Maria Ovsyannikova, an editor at Channel One, stood behind a news anchor on air with a poster board sign written in English and Russian.
“Stop the war. Do not believe propaganda they tell you lies here,” the sign reads. “Russians against war.”
Channel One’s content is tightly controlled by the Russian government. President Vladimir Putin earlier this month signed a censorship bill that criminalizes “fake” information about the invasion of Ukraine, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for anyone convicted, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Kremlin on Tuesday described Ovsyannikova’s actions as “hooliganism,” a criminal offense in Russia.
“The channel and those who are in charge are dealing with it,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Friends of Ovsyannikova told OVD-Info, an independent human rights protest-monitoring group, she was at the Ostankino Police Department in Moscow, but her lawyer says he still does not know her whereabouts.
Dmitry Zakhvatov told CNN Tuesday he has been trying to locate her since her protest. Zakhvatov confirmed to CNN that Ovsyannikova is the woman seen on air holding the sign and that she is an editor for the channel.
“We didn’t find her for now, but we are continuing to search,” Zakhvatov said.
Russian state news agency Tass reported that law enforcement officials had begun a preliminary investigation into the “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the Russian Armed Forces.”
The act of protest came nearly three weeks after Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine, setting off a humanitarian disaster in the country and triggering the greatest security crisis in Europe since the Cold War.
Satellite images show widespread destruction from Russian bombings across Ukraine, including the major cities of Kyiv and Mariupol. More than 2,500 civilians have died in Mariupol alone, Ukrainian officials estimate. More than 2.8 million residents have fled the country since the invasion began, according to United Nations refugee estimates.
OVD-Info also obtained a video purportedly made by Ovsyannikova before she interrupted the news broadcast.
“What is happening now in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor country, and the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin,” Ovsyannikova says in the video, noting that her father is Ukrainian, and her mother is Russian.
“Unfortunately, for the past few years, I have been working on Channel One and doing Kremlin propaganda, and now I am very ashamed of it,” she says in the video. “It’s a shame that I allowed to speak lies from the TV screens, ashamed that I allowed to zombify Russian people.”
“I am ashamed that we kept silent in 2014, when all this was just beginning,” she says, a reference to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine that resulted in the annexation of Crimea. “We didn’t go to rallies when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny, we just silently watched this anti-human regime and now the world has turned its back on us forever, and another ten generations of our descendants will not be able to wash away from the shame of this fraternal war.”
“We are Russian people, thinking and smart, and it is only in our power to stop all this madness,” she says. “Go to the rallies and do not be afraid! They can’t transplant us all!”
Videos of the interruption were quickly posted on social media after it aired. CNN obtained the video from a live feed of Russia Channel One VK’s profile.
Within minutes, that live feed was removed.
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