June 26, 2022

Hundreds march in protest towards Russia in Riga, Latvia, on Might 20.Gints Ivuskans/The Globe and Mail

Virtually each impartial Russian journalist had a breaking level this yr. For the dwindling band of Russia-based writers on the on-line newspaper Meduza, it was a brand new legislation threatening a 15-year jail sentence for anybody publishing “false data” on Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

For the editors of a newspaper within the northwestern metropolis of Pskov, the breaking level was a sequence of raids by the black-masked members of the OMON, a particular Russian police unit, who handcuffed the journalists and seized their tools.

The employees of each media shops have fled into exile. Most have relocated to Riga, the capital of neighbouring Latvia, the place they keep involved with Russian sources and publish their stories for his or her viewers throughout the border.

“There’s no one left in Russia now,” mentioned Denis Kamalyagin, chief editor of the Pskov newspaper, often called Pskovskaya Gubernia.

Denis Kamalyagin, chief editor of the Pskov newspaper, in Riga on Might 23.Gints Ivuskans/The Globe and Mail

“It’s horrible,” he instructed The Globe and Mail. “All of us really feel horrible, however we needed to decide: go to jail, cease being a journalist, or keep within the career and do no matter now we have to do.”

Mr. Kamalyagin estimates that Russian authorities have blocked or shut down greater than 70 media shops because the starting of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February. In the event that they weren’t explicitly ordered to droop operations, they had been financially squeezed till they may not survive.

Because the battle started, the Latvian authorities has issued visas to 206 Russian journalists and 167 of their relations, in line with Janis Bekeris, press secretary for Latvia’s International Ministry.

These, he mentioned, are a humanitarian exception, since Latvia is in any other case not issuing visas to Russian nationals due to Moscow’s assault on Ukraine.

Police guard the Soviet battle monument.Gints Ivuskans/The Globe and Mail

Among the many Russian media shops now in Latvia is Novaya Gazeta, the famously impartial newspaper whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize final yr. Compelled to stop operations in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, it now publishes a European version in Riga.

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Many different Russian journalists have moved to the capitals of former Soviet republics similar to Georgia or Armenia. These cities, like Riga, are locations the place Russian is extensively spoken, and working prices are cheaper than in Western Europe.

“It was very exhausting for us to depart Russia, however Latvia has been very welcoming and well-organized,” Mr. Kamalyagin mentioned. “They welcomed us with love. I really feel at house right here now.”

Among the Russian journalists already had hyperlinks overseas, serving to them alter to life in exile. Mr. Kamalyagin had been attending occasional seminars at an institute in Riga, whereas Meduza had a base in Riga for the previous eight years.

“We based our enterprise in exile,” mentioned Katerina Abramova, head of communications for Meduza. “We’d joke our our bodies are in Riga, however we get up and go to mattress in Russia as a result of we’re on a regular basis on the Russian agenda.”

Meduza was launched in 2014 after Russian journalist Galina Timchenko was fired from her job as editor-in-chief of the Russian information portal Lenta.ru.

The Wall Road Journal reported on the time that Ms. Timchenko was changed by the editor of a pro-Kremlin web site after she printed an article with a hyperlink to an interview with a Ukrainian nationalist chief accused by Moscow of extremism. She is now chief govt officer and writer of Meduza.

Finding in Riga put Meduza out of the attain of Russian authorities greater than 840 kilometres to the east in Moscow.

“It was on function to be ready for the worst-case state of affairs,” Ms. Abramova mentioned.

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“And the worst-case state of affairs has occurred,” she added, referring to Moscow’s crackdown on impartial journalism.

In early March, when Russia handed the legislation to impose prolonged jail phrases for publishing “false data” on its Ukraine battle, Meduza nonetheless had many reporters and editors in Moscow. The brand new legislation was the ultimate straw. Meduza moved two dozen staffers, their companions, households and pets out of Russia.

For safety causes, Meduza is not going to disclose the dimensions of its newsroom. However Ms. Abramova mentioned over time the employees has averaged a number of dozen individuals, together with the IT division and the again workplace.

The Kremlin had been focusing on and harassing the impartial media lengthy earlier than the Ukraine battle. In 2020, the federal government declared that Mr. Kamalyagin was a international agent – a designation that imposed authorized restrictions on his actions. The identical designation was used towards Meduza in April, 2021, making it an outcast amongst Russian companies.

In a matter of days, Meduza misplaced all its promoting from Russia – which had been the mainstay of its income. “Enterprise in Russia was afraid to be related to something political or undesirable,” Ms. Abramova mentioned.

Looking back, she mentioned, the Kremlin seems to have been getting ready for its invasion of Ukraine by eliminating Russia’s impartial media.

Meduza scrambled to outlive. It gave up its office places of work. It minimize bills. And it launched a crowdfunding marketing campaign to boost assist from its viewers. “Our readers actually saved us,” Ms. Abramova mentioned.

Western monetary sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s assault on Ukraine additional strained Meduza’s operations. With Visa and Mastercard, Paypal and the SWIFT community blocked for Russians, the information web site’s 30,000 subscribers in Russia had been unable to pay their month-to-month charges.

As soon as once more, Meduza pivoted. It launched a marketing campaign aimed toward worldwide and Western audiences, asking for donors to “get up for Russians who wish to assist us however can’t do it any extra,” Ms. Abramova mentioned.

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It’s exhausting watching what’s unfolding immediately, she mentioned. “It’s a tragic story and a lonely story. Essentially the most terrible factor is just not that you would be able to’t go house – the saddest half is if you see your nation killing individuals from one other nation: youngsters, girls, troopers.”

Some Russian media shops in Latvia are more likely to acquire monetary assist from European donors and different worldwide organizations, who’ve already met with a number of Russian editors in Riga to debate their enterprise fashions and potential applications that would assist them.

However the exiled Russian media nonetheless face some key challenges: how you can keep their audiences and how you can defend their sources and freelancers in Russia. The Pskov newspaper, for instance, needed to shut down its web site for 2 months. Even its social-media channels had been disrupted for 2 weeks. Once they reopened, their viewers was a small fraction of its regular measurement.

Regardless of being compelled into exile, Mr. Kamalyagin just lately dug up an unique story a few group of 60 Russian troopers who refused to struggle in Ukraine. The quantity has now risen to a number of hundred, he mentioned.

“So long as now we have sources in Russia, and so long as we are able to get entry to information and paperwork, we are going to preserve working,” Mr. Kamalyagin mentioned.

“It’s a wierd feeling to work this manner, however now we have no alternative – now we have to do the utmost to tell individuals about what’s happening. Our work has turn out to be extra essential now, as a result of there are fewer and fewer investigative journalists inside Russia.”

Ms. Abramova mentioned she hopes Russians be aware of Meduza’s impartial reporting.

“There are people who find themselves deeply influenced by Russian propaganda, however there are additionally individuals who know one thing unsuitable is occurring however are scared,” she mentioned.

“It’s our obligation to maintain them knowledgeable.”

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