Skip to main content
  • Share to or

‘Everybody turned their backs on us’ An ongoing crisis at TV Rain sparked intense debate about Russian independent media, its allegiances, and its responsibilities. Meduza explains.

Source: Meduza
Evgeny Feldman

Emily Laskin

TV Rain — Russia’s last independent television station, currently operating from Riga, Latvia — found itself in hot water in the first days of December, after host Alexey Korostelev made, possibly unintentionally, controversial remarks about Russia’s war in Ukraine live on air. Responses to the segment ranged from claims that TV Rain had revealed its secret pro-Putin agenda, to accusations that the network’s critics were de facto helping the Kremlin. TV Rain leadership fired Korostelev almost immediately, causing strife within the network’s ranks, but that decision didn’t quell the growing controversy. Within days, Latvia’s electronic media regulator had revoked TV Rain’s license to broadcast on Latvian cable. What followed was a heated debate — among journalists from Russia and beyond, Latvian officials, and social media users — about the role of independent Russian media outside of Russia, which audiences it should serve, and what responsibilities anti-war Russians have to the regions where Russian cultural dominance and aggression still cast long shadows. Meduza collected a timeline of who said what, when, and why.

March 1, 2022


Six days after the Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s Prosecutor General required Roskomnadzor, the country’s federal censor, to block users’ access to TV Rain. (Meduza was blocked two days later.) The official statement accused TV Rain, which had been reporting on the war in Ukraine, of “inciting extremist activites, violence, and [spreading] deliberately false information” about the so-called “special military operation.” The next day, editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko announced that he and several TV Rain employees had left Russia due to threats to their personal safety. The day after that, on March 3, TV Rain aired its final broadcast from Moscow, at the end of which the team walked off set and played Swan Lake.

March 7


Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics posted on Twitter that Latvia was ready “to host persecuted Russian journalists and help them in any way we can” after Russian authorities imposed what he called “complete censorship.” He asserted that the “Russian public in Russia and around the world must receive truthful and objective information.” The invitation, a display of solidarity with anti-war Russian journalists, was striking given that Latvia, like other parts of the former Soviet Union, has continued to grapple with Russian economic and cultural dominance in the region. An influx of Russian journalists writing and broadcasting for Russian audiences, even the anti-war opposition, brought with it the potential to exacerbate longstanding tensions. As Latvian theater director Alvis Hermanis told Meduza in August, “[TV Rain] condemns Putin,” but “on questions of sanctions [against Russia], visas, and symbols of the [Soviet] occupation [of the Baltic countries] they’re completely in step with Putin’s journalists.” (Hermanis is one of TV Rain’s most strident critics in Latvia, and has been since well before the current crisis. His personal politics have attracted attention before — in 2015 he backed out of a production at a German theater in protest of Germany’s official decision to welcome migrants and refugees.)

June 6


Latvia’s National Council for Electronic Media (NEPLP) granted TV Rain a license to broadcast on Latvian cable. At the same time, the Latvian media regulator banned all channels broadcasting from within Russia. The TV Rain newsroom relocated to Riga, and began broadcasting from Riga, Amsterdam, Paris, and Tbilisi on July 18. 

August 9

Ekaterina Kotrikadze interviewed Martins Stakis, Mayor of Riga, for TV Rain. Among other things, the interview touched on the fate of Soviet-era monuments to the Second World War. Stakis promised that the monuments would be preserved, but questioned the Soviet Union’s status as Latvia’s “liberator.” Alvis Hermanis criticized Kotrikadze harslhy on Facebook, writing that the interview was “not journalism, but political manipulation” and “Russian chauvinism,” and accusing TV Rain of attempting to destroy Latvia “from within.” He did not specify which aspects of the interview he found most offensive. Stakis himself did not take issue with the interview, and called those who attacked TV Rain because of it “dishonest.”

Evening of December 1


In an evening broadcast of the show Zdyes i Seychas (Here and Now), TV Rain host Alexey Korostelev discussed the network’s hotline for issues with Russian mobilization and frontline conditions. Designed so that TV Rain can collect firsthand accounts of the war from inside Russia, the hotline allows viewers to connect with the network by email or via a Telegram bot. During the live broadcast, Korostelev said: 

If you have information, or evidence, about how mobilization is going, about what those who were mobilized are doing at the front, how they get there, and you want to tell us about problems in the Russian army, send us a message at [email protected] or write to our Telegram bot, we answer practically everyone. And many of the stories sent to us or to the Telegram bot are now public. And we hope that we were able to help many service members, for example, with equipment and basic amenities at the front, because the published stories and the stories their relatives tell are, honestly, horrifying. 

Alexey Korostelev’s program
Vladimir Afonskiy
3:23am Riga time, december 2

TV Rain’s leadership mounted a swift response to Korostelev’s remarks. Editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko posted on Telegram in the wee hours of night following Korostelev’s broadcast, apparently attempting to do some damage control. Dzyadko apologized to viewers for phrasing that created the “impression that TV Rain provides assistance to the Russian Army.” The post stated outright that “TV Rain has not, is not, and will not ever help to equip the Russian army.” Dzyadko called the war in Ukraine “criminal and despicable” and mobilization in Russia “criminal and senseless.” He insisted that “every Russian citizen, including service members and mobilized soldiers, should know the truth” about the war in Ukraine. He added that TV Rain’s editors had decided to take down recordings of the segment.

Morning of december 2

Dzyadko’s late-night Telegram post wasn’t enough to stave off harsh criticism from Ukrainian and Latvian bloggers and activists. One of the first to weigh in was director Alvis Hermanis, who suggested that TV Rain needed to pick a side in the war. Twitter posts claimed that Korostelev had admitted on-air that TV Rain equips Russian soldiers in an effort to make it “more comfortable” for Russian soldiers to kill Ukrainians. Some questioned the network’s allegiances, pointing out that the inevitable result of helping Russian soldiers is more Ukrainian deaths.

Some defended Korostelev. Political scientist (and former Putin speech writer) Abbas Gallyamov wrote that Korostelev was politically savvy to demonstrate sympathy for mistreated Russian draftees — making common cause with them and their families could win them over to the opposition. “Their protest is the ultimate dream of the Putin regime’s opponents,” he posted on Telegram, adding that Korostelev “was working not for Ukrainians or for the Latvian Defense Minister […] but for a Russian audience.”

the rest of the day, december 2

The rest of December 2 was a flurry of statements and retorts about Korostelev’s remarks and their aftermath.

The NEPLP announced that it was fining TV Rain 10,000 Euros (around $10,530 USD) for two offenses, unrelated to Korostelev’s remarks, that the network had apparently committed in November: airing a map that showed Crimea as part of the Russian Federation and using the phrase “our army” to describe the Russian Armed Forces. Council chairman Ivars Abolins noted that this was TV Rain’s second serious violation within a month, and that a third could result in the network losing its broadcast license.

Shortly after the NEPLP’s announcement, TV Rain host Ekaterina Kotrikadze announced on air that the network had decided to fire Korostelev. She described Korostelev’s remarks as “erroneous and categorically unacceptable,” clarifying, as Dzyadko had, that the network has never sent equipment to Russian troops. Fighting back tears, she emphasized that TV Rain is against the war. “This is a very difficult decision for us, but TV Rain’s leadership considers it the only correct and possible one,” Kotrikadze said.

Hours later, Korostelev took to Telegram to attempt to explain himself. He emphasized that he hadn’t sent any material support to the Russian army, but said his words had been taken out of context. He also expressed sympathy for Russian troops, writing “Am I sorry for all those hungry mobilized men, abandoned by everyone (it was them I was talking about)? Yes. Is Putin a great guy? No. There’s a dividing line in there somewhere. Do I help the mobilized people I mentioned during the monologue? Only in that I talk about them.” He wrote that he was prepared to leave the network if that’s what it took to keep it going, but ended the post on a note of defiance: “I did not call for murder, directly or indirectly. I didn’t call for killing or for supplying any army in the world. So, I don’t find myself guilty of a crime against humanity.”

In another TV Rain broadcast, later the same day, Tikhon Dzyadko reiterated TV Rain’s “unambiguous” anti-war position and explained why Korostelev was fired. “On-air slips of the tongue happen to everyone,” he said. “The difference is that there is a war, and the cost of a blunder, especially one that gives people the impression that TV Rain is providing supplies to the Russian army, is much, much higher.”

Also on December 2, the Latvian State Security Service announced an investigation into Korostelev’s program. “The State Security Service has warned repeatedly that transferring the activities of Russia’s so-called independent media to Latvia carries various risks,” the agency said in a statement. Didzis Smits, chairman of the Human Rights Commission in Latvia’s parliament, said that he personally believes Latvia should not host Russian media outlets.

December 3

Three TV Rain employees — host Margarita Lyutova (who also works as a special correspondent for Meduza), Vladimir Romensky, and Darina Lukutina (who is also Alexey Korostelev’s partner) — quit in protest over Korostelev’s firing. All three felt that the decision was not in keeping with the network’s values. “We threw one of our own under the bus. We sent a loved one to slaughter,” said Romensky, who was the editor on duty during the broadcast. Lukutina criticized TV Rain leadership for acting before Latvia required anything of them, posting on Facebook “I don’t understand how you can sacrifice an employee to please the state, before the state even demands the sacrifice.”

december 4

Critics of TV Rain dug up one of Tikhon Dzyadko’s tweets from 2014, shortly after Russia annexed Crimea. The tweet reads “Crimea, welcome to Russia!” and links to a video showing Russian police breaking up a pro-Kremlin demonstration. Dzyadko posted on Twitter on December 4 that his old tweet was “making the rounds again” and that some were taking it as an expression of support for the Russian annexation. He clarified that the 2014 tweet was sarcastic — “The tweet meant, welcome to Russia, which you, supporters of annexation, wanted to join, a country where there’s no freedom of assembly.” 

The explanation didn’t land. Bektour Iskender, founder of the Kyrgyz online news outlet Kloop, responded that the outcry should “teach Russians to be very careful with their statements about any countries that were either colonized or occupied by your country in the past, or that are under attack now.” Other replies were less measured.

december 6

The NEPLP revoked TV Rain’s Latvian broadcasting license “in connection with the threat to national security and the public order.” According to the regulator, the offenses that led to the revocation were: the lack of a Latvian-language track on broadcasts; the map which showed Crimea as part of Russia; the use of the phrase “our army;” and Korostelev’s remarks. Abolins said that “TV Rain is not aware of the significance and the seriousness of the violations.”

Editor-in-chief Dzyadko went on air after the NEPLP announcement to express his disappointment with Latvian authorities’ decision. He compared recent events to 2014, when Russian authorities kicked TV Rain off of Russian cable. “The first time you’re taken off the air for bogus reasons, you see it as a tragedy,” Dzyadko said. “When you’re called ‘a national security threat to Latvia,’ eight years later, it feels more like a farce.” He added that the network would continue to air programs on YouTube, but would be “temporarily unavailable” on cable starting on December 8.

Meduza published a statement on the revocation, expressing solidarity with TV Rain’s staff and condemning Latvian authorities’ decision. The statement also questions the wisdom of the decision to revoke TV Rain’s broadcasting license. “By banning TV Rain, Latvian officials are helping the Kremlin with something it started: the complete destruction of the Russian independent media’s infrastructure,” it reads. It has been signed by hundreds of publications, organizations, journalists, and other individuals, from Russia and beyond. Supporters include Novaya Gazeta and Mediazona, among many other of Russia’s largest independent media outlets.

Meduza’s statement

Meduza’s statement regarding the revocation of TV Rain’s Latvian broadcasting license

Meduza’s statement

Meduza’s statement regarding the revocation of TV Rain’s Latvian broadcasting license

In an interview with Meduza, TV Rain CEO Natalia Sindeeva described the events as “a complete nightmare coming from all sides, and everybody would turn their backs on us — Ukrainians, Latvians… Which, in fact, they did.”

Later that evening, Sindeeva posted a Telegram video asking Korostelev, Lyutova, and Romensky to come back to the network. In the clip, a visibly distraught Sindeeva says of Korostelev’s original remarks, “it was a mistake, nothing malicious. It was a very bad mistake. Ukrainians may never forgive us for it, but it was a mistake. People make mistakes.” Dzyadko later said that, as Editor-in-chief, he wouldn’t allow Korostelev to return to work at TV Rain.

Also that evening, social media users discovered that NEPLP Chairman Ivars Abolins, who is responsible for censoring TV Rain, criticized Ukraine and supported Putin on social media in 2013-14. In 2013, he apparently wrote on Twitter “Whatever Putin is, he holds up Russia, protects it from chaos.” In February 2014, he posted that “Ukraine will not be a stable and democratic state.” Abolins admitted to writing the tweets, but tried to distance himself from them. “These tweets no longer represent my opinion in any way,” he told a local media outlet. “That opinion was erroneous and absolutely inconsistent with my current position.”

december 7

Various organizations and people condemned Latvia’s decision to revoke TV Rain’s broadcast license. Reporters Without Borders called the decision “unworthy of an EU state.” The jury for the Redkollegia (Editorial Board) prize, which supports a free press in Russia, said the Latvian regulator had given “a great gift” to the Kremlin. Banning TV Rain, they wrote, “facilitates the totalitarian Putin regime’s struggle against dissent within Russia and democratic forces in the diaspora.” Imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny expressed his support for the TV Rain team on Twitter, writing that “their work delights me.” He added that Latvia’s decision seemed “mistaken and based on a lack of information.” 

Also on December 7, the publication Baza cited a source in TV Rain’s leadership, who said that out of five members present to vote on the situation, four, including Natalia Sindeeva, had voted to fire Korostelev.

december 7 - 8

Lithuania and Estonia also suspended TV Rain broadcasts. 

december 8

TV Rain stopped cable broadcasts from Riga. The network continues to broadcast on YouTube, though the NEPLP plans to block the YouTube channel in Latvia.

The Latvian Association of Journalists came to TV Rain’s defense, publishing a statement which said that the network had little experience working in Latvia, and that it “has not yet developed an understanding of public opinion and its significance for a democratic society.” This “doesn’t excuse the station’s creators, but it goes some way toward explaining what happened,” the association wrote.

The European Commission equivocated about the situation, telling BBC’s Russian Service that it was Latvia’s right to revoke the license, but that the EU welcomes independent media from Russia and Belarus. The Commission added that “independent media is of paramount importance in combating manipulation and interference in information.”

Natalia Sindeeva released a cryptic statement on Telegram, referencing internal disagreements among TV Rain’s leadership, and writing “I need time to think over everything that has happened. Decisions have to be made. A little later.”

december 9

Tikhon Dzyadko gave a press conference, where he addressed the violations cited by Latvian authorities as the reason for revoking TV Rain’s license. In discussing the network’s failure to use the Latvian language, as well as the map which mistakenly showed Crimea as Russian territory, Dzyadko emphasized the hectic and adverse conditions the network has been operating in since its staff fled Russia on short notice in the spring. He portrayed the issues as a series of mistakes and misunderstandings, rather than a deliberate attempt to ignore Latvian authorities’ regulations. 

Dzyadko was more direct about the use of the phrase “our army,” reiterating that the largest share of TV Rain’s audience remains Russian citizens inside Russia. “Russian propaganda wants to convince Russian society that the war is happening somewhere far away and doesn’t concern a significant portion of Russian citizens,” he said. Using the phrase “our army,” he argued, has the effect of saying “Dear Russian viewers, it’s our army committing crimes. Not some army, but ours and yours, if you hold a Russian passport.”

He expressed disappointment that the NEPLP made its decision behind closed doors, without allowing TV Rain to “convey is arguments, apologies, explanations, and assurances that TV Rain is not a threat to Latvian national security.” He closed the conference on a diplomatic note, saying that “we are extremely appreciative and grateful to Latvian authorities for extending a helping hand and inviting us here in such a difficult situation, when TV Rain was forced to leave Russia.” Dzyadko said the network’s general position will not change, though many practical issues, such as whether to appeal the NEPLP’s decisions, remain unresolved. His final words at the press conference were “It seems to me that we’re on the same side. We’re on the side of light and the side of good.”

Nonetheless, Latvia’s interior minister, Kristaps Eklons, blacklisted Korostelev, banning him from entering the country. Korostelev currently lives in Georgia. 

In an English-language broadcast, Ekaterina Kotrikadze slammed Latvian media regulator Ivars Abolins for punishing the network for “technical issues” while missing the point of TV Rain’s work. “We don’t pretend that we have arrived from Mars, we are Russians,” she said, addressing the network’s allegedly problematic use of the phrase “our army.” “And yes, our army is committing war crimes right now. Distancing from this reality wouldn’t help to gain our audience’s confidence.” She also criticized Latvian authorities for playing into Putin’s hands. “The people who got the most joy out of [the decision to revoke our license] weren’t in Riga or anywhere near the decision making process. No, the happiest of all were the people in the Kremlin,” she said. 

TV Rain's License To Broadcast Removed
TV Rain Newsroom

Emily Laskin

  • Share to or