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Russian journalist who protested Ukraine war on air escapes house arrest

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/3/2022 Robyn Dixon, Miriam Berger, Natalia Abbakumova
Marina Ovsyannikova, a journalist who became known internationally after protesting Russia's invasion of Ukraine during a prime-time news broadcast on state television, stands inside a defendants' box during a court session over charges of “discrediting” the Russian army, in Moscow on Aug. 11. © Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images Marina Ovsyannikova, a journalist who became known internationally after protesting Russia's invasion of Ukraine during a prime-time news broadcast on state television, stands inside a defendants' box during a court session over charges of “discrediting” the Russian army, in Moscow on Aug. 11.

RIGA, Latvia — Marina Ovsyannikova — the Russian journalist who made international headlines after protesting the war in Ukraine live on state television in March — has escaped house arrest and fled with her 11-year-old daughter, according to Russia’s Interior Ministry.

Ovsyannikova’s whereabouts are not known, nor is it clear exactly how she escaped her pretrial house arrest. The Interior Ministry put the 44-year-old on its wanted list Monday.

Ovsyannikova, a former senior editor at Channel One, the Russian state-controlled television channel, staged an astonishing protest live on air in March. She shouted, “No to war!” and held up a placard condemning the invasion of Ukraine and telling people not to believe government lies.

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She has since been fined twice for the offense of discrediting Russia’s military and was placed under a two-month house arrest in August on charges of spreading fake news about the military, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years.

The latter related to a protest in July when she stood on the river embankment opposite the Kremlin in central Moscow and held up a poster calling the Russian president and his soldiers fascists.

“How many more children must die before you will stop?” the poster read.

Her ex-husband first reported her absence to authorities on Saturday, Russian media reported. Igor Ovsyannikov, in an interview with the pro-Kremlin RT network, said he did not know where his ex-wife was, but that his daughter did not have a passport.

Since April, Ovsyannikova and her husband have been in a custody battle over their two children. Their 17-year-old son has already declared that he wants to live with his father, Russian media reported.

“After my daughter went missing, I applied to the authorities, but I still haven’t received any official answers from them about the progress of the investigation,” Ovsyannikov said. “When I called my daughter, she was confused and answered my questions weirdly.”

Several other prominent figures, including activists Lucy Shtein and Maria Alyokhina of the band Pussy Riot, previously fled Russia despite restrictions on their movement.

Ovsyannikova’s escape is the latest embarrassment for Russia, which has faced stunning battlefield losses in Ukraine and rising criticism of the war at home, even among some key Kremlin supporters. At the same time, the Kremlin has cracked down on displays of dissent as it works to conscript thousands of new soldiers for the fighting in Ukraine.

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Ovsyannikova did not respond to calls and text messages from The Washington Post on Sunday and Monday.

Born in Ukraine, Ovsyannikova had been a senior editor for Channel One. But when she went to the office the day after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, she said, she realized she could no longer work there.

“Unfortunately, I have been working at Channel One during recent years, working on Kremlin propaganda,” Ovsyannikova said in a video message she aired after the March protest. “And now I am very ashamed. I am ashamed that I’ve allowed the lies to be said on the TV screens. I am ashamed that I let the Russian people be zombified.”

“It is only in our power to stop this madness,” she said, alluding to the high price of dissent in Russia. “Take to the streets. Do not be afraid. They can’t jail us all.”

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