The Russian television producer who staged an extraordinary anti-war protest live on national television on Monday night outlined her plan to a friend the day before, having become increasingly angry about the Russian invasion, the Guardian has learned.
Marina Ovsyannikova burst on to the set of Channel One during the national evening news holding a poster that read “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.” She was arrested shortly afterwards and has not been heard since.
“The anger has been building up with her ever since the war started,” said a friend of Ovsyannikova’s, who asked to stay anonymous. “Two days ago, she told me how she was going to do it.”
The Guardian has seen a number of exchanged messages in which Ovsyannikova informs the friend about her plans. The friend said that Ovsyannikova, who has a Ukrainian parent, had been expressing deep unity over Russia’s actions since the war started.
Ovsyannikova also released a pre-recorded video via the OVD-Info human rights group in which she expressed her shame at working for Channel One. “Regrettably, for a number of years, I worked on Channel One and worked on Kremlin propaganda, I am very ashamed of this right now,” she said in the video.
Lawyers had been unable to find Ovsyannikova for nearly 24 hours after her protest, which was an extraordinary act of defiance given that Russia had ramped up its already strict censorship laws when the war began.
She reappeared on Tuesday evening in a Moscow courtroom alongside lawyer Anton Gashishky. According to Novaya Gazeta, Ovsyannikova was charged with an administrative offense for holding an unauthorized protest. She it can be punished with a short jail term of ten days or a fine.
In a photograph taken in the courtroom, Ovsyannikova appeared unharmed and was wearing the same necklace in the colors of the Ukrainian flag as during her protest.
Her disappearance in police custody had raised concerns that she could be facing pressure to recant or that authorities could be preparing to slap her with more serious charges.
Citing a source, Russia’s state-run Tass news agency reported that Russia’s Investigative Committee had opened an investigation into her case. That would indicate she will face criminal charges. Those could include “knowingly spreading false information” about Russia’s armed forces, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that the actions of Ovsyannikova amounted to “hooliganism”, a charge that could put her behind bars for up to eight years.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has said his country would be willing to offer Ovsyannikova diplomatic “protection” and asylum in France. Macron said he would personally discuss Ovsyannikova’s case with Putin as he visited an aid center for Ukrainian refugees in western France on Tuesday.
The text exchanges indicate that Ovsyannikova was aware of the consequences her actions could entail. “She is so brave for speaking out. I am very worried for her of course, ”said her friend of her.
The friend, who has known Ovsyannikova for a number of years, described her as a “very big-hearted woman” who “really cares about people, about her friends”.
“At the same time, like someone who has been working for the state, she was extremely scared of the system and losing the life she built up. Until last night.”
Ovsyannikova’s Facebook page indicates that she lived a comfortable life, often posting pictures from beachside resorts across the Mediterranean, as well as her children and golden retrievers.
“She had a very good life, living comfortably and traveling a lot,” added the friend, who said they had not expected Ovsyannikova to go through with her protest.
Another acquaintance of Ovsyannikova described her as an “empathic and bright” person. The friend recalled how Ovsyannikova once used her position de ella at Channel One to find “the best” surgeon to help someone she barely knew.
At the same time, the friend said she had previously “looked down” on Ovsyannikova for working for the state-run Channel One. “I was a bit snobbish,” the friend said. “I thought: ‘How could an honest person work on Channel One, telling lies?’”
Ovsyannikova’s act of protest has been applauded by Russian opposition figures and western leaders. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said he was thankful “personally to that woman who went in the studio of Channel One with an anti-war poster”.
Within hours of her protest, more than 40,000 people had left comments on Ovsyannikova’s Facebook page, with many praising her for taking a stand.
News outlets in Russia have been forced to blur out her anti-war poster in their reports because of strict censorship rules which require media to avoid the use of the words “war”, “attack”, or “invasion”.
Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper with a correspondent covering the war in Ukraine, said it had blurred out the sign because it contained content that the media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, had forbidden it from sharing.
The friend who had earlier dismissed Ovsyannikova’s work said they felt both pride and fear for her after seeing her protest. “I was crying when I saw her on stage. I realized her life from her will never be the same. She is a hero.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism