eritrea and North Korea.
The fact that 35 countries abstained (among them notably India) and 12 did not vote at all shows that the world is still not fully compacted against Russia although Russia’s isolation is clearly increasing. The full UNGA vote came after Russia earlier vetoed a similar resolution in the 15-member UN Security Council – at that time the UAE had abstained, but it notably joined the vote at UNGA as did Israel and Serbia, the latter surprising many observers as it has close historical ties with Russia.
Anyone in Russia who calls the Russian invasion of Ukraine a war stands accused under this law. So far, authorities have systematically broken up anti-war protests; and, according to OVD-Info, which monitors protests and provides legal assistance to those detained, a total of 14,911 people have been arrested including children and the elderly.
This said, Russian citizens don’t appear afraid to keep up the anti-war demonstrations – last night, on the very day of Marina Ovsyannikova’s act of dissent, the streets of Petersburg were full of protesters:
The main street in St Petersburg, #Russia tonight.🇷🇺
The crowd is chanting “No to War!” “Shame!” & “#Ukraine is not our enemy!” 🇺🇦✊🪖✌️#StandWithUkraine#StopHatingRussians#UkraineUnderAttack#UkraineRussiaWarpic.twitter.com/RTBcvgwr29
— DN Choudhry (@dnchoudhry) March 14, 2022
Yet all independent media has been muzzled. More than two dozen Russian media outlets have been blocked by the country’s media regulator or have chosen to cease operations. The widely used social media platforms Facebook and Instagram have also been banned. Russian journalists have escaped to the West in droves – including to Turkey because it was within easy reach (and the flight is cheaper) even though they cannot work from there, given President Erdogan’s own clamping of the press.
What makes this incident notable is that it occurred on Channel One, the State TV which is the main source of news for many millions of Russians. As might be expected from a state television in a dictatorial regime such as Putin’s, it closely follows the Kremlin line that Russia was forced to act in Ukraine to demilitarise and “denazify” the country, and to defend Russian-speakers there against “genocide”.
Marina Ovsyannikova’s act of dissent marks the first time that an employee from Russian state media has publicly denounced the war. Censorship is so strict in Russia, reports the UK Guardian, that other news programs blurred out the message on Ovsyannikova’s sign in their own reports on the incident.
Considering that Marina Ovsyannikova is a Channel One employee makes her act of dissent all that much more noteworthy and brave. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was quick to thank the protester in his nightly video address, saying:
“I am grateful to those Russians who do not stop trying to convey the truth. To those who fight disinformation and tell the truth, real facts to their friends and loved ones. And personally to the woman who entered the studio of Channel One with a poster against the war.”
And the impact was not limited to the Channel One audience, it quickly spread online. Within hours of her protest, more than 40,000 people had so far left comments on Ovsyannikova’s Facebook page (even though to reach it requires using VPN and other methods), with many praising her for taking a stand. “You are a hero. Thank you so much,” one comment read.
Kira Yarmysh, the spokeswoman for jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, wrote on Twitter: “Wow, that girl is cool.” She posted a video of the incident, which quickly racked up more than 2.6 million views.
In a video recorded before the incident and posted online through the OVD-Info human rights group, Ovsyannikova, wearing a necklace in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, described herself as a Channel One employee with a Russian mother and a Ukrainian father, said:
“Regrettably, for a number of years, I worked on Channel One and worked on Kremlin propaganda, I am very ashamed of this right now. Ashamed that I was allowed to tell lies from the television screen. Ashamed that I allowed the zombification of the Russian people. We were silent in 2014 when this was just beginning. We did not go out to protest when the Kremlin poisoned [opposition leader Alexei] Navalny.”
And she urged fellow Russians to go out and demonstrate against the war. “What is happening now in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor country. The responsibility for that aggression lies on the conscience of only one man, and that man is Vladimir Putin,” she said. “Now the whole world has turned away from us and the next 10 generations of our descendants will not wash away the shame of this fratricidal war.”
To protest the war in Russia is always a great act of courage:
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Protester arrested in Moscow before she could even start an interview with The Telegraph’s journalist (screenshot from Telegraph video, above)