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Russian journalist who crashed TV broadcast with antiwar message fined for inciting protests

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)

A day after she burst onto a live news broadcast on Russian state television holding a sign denouncing the war in Ukraine, producer Marina Ovsyannikova has been found guilty of organizing an illegal protest and fined 30,000 rubles (about $280), although it is not clear whether further charges will be pursued against her.

The charges, brought about by a Moscow court, were related to her video address prompting others to protest as well, not for interrupting the TV broadcast.

Ovsyannikova appeared on the set of Russian state TV’s flagship Channel One 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 of Ukraine.

Before storming the set of Channel One, Ovsyannikova recorded a video message in which she said her father is Ukrainian and her mother is Russian. She described the war in Ukraine as a “crime” and urged Russian people to publicly demonstrate.

“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.”

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

OVD-Info, a human rights group that tracks protest activity and detentions in Russia, identified her as an editor and producer with the broadcaster and said she has been detained. Ovsyannikova’s Instagram account also identifies her as a Channel One employee.

During a news briefing Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Ovsyannikova’s actions as “hooliganism” and said the television channel, not the Kremlin, was “dealing with this.”

After her act of protest — such an action in Russia comes at great personal risk, especially since Moscow has tightened its propaganda machine regarding the war — many leaders and international organizations expressed concern for her safety. Reports that she was missing circulated after she was detained. A Russian lawyer, Sergei Badamshin, shared on social media the first photo of Ovsyannikova since her detention; she can be seen with lawyer Anton Gashinsky.

She also spoke briefly to reporters after her court appearance.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office, Ravina Shamdasani, told reporters in Geneva that Russian authorities should ensure that Ovsyannikova “does not face any reprisals for exercising her right to freedom of expression.”

James Cleverly, a junior minister in Britain’s Foreign Office, told the BBC on Tuesday that the country was “worried” for her safety.

“It shows a huge degree of bravery for those individuals to protest in what is, we know, an oppressive authoritarian state,” he said. “It’s really important that the Russian people understand what is being done in their name.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is holding ongoing conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of negotiations to end the war, said he would bring up Ovsyannikova’s case during his next conversation with the Russian leader. “We will launch diplomatic efforts aiming to offer [her] protection — either at the embassy but also protection through asylum,” said Macron, according to France24.

The European Commission said Tuesday that it applauds the “continued courage” of Russian citizens who oppose the Ukraine war. Spokesman Daniel Ferrie said more than 14,000 Russian citizens have been detained in over 140 cities across Russia for protesting the war in Ukraine.

Ferrie praised Ovsyannikova for her “brave moral stance” and said she had “disappeared” after daring to object.

“The state apparatus continues its oppression against the domestic opposition, against the domestic peace-loving population, denying them their basic rights and freedoms,” he added.

Kira Yarmysh, a spokeswoman for jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, praised Ovsyannikova, sharing the video on her Twitter account. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky personally thanked “the woman who entered the Channel One studio” in one of his regular video updates to the nation, posted to Telegram.

Jennifer Hassan and Amar Nadhir contributed to this report.