In the middle of the main news program of a Russian state broadcaster, a woman can be seen in the background for a few seconds. In her hands: an anti-war poster.
It’s just after 9 p.m. Moscow time. The presenter of the main Russian television channel, the state-controlled First Channel, reads the reports in the main news program “Vremya” (Time). She does it like almost every evening, with a firm voice, straight back. She reports debris from a Ukrainian missile fired at Donetsk, the use of which the leadership in Kyiv later denied. She summarizes the day of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine from a Russian perspective.
She is just about to address the western sanctions when a blonde woman storms into the studio. It is Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at the station. She hops a little to the left, then to the right, adjusting her poster. It says “No War” (no war). «Stop this war. Don’t believe the propaganda. You are being lied to here,” it says in black and white, with the Ukrainian and Russian flags in the corners. She shouts “No to the war” several times, which is taboo in Russia these days, and the presenter continues undaunted. Ovsjannikova wants to stay in the picture – and remains so worldwide hours later, when there is no trace of herself.
The appearance of the 44-year-old lasts five seconds in the live broadcast at prime time. Her cry for truth is immediately interrupted with images from a hospital. Ovsyannikova cannot be found at first and only turns up in a Moscow district court in the evening of the following day. Because of the “organization of an unauthorized public event”, she was sentenced to a fine of around 260 francs. Also, according to the Russian news agency Tass, the investigative authorities have launched an investigation into “public dissemination of knowingly false information” against them.
After the introduction of the so-called “fake news law”, according to which war may not be called war and the Russian army should not be “discredited”, Ovsyannikova faces up to 15 years in prison. The recording of the passage from the program is also no longer available for download. Each news program can usually be accessed days later on the broadcaster’s website.
Ovsyannikova is celebrated as a peace icon on social networks. “What a deed! Simply calling things by their proper name,” writes the editor-in-chief of the shut down online television station Doschd, which is critical of the Kremlin, on his Telegram channel from exile. “The performance of this heroine gave us a glimpse of what it’s like when your opinion is heard on the country’s main channel,” says a well-known Russian feminist, also from exile.
The unusual appearance is a glitch in the distorted representation of the world situation on Russian television. The news always portrays the West as the enemy and Russia as the savior of the peace. Every event is reversed, the blame always falls on others, the USA are seen as the bad guys who tried by all means to bring great Russia to its knees. Such are the mechanisms of Russian propaganda.
Ovsyannikova used them for years. After completing her studies in Krasnodar in southern Russia and in Moscow, she worked as an employee of the station and produced daily propaganda news. “I am ashamed that I allowed lies to be spread across the television screens,” she says in a video message that she apparently recorded before her live protest.
Wearing a necklace in the colors of the Russian and Ukrainian flags, she declares that she is a child of both nations. father Ukrainian, mother Russian; she herself was born in Odessa, which was still a Ukrainian Soviet republic at the time. “They were never enemies.” She doesn’t want to be silent anymore.
“We didn’t say anything in 2014 when the conflict in Donbass started, we didn’t demonstrate when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny, we watched the inhuman regime without saying a word,” she says, calling for protests. The Kremlin meanwhile dismisses the act as “hooliganism” and sees the responsibility at the station.