“Tide of Poisons” Worries Independent Russian Journalists

In addition to physical attacks, independent Russian journalists have experienced other forms of pressure in their countries of exile.

Independent Russian journalists told Lusa of the insecurity they feel when carrying out their work, fearing a “poison wave” registered against journalists and activists in Russia.

At Columbia University’s Harriman Institute in New York, Galina Tymchenko — co-founder, CEO and editor of Medusa, the largest independent Russian media outlet published in Russian and English — and Medusa’s editor-in-chief Ivan Kolpakov — spoke about the challenges. Despite the Kremlin’s strong propaganda they face broadcasting inside Russia.

Responding to a question by Lusa Agency about the dangers of independent journalism training in Russia, Ivan Kolpakov assured that these dangers are not limited to the country’s land borders, and that cases of attacks on Russian journalists abroad are increasing.

“Being an independent journalist is forbidden in Russia. If we do independent journalism, we go to jail. So if someone works at Medusa, they can be arrested for working in an organization deemed undesirable. Or they can go to jail for being a ‘treasonist’ or for breaking the law on ‘disclosing information about the Russian military.’ ” he explained.

“But it is not safe to be a Russian journalist even if you are not in Russia. You may have heard that last year our correspondent Elina Kostyuchenko was poisoned in Germany. Now there is a wave of poisoning of Russian journalists and activists in Europe. Unfortunately, it is not safe to be a Russian journalist anywhere,” said the editor-in-chief of Medusa, located in Riga, the capital of Latvia. said.

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Russian dissident journalist Elena Kostyuchenko fell ill last October while traveling by train to Berlin, prompting German authorities to investigate a suspected attempted poisoning.

The 35-year-old woman – who fled Ukraine after allegedly being ordered to kill her by Chechen units at Russian checkpoints – was one of three exiled Russian journalists who fell ill with symptoms of poisoning in European capitals during the same period. to the investigative website The Insider.

In addition to physical attacks, independent Russian journalists have experienced other forms of pressure in their countries of exile.

Galina Tymchenko, co-founder, CEO and publisher of Medusa (Photo: Associated Press)

Last December, Latvia’s media authority revoked the broadcasting license of Dozhd, an independent Russian TV channel that had been operating in exile since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

“These are just a few examples of what it’s like to be a Russian journalist these days. You run away from your government, go to neighboring Latvia, which is part of the European Union, and then get kicked out. It’s like. They fought against us on both sides. Is it dangerous to be a Russian journalist? I think so,” admitted Ivan Kolpakov, one of the Russian journalists who interviewed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after the invasion.

At the event in New York, Galina Tymchenko said that after the poisoning episodes, strict protocols were adopted to prevent the recurrence of such situations against journalists, especially when traveling, limiting, for example, liquid consumption in hotels.

“We have known about the case of Elena Kostyuchenko since last year, so we have changed our protocols. First, for our editorial team, then for our freelancers, then for all of us”, explained the founder of Medusa.

“We have been able to understand the pattern of almost all the poisonings, although some have not yet been revealed: they occurred during the journey. Therefore, we imposed very strict rules for travel, the use of liquids and daily life. For example, we are strictly forbidden to distribute food or home delivery to our people. This is a little Strange, but we have some rules about not using liquids inside hotels.

Lusa questioned the type of information content that Russian citizens have daily access to on their televisions, and the journalist explained that even before the invasion, an anti-Ukrainian atmosphere had been created.

“Before the war started, it was very difficult to watch the news. There was no news about Russia. Nothing. All the news was about Ukraine, how bad its economic situation was, the state of civil society, the bad culture and so on. . All the news, every day, was about Ukraine. Nothing about inside Russian news,” he said.

“Currently, on the one hand, they try to fill all the airtime with infotainment or entertainment programs. At the same time, they aggressively discuss how Ukrainians hate Russians. That’s all,” Galina Tymchenko said. President Vladimir Putin came to power, and repression and censorship began to increase.

Although the program’s authors have been in exile for the past nine years, Meduza has managed to reach millions of people inside Russia. In April 2021, Russian authorities designated Medusa a “foreign agent” in an attempt to cut off its advertising revenue, and weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Kremlin began blocking Medusa’s website entirely.

In January this year, Moscow banned Medusa outright, declaring the media an illegal “undesirable organization”.

Faced with these circumstances, Meduza adapted and changed the language and style associated with Russian newspapers, but also managed to innovate in many areas, from new formats, advertising, ‘podcasts’ to animation and easy-to-read headlines. Access to the public.

In 2022, Medusa received the Frid Art Award for its “courageous, independent and fact-based journalism”.

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