The Badass Russian TV Producer Who Crashed a Newscast Is Free—For Now

Marina Ovsyannikova still faces potentially grave punishment under Russia’s new military censorship law.
russian-tv-producer-marina-ovsyannikova-released
Marina Ovsyannikova she leaves the Ostankinsky District Court after being fined for 30,000 rubles ($280, 247 euros) for breaching protest laws in Moscow on March 15, 2022. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

The Russian TV producer who staged an extraordinary anti-war protest on the Russian nightly news was released by authorities on Tuesday, after a court fined her 30,000 rubles ($280). 

But she’s not out of danger yet: She still faces potentially grave punishment under the country’s draconian new military censorship law. 

Marina Ovsyannikova skyrocketed to international fame overnight as a symbol of resistance to her country’s invasion of Ukraine after she interrupted a live news broadcast Monday evening with a hand-drawn placard that said “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda.” 

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She was detained immediately after her dramatic appearance on Pervy Kanal’s Monday evening news, and her whereabouts were unclear for almost 24 hours. On Tuesday afternoon,  Ovsyannikova appeared in Moscow’s Ostankinsky District Court, alongside lawyer Anton Gashinsky, where the court levied a fine for encouraging unsanctioned protests. 

Ovsyannikova was then released—and she staged an impromptu press conference on the courthouse steps, where she was swarmed by reporters. 

“It was my own anti-war decision,” Ovsyannikova said. “I made this decision by myself because I don’t like Russia’s invasion. And it was really terrible.”

She said she was interrogated for over 14 hours, while unable to sleep or contact her friends or family overnight while in custody. 

For the moment, Ovsyannikova has only been accused of an administrative offense—short of a criminal charge—related to her public comments. But Russia’s Investigative Committee has also opened an investigation, Russian state-controlled news outlet Tass reported, citing an unidentified source. That probe could result in a criminal charge under Russia’s new military censorship law, which effectively criminalizes public opposition to, or accurate reporting about, the conflict in Ukraine

No criminal charge against her has so far been announced. The law allows for a maximum sentence of up to 15 years under the most extreme scenario. 

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At least four human rights lawyers in Moscow attempted to reach Ovsyannikova in the hours after her arrest but were unable to do so, according to the BBC’s Russian-language service.

Little is publicly known about how Ovsyannikova decided to stage her incendiary public protest. Until Monday, she had spent years working quietly as an editor at Pervy Kanal, or Channel One, one of Russia’s biggest state-run television outlets.  

In a pre-recorded video released moments after her dramatic appearance, Ovsyannikova said that her father is Ukrainian and her mother is Russian, and she expressed deep regret about her work for Russian state media. 

“Unfortunately for the last few years I have worked at Pervy Kanal, making Kremlin propaganda, and I am now deeply ashamed of that,” she said. “I’m ashamed that I let lies be told from the television screen; I’m ashamed that I allowed the Russian people to become zombified.” 

The Guardian reported that a friend of Ovsyannikova’s said the editor confided in her about her plans shortly before her protest.  

“The anger has been building up with her ever since the war started,” the unidentified friend of Ovsyannikova’s told the Guardian. “Two days ago, she told me how she was going to do it.”

Some of Ovsyannikova’s colleagues were surprised by her sudden turn to activism, according to a report by independent journalist Farida Rustamova

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Ovsyannikova didn’t talk much about politics, a friend of Ovsyannikova’s told Rustamova. “Mostly about children, dogs and the house,” the friend said.

The Russian TV presenter whose broadcast was interrupted by Ovsyannikova also had something to say about the incident. 

In a video reported by Russian celebrity gossip magazine Starhit, the TV personality Yekaterina Andreeva praised herself for keeping a straight face even while Ovsyannikova was chanting “Stop the war” behind her. 

“I told you: “Whatever happens, stand like a rock!” Andreeva says, looking into the camera while sitting cross-legged on the floor. “Where do I get such stamina? I needed it today. It’s stamina from yoga, and from the heart.”

In her pre-recorded message, Ovsyannikova blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for waging a war of aggression against Ukraine. 

“What’s happening in Ukraine is a crime. And Russia is the aggressor country,” Ovsyannikova said. The responsibility for this aggression belongs to “only one person—and that person is Vladimir Putin.”

A representative of Moscow’s Ostankinsky District Court didn’t return a request for comment from VICE News. Ovsyannikova’s lawyer, Gashinksy, also didn’t immediately return a request for comment. 

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