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The free world needs to help this brave Ukrainian journalist


Anti-war signs have popped up all over the world.

But there is one place you don’t expect to see one: Russian state TV. That changed on Monday when Marina Ovsyannikova, a brave and now possibly doomed Russian journalist, crashed a live newscast at Channel One to protest the invasion of Ukraine.

The clip was surreal. As a subdued anchor sits behind the desk, reciting the latest Kremlin talking points, Ovsyannikova suddenly appears on screen, shouting and holding a placard that reads: “NO WAR. STOP THE WAR. DON’T BELIEVE THE PROPAGANDA. THEY ARE LYING TO YOU HERE. RUSSIANS AGAINST WAR.”

The director, no doubt having a panic attack, quickly cut the live feed and switched to a canned segment. But the damage was done. Ovsyannikova’s dramatic rebuke of Vladimir Putin’s barbaric evil was quickly seen around the world.

Now the question becomes: Was it seen inside Russia?

On Monday night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked this of Yakov Kronrod, an American in Moscow. Did this protest, by a Channel One editor no less, have an impact?

“Yes,” Kronrod replied. “It sends shock waves through all of Russian society. Yandex News actually had a story about it, and they rarely have anything that’s against the main narrative …

“Literally, it exploded. Everyone was texting each other, calling each other, saying, ‘Did you see? Did you see what happened?’ And many of the human rights activists that I’m talking to, they feel this may very well be the start of the wave. To see someone like that — you know, Channel One has 250 million viewers, it’s the No. 1 watched station by most common Russians. For a lot of Russians, this was the first time they saw any dissenting voice.”

I pray he’s right. I fear he’s wrong. This is the challenge facing the free world.

We can all agree the death and destruction inflicted on Ukraine is beyond horrifying. The images crackling on our screens daily — the merciless bombardment of hospitals, schools, houses, pharmacies, humanitarian corridors and every touchstone of civil society — leaves no doubt Putin is a war criminal, mass murderer and human garbage.

But what we can’t agree on is how to make Russians see what we are seeing.

For two decades, Putin has tightened his vise on free speech and the flow of information that can reach Russians. Unlike in the West, where we often take freedom of the press for granted, Putin has cracked down on the Fourth Estate because he views an independent media as a quadruple threat to his chronic duplicity.

You can’t have journalists blurting out 2+2 = 4 when you need that sum to total 5 or Z.

Have you seen any of these heartbreaking interviews with Ukrainians who’ve desperately tried to inform relatives in Russia they are under assault? Then the relatives, sometimes a parent or sibling, refuse to believe them? It’s as if I was pinned between a car and a brick wall and called my dad and he replied, “Son, there is no such thing as a car or brick wall.”

Russia is not attacking you. Russia is trying to save you from drug addicts and neo-Nazis! Russia is not killing women and children with cruise missiles. Russia is just bringing you catering trucks lovingly crammed with blini, stroganoff, borscht and piroshki!

For the vast majority of Russians, up is down, left is right, black is white and the illegal invasion of Ukraine is a humanitarian mission. Somewhere, Orwell is weeping into his Victory Gin. Putin feels emboldened to act savagely because he rules over zombies. Most Russians inhabit a parallel universe. Their brains are blank hard drives upon which Putin can upload his crazy lies. If the Kremlin told Russians Canada was secretly controlled by extraterrestrial pedophiles who harvest organs, anchors on Russian state media would call for nuclear strikes on Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

“Zombies” was a word Ovsyannikova used in a video she recorded prior to her protest on Monday. She was lamenting her own role in spreading disinformation. She expressed regret and shame. Now others in Russian media need to realize they can either be on the right side of history or let Ovsyannikova’s courage fizzle to nothing. Given the new draconian laws passed in Russia this month over “fake news,” she may well spend the next 15 years in prison. That’s assuming she doesn’t suffer the even more heinous fate of some Putin critics, which includes mysteriously falling out of windows, falling into bullets, falling in front of speeding trucks or falling deathly ill after getting poisoned with Novichok or Polonium-210.

Putin is the monster. Ovsyannikova is the hero.

The problem is most Russians still do not see it this way.

Helping Ukraine fight for its very existence, with sanctions and weapons, is good. But it’s not enough. The free world must also figure out how to rouse Russians from two decades of brainwashed slumber. It’s like trying to deprogram a cult of 140 million. Have you ever had a serious debate with someone who truly believes the Earth is flat? I have. It’s terrifying because you have entered a realm where there are no shared facts and points of reference.

It took a lot of guts for Ovsyannikova to do what she did on Monday.

Now the free world needs to keep shining a spotlight on Russian dissent.

Her heroism must not fade to black.

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