In a country where protest can land you in jail for more than a decade, Marina Ovsyannikova is being hailed as a “hero of Russia” for making an anti-war declaration on state television.
“Five seconds of truth can wash away the dirt of weeks of propaganda,” wrote human rights activist and opposition politician Lev Schlosberg on VKontakte, one of the few social media platforms in Russia not yet restricted by the authorities.
He was one of many on the service praising Ovsyannikova for storming the set of a Channel 1 newscast on Monday to hold up a placard that read “Stop the war” and “Here they lie to you.”
Ovsyannikova, who works for the network, managed in one fell swoop to voice anger at the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the state propaganda used to justify it.
“Those five seconds will offer moral remorse for all those who could speak the truth, but were too afraid to and justified their cowardice,” said Schlosberg, adding that her actions would “save the honor of Russia before Ukraine.”
A VKontakte post from the anti-corruption group of opposition politician Alexei Navalny pointed out that she risked “grave consequences.”
Ovsyannikova was questioned for 14 hours after her protest and did not back down when urged to admit wrongdoing. She was charged with “organizing an unauthorized public event,” which she denied, and was fined 30,000 rubles ($280) in a Moscow court on Tuesday.
She may face further charges, however, and the Russian Investigative Committee has opened a preliminary inquiry to see if she broke a new law against “fake news” reporting—which carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
“The Putin regime itself admits that five seconds of truth in a years-long stream of lies on TV are fraught with grave consequences for it,” wrote Navalny’s group. In a separate post, it added: “Even in Putin’s Reich one can remain human.”
Meanwhile, opposition politician and activist Ilya Yashin shared the video of the stunt with the simple caption: “Marina Ovsyannikova, hero of Russia.”
Another VKontakte user, Girl Memes, suggested that the protest gave her renewed hope, writing: “Your mood is at rock bottom, then Marina Ovsyannikova appears.”
Ovsyannikova faced the cameras after her court appearance, telling reporters in English: “It was my anti-war decision. I made this decision by myself because I don’t like Russia starting this invasion.”
Most media outlets that do not echo the Kremlin line about the war have been shuttered over the past three weeks, or are operating under strict restrictions imposed by the Russian media watchdog Roskomnazdor. Kremlin-critical outlets Echo of Moscow and Dozhd TV have closed.
However, the Novaya Gazeta newspaper and rights group OVD-Info, which details arrests of protesters across Russia, remain open but are wording their coverage carefully in order to avoid censorship.
Outside Russia, Amnesty International was among those who praised Ovsyannikova’s courage, describing her as a “striking example of how far people are willing to go to speak truth to power amid the brutal repression seen in today’s Russia.”