politics

‘I Am Enemy No. 1': Protester on Russian TV Speaks Out From Hiding

Reuters TV | Reuters
  • Marina Ovsyannikova told international media that she remains patriotic to her country even as she fears severe repercussions for her on-air protest.
  • Speaking from hiding, the Channel One editor said she would not accept an offer of asylum from French President Emmanuel Macron.
  • “I don’t want to leave Russia. I am a patriot,” she told Germany's Der Spiegel news site.
Marina Ovsyannikova is seen here (in a still grab taken from a video uploaded on March 14, 2022) giving a statement recorded before she held up an anti-war sign live on air.
Marina Ovsyannikova via Reuters
Marina Ovsyannikova is seen here (in a still grab taken from a video uploaded on March 14, 2022) giving a statement recorded before she held up an anti-war sign live on air.

Marina Ovsyannikova, the Russian journalist who protested the war in Ukraine on live state TV, has told international media that she remains patriotic to her country and refuses to leave, even as she fears severe repercussions from authorities.

Speaking from hiding, Ovsyannikova said she would not accept an offer of asylum from French President Emmanuel Macron despite dubbing herself "enemy No. 1" in Russia's efforts to clamp down on anti-war dissent.

“I don’t want to leave Russia. I am a patriot,” she told German news site Der Spiegel.

"Of course, I'm afraid. Very afraid even ... Anything could happen — a car accident, anything they want," she added, in reference to the Kremlin.

The editor at Russia's state-owned Channel One made headlines last week after intercepting a live news broadcast holding a sign denouncing the aggression in Ukraine and shouting "stop the war."

The 43-year-old was later fined 30,000 rubles ($280) by a Russian court for a video she recorded before the on-air protest, which shows her decrying her own role in broadcasting "Kremlin propaganda." But Ovsyannikova said she worries there may be worse consequences to come.  

"I am enemy No. 1 here now," she said, noting that Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov referred to the act as "hooliganism" and referencing rumors that high-ranking officials have called for criminal charges.

It is now illegal in Russia to refer to the invasion of Ukraine as a war under a new law designed to clampdown on public dissent. The law, which also makes it illegal to discredit Russia's army, carries a jail term of up to 15 years.

Ovsyannikova, who is half Ukrainian and half Russian, has not yet been subject to further charges. She said she thinks she would have been immediately subject to 15 days of detention if she didn't have children — a son, 17, and a daughter, 11 — but still she is "very worried" for their future.

Ovsyannikova said her son, himself a patriot, has taken her actions especially hard, accusing her of "destroying all our lives." She said she hopes that in time he will understand her gesture.

"I explained to him that in life, you have to react and make decisions that are often complicated," she told France 24.

For the past 13 years, Ovsyannikova has worked on the foreign news desk at Channel One, a state-owned broadcaster consumed by millions which closely follows the Kremlin line.

She told CNN it had become increasingly hard to follow the party line in her work as she observed Russia's increasing aggression over the years, including its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

"I have been feeling a cognitive dissonance, more and more, between my beliefs and what we say on air," Ovsyannikova said. "The war was the point of no return, when it was simply impossible to stay silent."

While she acknowledged that she could have joined a public protest, Ovsyannikova told ABC she believed that she could do something "more meaningful, with more impact." So far, more than 15,000 people in Russia have been detained for protesting the war.

Only now, she said, was she becoming aware of the "far-reaching consequences" of her actions.

In the video recorded before her broadcast, Ovsyannikova blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin directly for the war. She also highlighted her shame over her own role in broadcasting "Kremlin propaganda."

"The responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin," she said.

"I'm ashamed that I allowed myself to tell lies from the television screen, ashamed that I allowed Russians to be turned into zombies," she added.

Ovsyannikova told Der Spiegel she was "happy" to read that her protest has been followed by a string of resignations by Russian journalists, including top TV anchors: Channel One's Zhanna Agalakova and NTV's Lilia Gildeeva and Vadim Glusker.

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