In a small Parisian studio, Russian journalist Denis Kataev prepares his evening paper which he hopes will help counter the Kremlin’s narrative about the invasion of Ukraine.
Kataev works for Russia’s Dozhd (Rain) channel, which for more than a decade from its Moscow base has been the country’s most prominent independent broadcaster in a scene dominated by voices loyal to President Vladimir Putin.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to the blocking of the channel in Russia and the suspension of operations for more than four months. Defiantly, it has now resumed broadcasting from a headquarters in Latvia but also from Amsterdam, Tbilisi and Paris, where Kataev is based.
“I’m optimistic,” Kataev said as he prepared to present Dozhd’s flagship evening news program “Here and Now” from an impromptu studio set up at a Paris journalism school.
Kataev, an eminent figure on the Moscow journalistic scene before going into exile the day after the invasion, will have to find a new studio from September when journalism lessons resume at school.
But he insisted there was an audience for Dozhd’s broadcast in Russia.
“The war in Ukraine is, for me, the end of Russia, the end of our hopes,” he told AFP.
“For me, Russia is over and it’s also a matter of conscience, that’s why I left my country.”
No to war
But he added: “We feel this demand for information in Russia. We must continue. There is a public in Russia who think differently, who are against Putin’s regime, like me, who are against this war.
“So we have to fight the propaganda.”
Dozhd ended its operations in Russia and suspended broadcasting from Russia with a moving show on March 3, less than a fortnight after the war began, hosted by channel owner Natalya Sindeyeva.
Declaring “No Pasaran” (They will not pass) and “No to war”, the entire team of the channel withdrew at the end of the broadcast to leave an empty set and close an extraordinary chapter of the Russian media history.
The channel began broadcasting in 2010, dubbing itself the “optimistic channel” to counter turgid state television production and even gained some official approval when then-president Dmitry Medvedev, then pro- reform, visited his studios in 2011. .
But in the winter of that year, Dozhd boldly covered protests that followed what observers said were rigged parliamentary elections, and his voice became much less welcome when Putin returned to the presidency in 2012.
In 2021, he was labeled a “foreign agent”, a status that placed him under heavy administrative constraints and exposed him to heavy fines and a ban.
The invasion of Ukraine – and legislation banning broadcasters from using the word “war” to describe what the Kremlin calls a special military operation under penalty of 15 years in prison – sealed his fate.
Dozhd resumed broadcasting on July 18 from studios based in Riga, Latvia, with an evening news program hosted by its editor Tikhon Dyzadko, who told viewers that there was “no more possibility of Dozhd working in Russia” due to repressive laws.
Dozhd now has around 60 journalists working outside Russia and, while under no illusions about the challenges of covering a country from exile, remains defiant.
“Of course, it’s difficult to work in other countries. You have to find the cameras, the studios, but also to get visas, which Russian citizens today have a lot of trouble getting,” Dzyadko told AFP. AFP from Latvia.
But he added: “Millions of Russians want to receive independent information. They are ready to pay and will continue to support us.”
He said Dozdh has some 50,000 paying Russian subscribers. The channel can be watched live on YouTube for a monthly subscription starting at just two euros a month and hopes its main website will soon be backed up so that subscribers with a VPN can open it from inside the Russia.
Now with an EU broadcast license, enjoys support from other media as well, with Latvian, Georgian and Dutch television allowing use of their studios and allowing Dozhd to maintain the polished presentation that marked its years in Moscow.
With its headquarters in Riga, Dozhd’s presence makes the Latvian capital even more of a hub for opposition media in exile. The city already hosts the famous Meduza news site.
The channel, which was once offered on cable, can only be viewed online. But even that may not save him from Kremlin reprisals. “They can block YouTube, they can block the internet. But we can’t, we shouldn’t think about it. But first we have to work,” Dyzadko said.