A Russian TV worker goes viral after storming a news show shouting ‘Stop the war!’

A state television worker burst into the live broadcast of Russia’s most-watched news program on Monday night, shouting “Stop the war!” and holding up a sign that read “They’re lying to you here”, in an extraordinary act of protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The woman, Marina Ovsyannikova, worked for Channel 1, the public television channel whose news she stormed, according to a Russian rights group that provides her with legal support. The group also released a video in which Ovsyannikova says she is “deeply ashamed” of having worked to produce “Kremlin propaganda”.

The “Vremya” news program is one of the Kremlin’s flagship propaganda outlets, watched every evening by millions of Russians. The off-script intervention underscored how dissent is seeping into the public consciousness in Russia, even after President Vladimir Putin stifled opposition to the war and signed into law a law punishing anyone who spreads what the government considers as “fake news” about his invasion of Ukraine with up to 15 years in prison.

“We are Russians, thinkers and smart people,” she said in the video she recorded, calling on Russians to protest the war. “Only we have the power to stop all this madness.”

On Monday evening, Ovsyannikova entered the set as the presenter described talks between Russia and Belarus on how to soften the blow from Western sanctions, videos online show. She unfurled a sign with a Ukrainian flag and a Russian flag that read, in English, “No war” and “Russians against war”. In Russian it said: “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. They lie to you here.

Anchor Yekaterina Andreyeva, a veteran who hosted “Vremya” for more than two decades, continued to read her script even as Ovsyannikova protested behind her. Within seconds, the show cut itself off from the set. Afterwards, according to state news agency Tass, Channel 1 said it was “investigating an incident with a stranger in the frame during a live broadcast”.

The moment has gone viral online in Russia, despite recent Kremlin efforts to block dissent on the internet. Within hours, Ovsyannikova’s Facebook page received more than 26,000 comments, with many people thanking or congratulating her – in Russian, English and Ukrainian – for her bravery.

Ovsyannikova was arrested after the protest. Lawyers for human rights groups told the Washington Post they were unable to locate her, more than 12 hours later.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top government investigative body, has begun “a pre-investigation check” against Ovsyannikova over allegations of a break-in at the studio, the agency reported on Tuesday. Russian press Tass – which could be a first step towards possible charges. .

Citing an unidentified source, Tass said she could also be accused of “discrediting” the actions of the Russian armed forces.

His protest followed Putin signing a law this month that effectively criminalizes any public opposition or independent reporting on the war. Law could make it a crime to simply call the war a ‘war’ – the Kremlin says it’s a ‘special military operation’ – on social media or in a news article or broadcast . Highlighting journalists’ fears of the law, independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta blurred Ovsyannikova’s anti-war poster in a photo of the protest posted on Twitter.

Since Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the government has also blocked access inside Russia to the websites of major Russian-language media outlets based outside the country and to Facebook, a social network popular with the urban west-facing environment. class where criticism of the invasion has been vigorous. On Monday, he also began blocking access to Instagram, which is a hugely popular place for reporting and activism in Russia.

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets and squares of Russian cities to protest in recent weeks, only to be met with a heavy police presence. There were around 15,000 arrests, according to a tally compiled by OVD-Info. Although Putin has been adept at ruthlessly stifling dissent in the past, he could face a challenge if the protests metastasize into a broader movement that perforates the official war narrative.

The English content of Ovsyannikova’s poster reflects the desire of some Russians to show that the war against Ukraine is not being fought in their name. Disheartened by their country’s future and scared by possible conscription and border closures, tens of thousands of Russians have fled to Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Central Asia and Europe since the start of the Russian invasion.