If you were watching Dozhd TV, Russia’s only independent broadcaster, on Thursday evening, you wouldn't have seen images of war.
Instead, the channel, which has been forced to shut down as Moscow cracks down on the country’s independent media, chose to show Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
During the live stream, journalists said, “No to war,” before walking out and broadcasting the ballet Swan Lake. The 1991 production of the ballet was shown on loop on TV during the attempted coup of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the fall of the Soviet Union.
On Friday, hours after Dozhd TV came off air, Russia passed a law criminalising sharing anything it says is “fake news” about the Russian military, making it a crime punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
Dozhd TV, also known as TV Rain, has been the only broadcaster in the country accurately reporting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, providing Russian people with accurate information about the invasion, which started eight days ago.
Its founder, Natasha Sindeyeva, had told VICE World News days before the invasion, “nobody can make us do something or not do something – that person doesn't exist.”
Despite its insistence to continue broadcasting, Russia’s growing threat to independent news media puts journalists at increasing personal risk of imprisonment.
The broadcaster’s website and app had been blocked in the country on Wednesday amid Kremlin pressure to silence any reporting of its violent invasion of Ukraine.
Now, Russians in the country — who are fleeing amid fears of martial law — are only able to access state-run TV channels, which are legally obliged to refer to the war as a “special operation,” and argue, falsely, that the war is to stop the “Nazification” of Ukraine.
“The whole idea Moscow has is they have to remove Nazis from Ukraine to liberate people, and that Russian soldier soldiers help Ukrainian soldiers,” Vera Krichevskaya, former Dozhd TV journalist and documentary-maker, told VICE World News. “Russian broadcasters have shown bombings twice – one rocket in Kyiv apartment building and another one Kharkiv explosion – saying [falsely] that is Ukrainian misfire.”
“[They say] Russians give Ukrainians food and blankets,” she said. “It's a completely different picture.
The last few years have seen journalists who do not represent the Kremlin’s position threatened with imprisonment, including being listed as “foreign agents” by the state.
The independent radio station, Ekho Moskvy, was also shut down this week for its reporting on the invasion.