The Russian state television journalist who took a dramatic stand against President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine during a live broadcast says it was “impossible to stay silent” and that she wants the world to know that many Russians are against the invasion.
Marina Ovsyannikova told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday that many Russian journalists see a disconnect between reality and what is presented on the country’s television channels, and that even her mother has been “brainwashed” by state propaganda.
“I have been feeling a cognitive dissonance, more and more, between my beliefs and what we say on air,” said Ovsyannikova. “The war was the point of no return, when it was simply impossible to stay silent.”
On Monday, the Channel One editor appeared behind a news anchor holding a sign that said: “NO WAR.” Ovsyannikova told CNN on Wednesday that she was compelled to act by memories of airstrikes during Russia’s conflict in Chechnya, where she lived as a young girl.
“I worry about Russian soldiers … I think they really don’t understand why they have to do this, why they [are] fighting,” she told Amanpour.
On Tuesday, Ovsyannikova was found guilty by a district court in Moscow of organizing an “unauthorized public event.” The “administrative offense” carries a fine of 30,000 rubles ($280). A lawyer who had formerly been representing Ovsyannikova told CNN that the administrative charge was based solely on a video statement that she recorded prior to appearing with an anti-war poster on Channel One.
The Kremlin has described her actions as “hooliganism,” a criminal offense in Russia.
Ovsyannikova told CNN that she initially planned to stand back from the cameras during her protest, but then realized she would need to be close to the news anchor to ensure that her poster was seen by viewers. She was “afraid until the last minute,” she added.
“I decided that I would be able to overcome the guard who stands in front of the studio, and stand behind the host. So I moved very quickly and I passed by the security and showed my poster,” said Ovsyannikova.
In the video statement recorded before her public protest, Ovsyannikova blamed Putin for the war.
“What is happening now in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor country, and the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin,” Ovsyannikova said.
“Unfortunately, for the past few years, I have been working on Channel One and doing Kremlin propaganda, and now I am very ashamed of it,” she said in the video. “It’s a shame that I allowed to speak lies from the TV screens, ashamed that I allowed to zombify Russian people.”
“I am ashamed that we kept silent in 2014, when all this was just beginning,” she says, a reference to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Censoring the press
Putin earlier this month signed a censorship bill that criminalizes what Russia considers to be “fake” information about the invasion of Ukraine, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for anyone convicted, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Russia has cracked down on local media outlets over the war in Ukraine and many have curtailed their coverage as a result. International networks such as CNN, ABC News, CBS News and others have stopped broadcasting from Russia. And independent Russian news outlet TV Rain, also known as Dozhd, shut down altogether. Its editor and staff, along with other independent journalists, have left the country.
On Wednesday, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media communication watchdog, has restricted access to the BBC News website at the request of the Prosecutor’s General’s Office.
Earlier in March, Roskomnadzor restricted access to the BBC Russian service website.