The Russian authorities have been suppressing the free press for years, but after the invasion of Ukraine, this struggle has become especially fierce and swift. According to the laws introduced there, anyone who calls what is happening in Ukraine a war must bear criminal liability.
“Already at the beginning of March, in the first days after the introduction of military censorship, the police came to us,” recalls Denis Kamalyagin, editor-in-chief of Pskov Gubernia. “OMON came with weapons and scared all my interns who were at the editorial office at that moment. They threatened to send them to the front the next day. The interns are young, military age. All of our equipment was taken.”
Denis Kamalyagin continues his work at the Riga Media Hub, which since the beginning of the war has helped more than 500 media workers from Ukraine, Belarus, but mostly from Russia.
During the first months of the war, journalists working in Russia were invited to Riga by the Latvian Foreign Minister. Deutsche Well and BBC Russian Services, Washington Post and others have opened offices in Latvia. Leading Russian opposition media such as Meduza, Novaya Gazeta, Current Time TV and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are now also based in Riga.
“We see Riga as a strategic place from which we can hear what Russians think, including those Russians who are in exile,” said Elmārs Svekis, head of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty office. journalists and colleagues who continue to work in a rather significant danger from Russia. And we also focus on the Russian-speaking audience in Russia, in the CIS countries, as well as in the European Union.”
Fact-checking and investigative journalism
The decisive genres were fact-checking to refute Russian propaganda messages, as well as investigative journalism.
To communicate with colleagues and whistleblowers in Russia, journalists use anonymous communication tools and social networks.
“Voices from Russia are being heard,” says Timofey Rozhansky, a journalist for Present Time. “And it is very important that they be heard. And, of course, in a sense, we can become the voice of the people who remained in Russia, who do not agree with what is happening.”
Although Russia actively restricts access to independent media and threatens those who read or view these publications, journalists are confident that the content they produce reaches a wide audience of millions in Russia.
“We knew about it last year,” says Kirill Martynov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta Europe. “At the beginning of the war and at the time of the announcement of mobilization in September 2022, all independent media had a record number of viewers. People were very eager to understand, to figure out what was really going on.”
For many journalists, the move from Russia to Riga was a hastily made temporary decision. However, they already feel that this temporary solution may be for a very long time, if not forever.