"My Text in English (NO WAR) was intended for the Western public, so they would know that Russians are against the War too"
Marina Ovsyannikova Became World Famous Walking Unto Russian Channel One News With an An Anti War Poster. Here's her story in her own words
March 21, 2022
From Russian magazine Novaya Gazeta: The editor of Channel One, Marina Ovsyannikova, became famous all over the world when, during the broadcast of the evening program "Vremya", she unfolded a poster with words about the hostilities in Ukraine and the lies that are poured into the eyes and ears of Russians from television screens. So far, she has been fined 30,000 rubles for this action. In an interview with Novaya Gazeta special correspondent Ilya Azar, Ovsyannikova spoke in detail about the preparation of her action, explained why she had not quit Channel One earlier, and stated that she was not going to leave Russia even under the threat of criminal prosecution.
- You are now being compared with Jeanne d'Arc and journalist Tatyana Malkina, who directly asked the members of the State Emergency Committee whether they understood that they had carried out a coup d'état. Do you consider yourself a heroine?
No, I don't feel like a heroine. No, of course, this is a courageous act, but most of all I now consider myself an exhausted and tired person. As my son said, I am the person who ruined the life of our family, but I answered him that sometimes you need to do reckless things to make our life better.
- You must have seen thousands of laudatory comments on your Facebook page?
"I haven't seen anything yet, I just sat down at the computer and, finally, read social networks. Before that, I worked with my lawyers all the time: powers of attorney, petitions, requests, discussed legal issues with Channel One, plus I gave out five to eight interviews ( foreign media. - Ed. ) Every day, and somehow I tried to organize my personal life.
How did you come up with this promotion? Did you hatch a plan for a long time or just take it and do it?
- Discontent has matured in me for a long time, and when it started <...>, I had such an emotional shock that I really could not eat, drink or sleep for several days. It was my day off, and when I went to my next job, there was just a terrible atmosphere on Channel One: news releases [with propaganda] went non-stop, and before my eyes there was a [completely different] picture from Western agencies , because I now work - or rather, worked - as an international editor.
The first channel, of course, did not show them, but I watched them for a whole week. And when the working week ended, I realized that I would no longer come to the First, because I would write a letter of resignation. At that moment, I had several impulses to run to the protest action with a poster, but I saw that those who went out into the street were immediately thrown into paddy wagons and taken to the police station. Then I had a plan that I could organize a more effective protest.
- And what happened next?
- I made a poster at home - I went to the nearest stationery store, bought whatman paper and felt-tip pens and drew a poster on Sunday, on the eve of the action, wrote down an appeal. Came to work on Monday.
The poster lay for some time in the car, then I brought it in, putting it in the sleeve of my jacket. No one knew what was in there.
Jacket in hand, I entered the newsroom, quickly pulled the poster out of my sleeve, and walked directly into the studio with it. The policeman did not pay attention to me, because this has never happened in all the 50 years of the existence of the Vremya program.
- Were you not afraid to go on the air with a poster and write down an appeal in which very bold words are said in modern times?
- Scary. I'm still scared, but at that moment I had a strong emotional impulse. The discrepancy between what was actually happening and what was shown on Channel One was so strong that I really wanted to stop this <...>.
But I did not fully calculate all the consequences, I did not think about it. But if I hadn't done it on Monday, then on Tuesday, I probably would have just filed a letter of resignation.
- Didn't you know that there were administrative and criminal articles about fakes against the army? Or did you think it wouldn't touch you?
- No, I knew and thought it would affect if I managed to do it loudly, as it eventually turned out. But I had 90% confidence that I just couldn't do it. Either my knees will tremble, or I still won't break into the studio, or the director will quickly remove the camera and no one will see me at all.
- Now, probably, there will be a whole barrier of riot policemen in the studio instead of one policeman?
- I think, of course, the security was strengthened there.
- And why was the text of your poster also in English? This gave you a reason to accuse you of working for a foreign audience.
- That's how it was intended! The text in English was for the Western public to show that Russians are against <...>, and the text in Russian was for the Russian public to encourage Russians not to be led to propaganda.
- But our authorities really like to use this to show that the whole protest has been paid for by the West. And that's what the people seem to perceive it.
- I was immediately tortured about which special services I am associated with. Naturally, this was the first question [from law enforcement] and no one believed until the last moment that I was not associated with any special services, that I was an ordinary employee of Channel One, who does not work for the MI-6, the FBI, or Mossad.
- I read that you refused the offer of French President Macron to grant you political asylum. You said you were a patriot and didn't want to go anywhere.
- Yes, that's right.
- And nothing can make you change this decision?
- (after a pause) At the moment, of course, I am very worried about the safety of my children. If there was such an option for them to leave and I stayed here, it would be perfect. But, unfortunately, this is not even considered, because their father is here, and he will never want to leave the country.
- This is my ex-husband, we have completely different lives at the moment, he works with Margarita Simonyan, heads the director's part of the Spanish editorial office on RT. And that's his choice. I'm actually a patriot of Russia and I never thought I could move.
I'm not ready to spend another 10 years of my life to assimilate in a foreign country, I don't see any opportunities for professional implementation there. My family is here, my friends are here.
- Many, by the way, do not dare to take such actions precisely because of the children. Weren't you afraid that you might, for example, be deprived of parental rights?
- I think there's nothing to deprive me of my parental rights for. I haven't done anything reprehensible to my children, my children are fine, they are smart and educated, beautiful children. They study well, play sports and everything is great with them.
- There is no dispute, but the authorities often have their own opinion on this matter...
- That's their opinion.
- You probably heard that State Duma speaker Volodin called your act "near" and said: "This official from the TV channel does not have a drop of worries about our guys, for our country." What could you tell him?
- I have huge worries about our guys. I have a son of military age now, and I'm generally horrified by what's going on. These poor mothers who send their sons to someone else's land... I still can't fit it all in my head. I feel madly sorry for these boys. What national idea are they <...> for on a foreign land? For what?
- You could not be found for quite a long time after your detention - even before the court session the next evening. Have you been interrogated all this time?
- Yes, exactly before we were taken to court. All night and the next day.
- And what have they been asking all this time? The story is quite simple.
- They could not believe until the last moment that I had no accomplices, that I did not work for the Western intelligence services, that I did not have any conflict with my colleagues, that relatives from Ukraine did not write me anything. In general, they did not believe that this story was about a civil position, but put forward some conspiracy ideas.
- So they always asked the same thing in a circle?
- They started with my ancestors, then [asked] all my background, all my years of life, what I did, who I was friends with, where I was, what are my beliefs about this and about that. And so on, and so forth.
- Didn't you take the 51st article?
- Is this new one?
- You can see that you have little experience in these cases.
- Yes, I have no experience in these cases, lawyers are doing this now.
- This is an article of the Constitution that allows you to refuse to answer investigators' questions.
- Oh, yes, yes, I just forgot because I'm very tired. I read about Article 51 in the memo for detainees on "OVD-info" (the organization is recognized as a "foreign agent"). I told the investigator that I needed a lawyer, that I could not testify against myself under this 51st article.
And every time they answered me: "Yes, yes, yes, there will be a lawyer now." I asked what kind of lawyer, and I was told that he was state.
I said: "I don't want a state one, because I think all Moscow lawyers want to work with me now. Give me the phone." But I was not allowed to call a lawyer, friends or relatives. They said, "It's not an interrogation, it's just a friendly conversation, let's drink coffee, let's eat pancakes and just talk."
- And you answered all their questions?
- Yes, I had nothing to hide. But during this interrogation, it all started to piss me off, and I demanded a lawyer about 20 times.
- You were probably threatened with a criminal case, or wasn't it?
- Threatened. The investigator who conducted the main interrogation followed my reaction and constantly changed his phrases: "Well, the administration? No, no, it's a criminal, a clear criminal! Well, you'll go on a criminal offense." And I said that I'm not a lawyer and I don't really understand the legal nuances, so give me a lawyer. But it was all joked and started all over again.
- So in the end it's clear what's wrong with your criminal case or not? The UK stated that a pre-investigation check was underway.
- No, it's not clear. Three days have passed, we are waiting, but so far it seems calm. What will happen next is unknown.
- Isn't that a reason for you to leave?
- (thinking) I'm not going alone, because I'm more worried about children than about myself, and children have expired their passports, and it takes at least two months to make new ones. They say there's some kind of excitement now. There's no point in even twitching.
- Your work duties are a translation into Russian of direct speech of foreign politicians and businessmen. Was this work somehow censored? After all, there were small scandals on TV when the quotes did not match the original.
- There have been such cases, but personally I don't. Once I translated Psaki a little wrong [White House spokesman], but it wasn't an evil intention - I just didn't hear what she said. But it happened that other colleagues thought something and compiled the speeches of politicians in their own way.
But it was more in "Vety" on the second button, and the "Time" program was another aerobatics, and we tried to very clearly check what was really said.
In general, this discrepancy occurs often due to the fact that [Russian] news agencies send texts compiled from oral speeches of politicians into tapes. Sometimes it sounds whipping, and you're asked to find a synchronization, and you listen to the speech and realize that he seems to have said it, but so differently that the meaning changes. I have always clearly deciphered all the words of politicians, and the editor-in-chief has already chosen for herself what kind of phrases they would take [on the air].
- So you weren't ashamed of your work directly?
- No, I personally never twisted the phrases of politicians, but, on the contrary, I always fought for an accurate translation.
- Do your colleagues on Channel One feel normal at work there?
- You know, I've never talked to my colleagues on such topics, because I think that most employees at heart treat it simply as a job that allows them to make money. And nothing else. I don't think anyone raises any moral aspects. At least until recently. Everyone was satisfied with everything. These are people, they need to feed their families, they need to pay loans and mortgages.
Therefore, everyone's situation is different, everyone's attitude is different, but I know that there is a tendency that people are leaving.
- Propagandists just say that in fact, liberals work entirely on federal channels.
- There are quite a lot of people of liberal views, but even if not liberal, then 100% not such views as our leadership. I think that there are two or three percent of convinced Putinists [on federal TV channels], no more. These are smart, educated people who travel a lot around the world and understand, of course, what is happening in our country.
Maybe they are not as liberal as I am, but nevertheless many of my colleagues turn off the sound when the Time program begins.
- But Ekaterina Andreeva, who went down in history with you, said that she was never forced to lie. Is that so?
- I can't speak for Katya Andreeva. Maybe she feels so much that it's true for her. I can't talk about Katya Andreeva, I don't know her, I saw her only in the corridors, I know her on Instagram, where she travels, sits in a yoga pose and enjoys life. Probably trying to distance myself from all this.
- You said that you are happy to read that many of your colleagues are now resigning from federal TV channels. And why didn't you quit yourself earlier if you have liberal views?
- Well, I also need to feed my family with something. I have two children, a loan, I'm in a difficult financial situation right now.
- Channel One is still not the only job in the world.
- I think so too. For the little money that was paid on Channel One, you can find something else that has more soul to do.
- So why didn't you find it before?
- (after the pause) You know, I was very satisfied with the work schedule: a week in a week, I didn't strain much there. Excellent Work-Life balance, as they like to say in Europe now. Of course, I was thinking about changing jobs [and before], but in general I was satisfied with everything until <...> started in Ukraine. It has already become completely impossible to tolerate.
- You say in your video message that you are ashamed of working on Channel One, mention Navalny's poisoning. Then you must have been ashamed too? Or not?
- It was a shame. I signed several petitions in defense of Navalny. But I didn't go to the rallies because I have a very busy life, and I didn't have free time at all. The impulse was to go, but it was not implemented.
- You also call on people to go to rallies in your address, but you don't go out yourself. This is considered not very correct.
- I know - I was almost criminalized for it. If I called for going to rallies specifically on such a date in such and such a place, there would be a criminal article, as lawyers explained to me, and since it was an abstract appeal, the article was administrative. If I go to the rally for the second time, there will already be a criminal prosecution of me (a very controversial interpretation of the legislation on violation of the rules of holding rallies. - I. A.)
- I meant that it is considered incorrect for activists to call for actions if you don't go to them yourself.
- Well, I went to the action. Wasn't it a protest?
- I'd call it a single picket...
- Probably, I used the wrong wording there, I just had to say: "Express your disagreement."
- Did you end up threatened with dismissal? I know you quit yourself, but how did it happen?
- I was immediately offered to write a statement of my own free will, but I just didn't do it emotionally. Now my lawyers took the application and gave it to the personnel department, and soon I will be officially dismissed.
- What do you think about the statement of your former boss in GTRK "Kuban" Runov that "it's better to engage in journalism, not to look for adventures on your ass."
- People rate my act differently, he evaluates it like this.
- Do you think someone will follow your example on television? Or, on the contrary, will they be even more scared?
- I don't call anyone to break professional ethics, and, frankly speaking, you probably shouldn't do it. It's better to quit silently and leave.
Marina Ovsyannikova after the session on the election of punishment in the Ostankino Court. Photo: Mikhail Dzhaparidze / TASS
- Do you think your action impressed ordinary viewers?
- The whole world learned about this action, because I was sent that my name was in the top of Twitter on March 15.
- The world, of course, learned, but it seemed to me that the more important meaning of the action was for people who watch propaganda to learn the truth.
- I hope they saw it. Don't you think so?
- It seems that your poster was shown there for too short.
- Do you think someone is watching the news on TV now? All news is consumed from the Internet, and everyone watched the action in telegram channels.
- Do you think people will think now or just wave it off?
- I think they'll think about it. A smart person should. However, now all the smartest and smartest, most competent specialists will be expelled abroad, and only convinced Putinists will remain in Russia. With this baggage, our country will go into a bright future...
- And how can you defeat indifference in our society?
- People should understand that their problems are directly related to what is happening now [in Ukraine]. Is it possible to fence yourself off now only with your own problems?
Problems accumulate like a snowball every day, and this avalanche will just absorb us in the end.
Russian people just think very slowly, but in the end they reach the point of [siping]. It's just that not everything is so fast, it takes some time for the people to realize what our lives have become now.
- Yes, but the Ukrainian people don't have too much time to wait for it.
- Yes, unfortunately, that's why I tried to stir up the Russian audience, and it seems to me that it was a very good move for people to think at least a little bit about what was going on, and not sit in fear each in their hole.
- You lived in Chechnya when you were a child, didn't you?
- I was born in Odessa, and I lived in Chechnya from 1985 to 1993 or 1992. We left there when the shooting began, ran away when the shells began to explode under our windows.
- It turns out that then they bombed the place where you lived as a child, and now they bomb the place where you were born.
- Yes, yes, yes, and this, of course, served as a kind of trigger, because as a child I experienced what Ukrainian refugees are now experiencing. The same thing: the destroyed apartment, the loss of all property, the beginning of life from scratch. I was 12 years old then, and I could safely start life from scratch, but my mother was over 40 years old, and for her the beginning of a new life absolutely without anything became a very deep psychological trauma, from which she still cannot come to her senses.
- What do you think to do next?
- I'm not making any long-term plans now. I really want to get enough sleep and think about it freshly, see what happens next.