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Three weeks in How the invasion of Ukraine has turned deadly for reporters covering the war and upended Russian state journalism

Source: Meduza

Pierre Zakrzewski and Oleksandra Kuvshynova, two journalists working with Fox News, died this week near Kyiv

On Tuesday, March 15, the world learned of the deaths of two more journalists in Ukraine. Their car was shot at on March 14 in the village of Horenka, near Hostomel.

First, it came out that Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall had been hospitalized with a serious leg injury. Then, news was released that cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova had been killed in the same attack. Fifty-five-year-old Zakrzewski, a citizen of Ireland, was a Fox News cameraman who had previously worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Colleagues called him a “legend.” Oleksandra Kuvshynova, a Ukrainian national, was a photographer and worked as producer for this media crew. 

A day earlier, on March 13, the world learned of the death of American documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud, who was killed in the city of Irpin, near Kyiv. He is the first journalist known to have died in the war in Ukraine.

People are leaving their jobs at major Russian television networks because of the war – among them, some very prominent figures

After the anti-war protest from Channel One employee Marina Ovsyannikova, many became interested in how others at Kremlin-controlled Russian TV networks felt about their coverage of the war in Ukraine. The day following Ovsyannikova’s protest saw the departures of several prominent anchors, including Lilia Gildeeva and Vadim Glusker from NTV, and Zhanna Agalakova from Channel One.

Citing a source at the All-Russia State Broadcasting Corporation (VGTRK), journalist Roman Super wrote about alleged mass resignations from their news arm, Vesti, including the departure of Yulia Vorobyeva, the longstanding head of the so-called “Putin department,” which exclusively covered the activities of the Russian president. Meduza was unable to verify all this information, though one source has confirmed that Yulia Vorobyeva is in the process of leaving Vesti.

The most notable name among those mentioned by Super was Sergey Brilev. He is the host of the popular Russian political program Saturday News with Sergey Brilev and has been the anchor for numerous broadcasts with President Vladimir Putin, former President Dmitry Medvedev, Foreign Intelligence Service director Sergey Naryshkin, and other high-ranking officials. Brilev has worked at VGTRK since the mid-nineties. And he’s a British citizen.

Brilev’s Saturday program last aired on February 26; it concluded with a quote from an interview with Sergei Bodrov Jr.: “In times of war, one must never speak poorly of one’s own people […] even if they’re in the wrong.” However, information about Brilev’s departure from VGTRK has yet to be confirmed. Brilev told the Russian news agency TASS that he is currently on an international business trip to conduct “a series of special reports on how different countries with their own perspectives on current events are reacting to the Ukrainian crisis.”

According to one of Meduza’s sources close to Channel One, “every single person there understands that they’re lying”:

They have TVs showing the news from Western agencies like Reuters and AP all over their studio, but what they get from the higher ups are topics and texts that have nothing to do with reality. From the very beginning of the war, mid-level news staff were panicking: why are we lying? What’s going to happen to us? But their superiors all reassured them that, any moment now, they’d get rid of Zelensky and everything would go back to normal. But now, the clock is ticking, Zelensky is still in charge, and the people with brains and access to information are starting to lose it.

The former head of Channel One’s creative planning department, Elena Afanasyeva, also told Meduza that many people in her old department “don’t agree” with the official narrative, but they’re not quitting their jobs “because of their kids, parents, mortgages, crumbling savings, looming unemployment, and the fear of getting blacklisted.” You can read more about the current atmosphere at federal television networks in our piece on Marina Ovsyannikova

The woman who said, ‘Enough’

‘Everyone knows they’re lying’  How Marina Ovsyannikova rebelled against Russian state television 

The woman who said, ‘Enough’

‘Everyone knows they’re lying’  How Marina Ovsyannikova rebelled against Russian state television 

Meanwhile, on March 15, Channel One CEO Konstantin Ernst was placed on the EU sanctions list for being “responsible for the creation and distribution of anti-Ukrainian propaganda by Russian authorities.” 

Another media figure on the list, somewhat unexpectedly, was Tigran Khudaverdyan, the now-former deputy CEO of Yandex who has since left his post because of the sanctions. The European Union said issues with Yandex News motivated the sanctions against Khudaverdyan: (1) the search engine is a “key element for hiding information about the war” (Yandex ignores reports by independent media outlets about the war in Ukraine), (2) the service warns users searching for news about Ukraine that “some materials on the Internet may contain inaccurate information.”

In fact, Russian Internet users who visit Yandex News will not even see the word “war” on the homepage.

For now, Marina Ovsyannikova has only been fined, but she could face felony charges

On March 15, Maria Ovsyannikova was fined 30,000 rubles (less than $300) for advocating unpermitted protests in a message she recorded before her on-air protest and released afterward. According to some reports, the protest itself will be a test case for the Federal Investigative Committee and how Russia enforces a new law criminalizing the “dissemination of false information about the Russian military.” Lawmakers adopted the new restrictions to prosecute anyone who publishes information about the war in Ukraine that deviates from official statements made by Russia’s Defense Ministry. It’s still unknown exactly what information falls under the auspices of this legislation. Ovsyannikova’s poster read, in Russian and English, “No war. Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here. Russians against war,” and she said “Stop the war! No war!” several times during her time on the air.

Just how many years in prison she might face, if prosecuted under the new law, will depend on what aggravating circumstances the court agrees to recognize. Ordinary violations of the law risk up to three years behind bars, but cases involving “abuses of official position” are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. 

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Translated by Asher Maria