The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Employee bursts onto live Russian state TV to denounce war: ‘They are lying to you here’

Marina Ovsyannikova burst onto the set of Russia's state TV flagship program on March 14, holding a poster that read "stop the war." (Video: Channel One)
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A woman burst onto the set of Russian state TV’s flagship evening news program Monday, chanting “stop the war” and denouncing government “propaganda” — a striking moment of public protest as the Kremlin cracks down on any criticism of its invasion in Ukraine.

OVD-Info, a human rights group that tracks protest activity and detentions in Russia, identified the woman as Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor and producer with the broadcaster, and said she has been detained. Before storming the set of Channel One, Ovsyannikova recorded a video message in which she said, “What is going on in Ukraine is a crime.”

“Unfortunately, I have been working at Channel One during recent years, working on Kremlin propaganda,” Ovsyannikova said. “And now I am very ashamed. I am ashamed that I’ve allowed the lies to be said on the TV screens. I am ashamed that I let the Russian people be zombified.”

She ended with a call to action, alluding to the high price of dissent in Russia: “It is only in our power to stop this madness. Take to the streets. Do not be afraid. They can’t jail us all.”

The protest was hailed around the world as a dangerous act of resistance, as Russia deepens its repression of government critics and falsely portrays its invasion as a limited operation meant to “denazify” a neighbor. The Kremlin has blocked sources of independent information on the fighting in Ukraine and threatened 15 years in prison for anyone who spreads “fake news” contradicting Russia’s official narrative on the war. Thousands of people protesting the violence have been arrested in Russia, according to OVD-Info, which says the invasion and its fallout have “irrevocably changedRussian society.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky personally thanked “the woman who entered the Channel One studio” in one of his regular video updates posted to Telegram.

“I am grateful to those Russians who do not stop trying to convey the truth,” he said.

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A recording of Monday evening’s interrupted live broadcast was unavailable on Channel One’s website, which says it was taken down “at the request of the copyright holder.” All previous episodes from last week are readily available. Channel One said it is “looking into the incident with an outsider appearing in the shot during a live broadcast,” according to state-run news agency Tass.

Citing an unnamed individual in law enforcement, Tass also said the woman is detained and could be held liable under Russia’s ban on “discrediting” actions of its armed forces. The unnamed person said Ovsyannikova is an editor at Channel One, according to Tass. Ovsyannikova’s Instagram account also identifies her as a Channel One employee.

The protester had jumped into frame as a longtime Channel One host, Ekaterina Andreeva, read an item about Russian efforts to mitigate the effect of sanctions over its actions in Ukraine.

Marina Ovsyannikova posted a video message to social media on March 14, calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a "crime." (Video: Marina Ovsyannikova)

Standing behind Andreeva, the protester held up a poster with a mix of English and Russian spelling a forbidden message: “No war. Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.” The woman remained on the screen for several seconds before the program apparently cut away.

In her video message recorded earlier, Ovsyannikova said her father is Ukrainian and her mother is Russian. “They have never been enemies,” she said, pointing to her necklace comprising the colors of the Russian and Ukrainian flags.

“We were silent in 2014 when it all started,” she said, referring to the year when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. She said the silence continued when Kremlin critic and opposition activist Alexei Navalny was poisoned. “We just silently watched this anti-human regime,” she said, “and now the entire world turned their backs against us.”

Russia has long drawn criticism for repressing dissent, and its invasion of Ukraine last month has ushered in a new era of global condemnation, with the West levying sanctions and major companies halting their Russian business.

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Denouncing the war in Ukraine, Ovsyannikova said responsibility “for this lies only on one person … [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”

Thousands of people soon flooded Ovsyannikova’s Facebook page with comments, many of them expressing thanks and calling her courageous. The Facebook page identifies her as a Moscow resident with experience in “TV news broadcasts.”

“Thank you for the truth!” one person wrote in Ukrainian.

“You are a hero to me! Thank you!” another said.

In Russian, someone saluted her “courage and honesty.”

“If at least one in ten was even a little like you, Russia would be a prosperous democratic country,” the person wrote. “Thanks for your action. Peace to us all!”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, tweeted a clip of Ovsyannikova’s protest while praising her for trying to expose the reality of Russia’s war to an audience of millions. “Any protest is a direct road to jail,” he said. Ovsyannikova’s act also reverberated beyond Russia and Ukraine: The Guardian, a British newspaper, put an image of her viral moment on its Tuesday front page.

Russian TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov, meanwhile, hailed Andreeva — the interrupted Channel One host — as a hero. Andreeva posted a video of herself doing yoga and repeating the mantra “stand like a stone,” saying her practice got her through the day.

Paul Sonne contributed to this report.