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Ideas

"You Need More Russians Like Me To Beat Putin" — A Response To My Ukrainian Critics

Marina Ovsyannikova's anti-war protest on Moscow’s state television made world headlines. Her story, and her new column in Die Welt, have prompted both admirers and critics. She insists on embracing all those ready to find the courage to take the risk to challenge Vladimir Putin.

Two Russian policemen arrest a protester.

Two Russian policemen detain an anti-war protester in St Petersburg.

Marina Ovsyannikova

-OpEd-

It is impossible to break my spirit. I know exactly what I have done, and the consequences it may bring. And I take full responsibility for my decision.

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Of course I wish I had quit earlier from Russia's state broadcaster Perviy Kanal (Channel One), where I'd worked up until my protest on the live nightly news of March 14. I should have left in 2014.


I understand that some Ukrainians are angry with me because I'd thought of myself rather than others for too long. But I am only human, one of millions of people who put their own safety before their ideals.

And I am also a person who once stood up for my ideals when I decided to become a journalist in the Russia of the 1990s, when it was not yet clear that the new President would gradually bring the media under his control. I married and had children — and while I was raising them, I was a cog in the propaganda machine, as it grew steadily more cynical and more powerful.

Overcoming my fear

But I overcame my fear, I found the courage to tell the truth. Later than I should have done, but sooner than millions of others. Some say I should not be allowed to work as a journalist for the free Western media now, because for a long time I was part of the propaganda machine. That sounds to me like a new kind of censorship.

Protests against me were gleefully reported in the Russian media.

Is that a fair response to my decision to speak out? I have the deepest admiration for the people of Ukraine. No one has shown more courage than they have. But courage has no nationality. Anyone who risks their own life for the chance to live in freedom and dignity has courage. That is what the people of Ukraine are doing — and it is also what I did.

In this war, everyone must decide for themselves whether they want to stand on the right side of history. On the side of freedom and dignity. Or on the wrong side, the side of lies and oppression.

The Ukrainians made their choice long ago. The Russians are staying silent, with a few exceptions. But if those who take the brave step of standing up for what is right are only met with hatred from both sides, from Russians and Ukrainians alike, then the Kremlin’s propaganda machine has won.

It plays into their hands. They can say, “Look what happens if you criticize us: they don’t thank you, they destroy you.” All the protests against me were gleefully reported in the Russian media. It is clear what the consequence of this will be. Fewer people will dare to break away from the system. And those who do leave will go quietly.

Kremlin's propaganda machine

But Putin’s propaganda machine will only collapse if many people speak up as I did. I am not the only one who has found the courage to do so — and who has been met with mudslinging as a result. Take a look at the incredible online abuse directed at the famous Russian actresses Liya Akhedzhakova and Chulpan Khamatova. These brave women have spoken out publicly against the war. They are the conscience of the Russian nation.

Akhedzhakova has been openly critical of Putin since 2014 and has repeatedly called for Russians not to stay silent. Now she is the target of a fake news campaign, with people spreading lies that she has donated $10,000 to the Ukrainian army and left Russia. In reality, she has stayed in Moscow and is still appearing on stage at the Sovremennik Theatre.

Chulpan Khamatova has also been a strong critic of the war in Ukraine. In protest against the invasion, she handed back her honorary title as People’s Artist of Russia. She is also a victim of defamation, having been accused — with no proof — of embezzling funds from the children’s charity she founded. While on a visit to Latvia, she decided not to return to Russia — and she has therefore been called a rat for leaving her homeland.

The media is trying to destroy these two women. But they are not giving up. This is a decisive moment for everyone in Russia. People, at least those in Moscow and St Petersburg, who have previously supported the state through their work, have access to Western media and are aware of what is happening in Ukraine.

Now their moral compass is all that counts. Everything else is irrelevant. We need as many examples as possible of people who are prepared to change their minds and stand up for what is right.

Screenshot of Marina Ovsyannikova speaking on television.

Screenshot of an interview that Marina Ovsyannikova shared on her Facebook page.

Marina Ovsyannikova

Zelensky is a true leader

I receive lots of messages on social media. One man wrote: “How can I help you? What can I do? I can’t afford to take risks myself, I have three children …” My response: I also have two children. That is precisely why we must act, to secure our children’s future.

The Ukrainians have shown great courage in choosing freedom. I admire them for their staunch, courageous defense of freedom. The whole world admires their President Volodymyr Zelensky for choosing not to flee Kyiv, but to be a true leader of his people. He has not become a heartless, inaccessible politician, but speaks directly to his people every day. He does not hide from the people like Vladimir Putin, a brutal dictator who sits in his bunker.

The Ukrainians have always bravely chosen democracy. What are the Russians so afraid of? What risk do they face? It cannot get worse. Those who don’t act, who sit on the sidelines, stand to lose far more.

The danger for the world will not be over until the Russians have overthrown their dictator

The consequences of Putin’s attack on Ukraine will be terrible for the Russian people. Every family will be affected. Sons will die, families will get poorer — and the world will despise them. Because they did nothing to stop this criminal war in Ukraine.

The Ukrainians must and will defend their land heroically. But the danger for the world will not be over until the Russians have overthrown their dictator. Until Russians follow the Ukrainians’ example and put themselves on the right side of history. Until enough people in Russia find the same courage that Liya Akhedzhakova and Chulpan Khamatova have shown, the courage that I showed. Only then might we dare to hope that this system will be consigned to history.

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