Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova displayed a homemade sign reading “No war” during a live broadcast on her TV channel on 14 March 2022. She generated worldwide attention thereby. Because of this action, which she said was to protest against the Russian war on Ukraine, she was temporarily arrested and fined 30,000 roubles ($280; see BBC News, 15 March 2022). On 11 April 2022, the German publisher Axel Springer Verlag announced that Marina Ovsyannikova would be reporting from Russia and Ukraine as a freelance journalist for the newspaper “Die Welt”, which belongs to Springer Verlag, with immediate effect. Her first article in the new function appeared in “Die Welt” on 13 April 2022 under the title “The Russians are afraid” (“Die Russen haben Angst”). In the following, Nataliya Popovych comments on and criticises the cooperation of Axel Springer Verlag with Marina Ovsyannikova. Her article was first published on her FB page on 12 April 2022. Nataliya Popocych is founder of one philosophy, and co-founder of Ukraine Crisis Media Center (UCMC). (Update: 15.04.2022)


By Nataliya Popovych

“I sincerely apologize for staying silent when the Russian media was labeling the Ukrainians as Nazis during the Revolution of Dignity, when Russia occupied the Ukrainian sovereign territory of Crimea and started war in the South and East of Ukraine in 2014. I am horrified that neither me nor my colleagues at Pervyi Channel said anything when Russia brought BUK missile system to shoot the innocent passengers of MH17 over the Ukrainian territory and then spent months creating numerous conspiracy theories to put the blame on Ukrainians and others only for Bellingcat to finally prove that it was Russia’s intention and crime. I am sorry for 15 000 lives of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians Russia took away in the East and South of Ukraine since 2014. I feel bad that since 2014 1,5 million Ukrainian citizens who lived in Donetsk and Luhansk regions had to become internally displaced people in Ukraine. Now I understand the lies Pervyi channel has been feeding the Russian population, as these Ukrainians probably would have chosen to move to Russia if we were that great, but they chose to continue live in Ukraine among the free and democratic Ukrainians. I am sorry I have silently witnessed and was just earning my income working for various Russian media when Russia attacked Georgia, when Russian government trespassed the UK sovereign territory to poison Skripals (and the vicinity of where this family lived) as well as killed previously killed Litvinenko with polonium which was transported on one of the British Airways commercial flights, endangering the lives of international crew and passengers. I believe the Russian government, the academics, the businesspeople and common Russian people should be held accountable for the crimes and suffering we have committed. For the killings of the journalists like Anna Politkovskaya that we did not investigate and the killing of Boris Nemtsov that we overlooked. After Russia pays the reparations to Ukraine and others, I hope that we as Russians will be able to rejoin the civilized family of nations. Sincerely, Marina Ovsyannikova”

@Axel Springer, do you have a statement of this sort from Ms. Ovsyannikova? If so, it’s be a real entertainment to see it both for Ukrainians and in the Kremlin. But if not, reading your statement about hiring of Marina Ovsyannikova at the time when Ukrainians are being tortured and killed in dozens of thousands, any thinking person cannot help but feel a whole range of emotions: from “seriously?” to “wtf”. I have been studying the Russian propaganda and state hybrid operations for the last 8 years and it seems like with the beginning of the hot war in Ukraine management of the reknown German media house all of a sudden forgot about the continued hybrid war.

Ovsyannikova is an instrument of that Russian hybrid warfare and the fact that she is being appointed as a freelance correspondent to report on events in Russia and Ukraine simply unveils that either Axel Springer’s been seriously paid off in a similar way as Mr Schroeder and so many others in Germany have been for years, or the management of the media made a very wrong hyped up decision at a wrong time. The second option is not good either, given that any media, every media now has a role to play in educating the publics, in raising the level of critical thinking in the society. But this level of critical thinking is lacking not only in the decision but even in the announcement of Ms Ovsyannikova’s appointment where one can read a misleading information. The PR Manager of the publishing house writes: “In a live broadcast on the partially state-controlled channel Perwy kanal, she had held up a poster into the camera denouncing the war and propaganda.” I wonder what does the phrase “partially state-controlled channel” means for Ms Judith Roth, PR Manager of Axel Springer? Ms. Roth, according to open sources Russia’s First Channel is owned by the following entities – VTB (known as KGB bank), Russian State, National Media Group (known as state media group) and SOGAZ (the word GAS in this company tells you whose interests it is going to represent) – so what makes you say that Pervyi is “partially state-controlled?” If you look at the financial statements of Pervy channel, you will see that in all recent years it has been reporting losses which were always covered by the Russian government, its ministry of culture and so on. In terms of its content and narratives, it is fully state-controlled. You would know that if you were to watch this channel for years and ask yourselves how many news about the suffering of Ukrainians, Georgians, Chechens, Syrians etc the coverage of this channel missed and how many of those did not touch the heart of Ms Ovsyannikova who has been a paid employee there for years.

As part of Hybrid Warfare Analytical Group/UCMC’s work together with my colleagues I have studied the coverage of Russian TV for years and its efforts to dehumanize Ukrainians and all Europeans (except for Belarus, the muppet state, and Switzerland, where till today most wealthy Russians keep their money. Those lies were spread through hours of propaganda a day, targeting the hearts and minds of anyone who watches Russian language broadcast. The European values were called decadent, Europeans were called gay, such that need to be fixed. Germany was mostly covered as a homeland of Nazis, with stories such as that of Oskar Groening, who recognized his crimes in the Auschwitz concentration camp and was still convicted for his crimes to 4 years in prison and put there at the age of 94, were prominently featured on Pervyi channel. Groening worked in the death camp for two years – this has led to the death of thousands of people. For how many years Ms Ovsyannikova has worked in the Russian media spreading lies that have led to now thousands of Ukrainians lives being brutally taken away, lives disrupted, women raped and children killed?

I just wonder if a team member of Mr. Goebbels team – before the World War II was over and before Nuremberg trial – could be offered a correspondent position at BBC or the Time Magazine? Even on the grounds of “good behavior”? At the same time, the German media house did not clarify how many fellowships it has offered to the Ukrainian and foreign journalists who died because of Russia’s aggression – in the past and today. How many subsidies the publishing house is willing to provide to those real journalists in the real war who are reporting the truth through the fog of any hybrid operations of Russia.

The first article of Ms Ovsyannikova is called “Russians are afraid”. Should we expect that the style of Ms Ovsyannikova’s writing will be as vague as the poster she used for her alleged protest on TV? Stop the war! Which war? War started by whom? Against whom? They lie to you. Who is lying? TV host comrade Andreeva or the Kremlin? Or all Russians are liars? Can you be more specific? Should we expect that the narrative of “let’s feel sorry for Russians” and “it’s only Putin and we did not have a choice” will permeate her writing and communication to the German public? If so, it is a trap which Axel Springer is setting up for the German-speaking public of the Welt.

For Russians to say “stop war” is not enough. For Russians to say “we are afraid” is not enough. Because we need to remember that Russians are naming Stalin for years in the row the most popular Russian, while they neglect the memory of those who fought for their human rights and freedoms, like Andrey Sakharov, whose popularity has fallen to single digits in the last ten years. There is a proverb that says “Good Russian is a dead Russian” and given how many good Russians, like Nemtsov Russia killed it rings more and more truth in the 21st century. The good ones are probably already dead. Those who seem good today – need to be first vetted in the process of critical thinking and checks, brought to responsibility and only then released into the society. This is the bare minimum we owe to Bucha, Kramatorsk, Mariupol, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Borodyanka and many other Ukrainian cities and victims.

I will tell you what Ukrainians are afraid of. We are afraid that that the West does not understand that Russians are afraid of the wrong things. Of being excluded from the education for their children. Of being excluded from good hotels. Of being excluded of their lifestyle paid for by oil dollars. Of being called the names they have so generously awarded to other Europeans for no good reasons. Russians are afraid of the consequences, but are not ready to apologize and repent for the causes – being their crimes against humanity. And crimes they have committed many. Ukrainians are so afraid of the brutality of Russians that they write the contact numbers of relatives on the backs of our children, in case the parents are killed!!!

Nations are built of people who understand and embrace cause effect relations. Crimes lead to responsibility, then to possibly being excused and getting a chance to live among other people. This is the process, where every step is important and thanks to Axel Springer Ms Ovsyannikova already skipped a few steps. This decision should be reconsidered. Ms Ovsyannikova will not be welcome in Ukraine until the soldiers of her nation leave our sovereign territory and stand in trial at Mariupol or Bucha.

As the Estonian Prime Minister so eloquently put it, “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is an attack against humanity and its consequences will be global. It takes courage, moral clarity and action to stand up against it and stop it. We have promised “never again”. We must act now if we really want this to be the last time. Indifference is the mother of all crimes”. Indifference to what Ukrainians right now have to say about situations like this, given our immunity to Russia’s “special operations” is both dangerous and immoral.

I do not even want to post the photos of either Russian propagandists or the media house that manages to make wrong decisions. If you choose to look at any photos today, let them be those that speak the truth of today.

Featured image / image: private

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