After the fall The old pillars of Russia’s free press have crumbled, but the journalists who ran those publications carry on. Here are their new projects.
Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities have imposed military censorship in all but name, annihilating the entire domestic free press. Within a week of Moscow’s “special operation in the Donbas,” the television station Dozhd and radio station Ekho Moskvy both shut down, ending 12 and 32 years, respectively, of independent journalism. In late March, after a 28-year run, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta suspended all reporting until the end of the war, citing warnings from the federal censor. Many of the journalists who worked for these outlets have already fled Russia, but they continue their work at new platforms, on their own channels at YouTube, Telegram, and elsewhere. Here are a few of the most prominent startups and offshoots.
Masha Borzunova (Dozhd)
A former correspondent at Dozhd where she cohosted the program “Fake News,” Masha Borzunova created her own Substack blog in mid-February. She publishes major investigative reports, like this article about how employees at Russia’s state-run media view the new conditions of their work. She’s also revived her Telegram channel, Masha on Tour.
“I have a good audience on social media, and I figured I’d go to work for myself,” Borzunova told Meduza, saying that she has plans to expand to video content. “I’m sure we’ll be back soon,” she added, referring to the future of Dozhd.
Borzunova says she wasn’t sure what she’d do next, in the days immediately after Dozhd suspended its broadcast. But returning to work has helped put her mind at ease.
Ilya Shepelin (Dozhd)
Shepelin, who also cohosted “Fake News” at Dozhd, left the network after the invasion began but before the network ceased operations. Since March 7, he’s hosted an eponymous YouTube channel where he releases news reports and interviews with experts.
“It’s a rotten thing to leave behind journalism at a time like this. If you have the emotional resources, you’ve got to keep going. Since becoming unemployed, I’ve never worked so much in my life, getting up every day at 8 in the morning, posting on Telegram, Twitter, and streaming in the evenings on YouTube,” Shepelin told Meduza.
Natalia Sindeeva (Dozhd)
The former CEO of Dozhd (and also one of the network’s cofounders), Natalia Sindeeva has continued posting videos on her YouTube channel. She says she’ll keep publishing new content on the channel for as long as it’s possible to record interviews with interesting people. On March 1, Sindeeva also launched a news-based Telegram channel.
“After this situation [the closure of Dozhd], it was impossible just to sit at home and grieve. Keeping yourself busy with work is always best. I’ve enjoyed watching the journalists at Dozhd who have started creating their own channels. They understand how important it is to remain in the information field and keep viewers aware of what’s happening,” Sindeeva told Meduza. “To keep from going crazy, I busy myself with closing down Dozhd’s affairs, I stay in touch with colleagues, I’m working on the new transformation of the TV network, and I’m doing the film festival circuit with Vera Krichevskaya with the movie ‘F@ck This Job.’ It creates a sense that normal life is still happening.”
Bogdan Bakaleyko and Denis Kataev (Dozhd)
Bogdan Bakaleyko, who used to provide economic analysis for Dozhd, launched a Telegram channel called “Russian Emigrant Economics,” where he offers personal finance advice to compatriots who now find themselves living abroad. On YouTube, Bakaleyko cohosts a streamed show with Dozhd colleague Denis Kataev where the two journalists discuss current events and interview experts.
“After they left, almost all my former colleagues and friends started asking questions like ‘How do I withdraw money from my blocked cards? How do I open a bank account? How do I use cryptocurrency?’ So I decided to start my own Telegram channel, and on YouTube Kataev and I started streaming because it’s a crime for journalists to remain silent. We need to show videos from Ukraine and tell the stories of people who are now under fire, otherwise everyone will see only propaganda,” Bakaleyko told Meduza.
Ekaterina Kotrikadze and Tikhon Dzyadko (Dozhd)
Dozhd news anchor Ekaterina Kotrikadze and editor-in-chief Tikhon Dzyadko have started hosting their own news broadcast on YouTube. Each have their own Telegram channels, as well, where they write about world events and Russia’s domestic politics.
“I write posts with the feeling that I’m doing something meaningful and that helps lift the fog a bit, but something writing is hard because of stress. It’s impossible to relax because you can go crazy from everything happening. There were several days when I wasn’t writing anything and there was this feeling that something had ended, but I immediately felt better, and everything made sense again as soon as I got back to work. For now, Tikhon and I are able to do our stream once a week, but we want to do it more often in the future,” Kotrikadze told Meduza.
Alexey Venediktov and Sergey Buntman (Ekho Moskvy)
Ekho Moskvy’s former editor-in-chief and his first deputy chief editor post videos on YouTube, replicating the style and presentation they practiced for so many years on the radio. The streamed shows also feature many of the radio station’s old guests and program hosts. Additionally, Venediktov launched a new Telegram channel where he comments on the news of the day.
“It never even crossed my mind to stop working. Alexey Venediktov and I have gone all in on a network of new YouTube channels. […] We’re reworking old programs and creating some new ones. Now I’ve got a show that’s very relevant today called ‘Tyrants: Origins of the Species.’ There’s a lot of work, so there’s no time to dwell on a future that doesn’t depend on us. Our job is to work, to broadcast as well as we can, and to support our comrades,” Buntman told Meduza.
Alexander Plushev (Ekho Moskvy)
Plushev’s show on the Internet and technology, which ran for 14 years on the radio, now lives on through YouTube. On his channel, he also shares other videos, but his main formats are live streams and interviews with experts.
“The last time I was on the radio was February 25, having finished my second shift of the war and my last morning shift on the air. That was it for me. I didn’t do much at first, but I got my bearings after realizing that I could continue to develop the [YouTube] channel,” Plushev told Meduza.
Tatiana Felgenhauer (Ekho Moskvy)
On her YouTube channel, Felgenhauer live streams interviews with guests and releases videos devoted to specific subjects.
The channel also presents readings from chapters in various books by Felgenhauer and her cohost Nino Rosebashvili (another former Ekho Moskvy anchor and the wife of Michael Nacke, who also worked at Ekho and also has his own YouTube channel devoted to news and streamed interviews). At the time of this writing, Rosebashvili was reading “The Middle of Nowhere: Catching Serial Killers in Russia” by former Meduza correspondent Sasha Sulim.
“At the same time, I was left without my usual work format and found myself operating under new rules. I continue to call the war a war, and I’m trying to be more restrained in terms of personal attacks, because I’m afraid of losing the last remnants of my professionalism and objectivity. It’s important for me to explain to people how to read the news, how war reporting works, and how fact-checkers work,” Felgenhauer told Meduza. “And I’m happy to host a broadcast on [Venediktov’s YouTube channel]. It’s a way for me to stay in touch with the Ekho Moskvy family. I also did a few reports for Mediazona. From time to time, I’m invited to narrate audiobooks. That’s been my escape. I’ve started talking to friends on the phone more often, and I’ve been seeing those who stayed in Moscow.”
Farida Rustamova (Dozhd, Meduza, BBC Russia, RBC)
Rustamova left Dozhd in October 2021, but she launched her Substack blog, Faridaily, only recently, two days after Moscow began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. (She publishes English-language translations of her articles, as well.) In these mailings, Rustamova focuses on her area of expertise, politics, which is especially valuable given the absence of public politics in Russia. For example, she’s reported on the mechanics of outlawing Meta and the woman who disrupted a live state television broadcast to protest the war.
“For a certain period [due to pressure on the independent media by the authorities], something close to a vacuum reigned, and I couldn’t stand it. A few months before the start of the war, I quit everything and I thought about changing careers entirely,” Rustamova told Meduza. “At the same time, I was unbearably anxious and frightened. I was shaking nonstop, day and night, from thinking constantly about the bombings of Ukraine’s peaceful cities. And I started writing, among other things, to keep my hands and my head busy and to be of at least some use, describing what I can discover. I don’t want Russian speakers, especially in Russia, to be left alone with Putin’s propaganda.”
Translation by Kevin Rothrock