“If only I could return to the newsroom!”- such was my second thought after I found out that the war had started in Ukraine. The first thought I had was one of “shame and pain.”
At the time the president of my country decided to launch what officials call a “special operation” to demilitarize and denazify (whatever that means!) a sovereign state and a neighbor country, I was away on vacation. The shame I felt when the war broke wasn’t because I had it good while others had it bad — especially those who had to wake up to a bombardment. I felt that way because I had little chance of influencing anything from where I was. I was worried a terrible thing would happen to the TV channel where I work; even before my plane could land in Moscow. Our TV network (Dozhd TV, the only independent TV network in Russia) was among a handful of media outlets in Russia that were covering the war objectively. And this, it did for a very large audience: each news hour attracted millions of viewers on YouTube. Eventually, the terrible thing I feared would happen did indeed happen, although a bit later than I had expected.
One thing you are certain of when your country starts a war is that terrible things are about to happen. One shudders to imagine exactly how bad those things are going to be. One moment, President Putin announces “We are launching a special operation in Donbass,” and you think, “Okay, this is not good, but it seems the army will only enter this area.” One hour later, you get the first video from Kyiv – the sky on the video has an orange glow from explosions, and the sounds of the explosions are also audible. An absolutely unbearable sight in the 21st century.
And then you return to the office; where you can already feel threats hurled by the government in your skin: “Don’t call this a war, call it a special operations, or else you will be fined millions of roubles”; “Only use information from the Russian Ministry of Defense, otherwise we will block access to your site and you’ve got yourself a criminal case!”. However, for some reason, you still hope against hope that the worst case scenario might not happen. Our duty now is to do our job while we can and our audiences — including those in Ukraine, whose lives have been literally destroyed — expect us to do just that.
After my time off, I got to work at Dozhd for a period of three days covering war. On the first day after my return, on February 27, I aired a broadcast from the Nemtsov Bridge where on that very day in 2015; the politician Boris Nemtsov, an ardent opponent of the war with Ukraine and Russia’s participation in hostilities in Donbass; who had organized protest actions against this, was assasinated.
On the second day — on February 28 — I went live with two lengthy broadcasts – one that lasted three hours in the morning, and another one which lasted an hour and a half in the afternoon; talking with journalists working in Ukraine as well as with politicians and experts.
On my last day at Dozhd, March 1, I did a report on manuals which instructed teachers in Russian schools on how to talk to students about the so-called “special operations” in Ukraine. The teachers were expected to explain how Nazis had come to power in Ukraine and how NATO wanted to attack Russia..
On the evening of that day, I was sitting at home when at around 9 pm I found out that our site had been blocked by Roskomnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media). The worst had almost happened. The reason — as the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office saw it– was that Dozhd‘s website “purposefully and systematically posted materials containing false information regarding the nature of the special military operation being conducted on the territory of Ukraine.” Most certainly, the real issue was that we delivered objective information about the war in the country next-door: every message from a Ukrainian source was matched with a message from the Russian Ministry of Defense. That, it was too obvious this time whose side the truth was on, was another question. Another obvious fact is that it was no longer safe for us to stay in Russia. On March 4, the State Duma was supposed to adopt the so-called “fake news” law on the so-called military operation in Ukraine, making it punishable by up to 15 yeras in prison for journalists spreading alleged “fake” information. All independent journalists were under attack.
On the night of March 1-2, we decided that it would be best for those at Dozhd to leave Russia. After that decision, I had only five minutes to find a ticket out of Moscow — which was impossibly expensive due to crazy high demand; 1.5 hours to fit my entire life into just two suitcases and an infinite amount of time to process what was happening.
In Russia, I left behind my family; my boyfriend and my dreams of working as a journalist in my home country. On March 3, Dozhd TV suspended its work, going off air. On March 4, the State Duma adopted the above mentioned legislation on “fake” news.
The truth is, it is not time to complain right now for those of us who have had to leave Russia because of our opposition to the war. The war is still going on; people are still dying and the end of it is still nowhere near in sight. However, I haven’t given up on the idea of being a journalist and doing my part to let people know the truth — at this time; the truth about the war. And I believe this will still happen. Even at this time when millions of people ( first and foremost in Ukraine, but also in Russia) have lost their homes! No to war!