In a small studio in Paris, Russian journalist Denis Kataev prepares his evening news show that he hopes will play its part in countering the Kremlin narrative about the invasion of Ukraine.
Kataev works for Russian channel Dozhd (Rain), which for over a decade from its Moscow base was the country’s most prominent independent broadcast media in a scene dominated by voices loyal to President Vladimir Putin.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to the channel being blocked in Russia and forced to suspend operations for over 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 am optimistic,” said Kataev as he prepared to present Dozhd’s flagship evening news show “Here and Now” from an impromptu studio set up in a Paris journalism school.
Kataev, a prominent figure in the Moscow journalism scene before going into exile in the wake of the invasion, will from September have to find a new studio when journalism courses resume at the school.
But he insisted that there was an audience for Dozhd’s broadcasting inside Russia.
“The war in Ukraine is, for me, the end of Russia, the end of our hopes,” he told AFP.
“For me Russia is finished and it’s also a question of my conscience, that is why I left my country.”
No to war
But he added: “We feel this demand for information in Russia. We have to continue. There is an audience in Russia who thinks differently, who are against Putin’s regime, like me, who are against this war.
“So we have to fight the propaganda.”
Dozhd wound up its Russia operations and suspended broadcasting from Russia with an emotional show on March 3, less than a fortnight after the war started, anchored by the channel’s owner Natalya Sindeyeva.
Declaring “No Pasaran” (They Shall not Pass) and “No to War,” the channel’s entire workforce walked off at the end of the broadcast to leave an empty set and close an extraordinary chapter in the history of Russian media.
The channel has started broadcasting in 2010, dubbing itself the “optimistic channel” to counter the turgid output of state TV and even won a degree of official endorsement when then-president Dmitry Medvedev, at the time nodding to reform, visited its studios in 2011.
But the winter of that year saw Dozhd boldly cover protests that followed parliamentary elections observers said were rigged and its voice become far less welcome when Putin returned to the presidency in 2012.
In 2021, it was labelled a “foreign agent,” a status that placed it under heavy administrative constraints and put it at risk of heavy fines and being banned.
The invasion of Ukraine—and legislation prohibiting broadcasters from using the word “war” to describe what the Kremlin calls a special military operation or face up to 15 years in jail—sealed its fate.
Dozhd resumed broadcasting on July 18 from studios based in Riga, Latvia, with an evening news show anchored by its editor-in-chief Tikhon Dyzadko, who told viewers that there was “no longer the possibility of Dozhd working in Russia” due to the repressive laws.
Dozhd now has some 60 journalists working outside Russia and, while under no illusions about the challenges of covering a country from exile, remains defiant.
“Of course, it is difficult to work in other countries. You have to find the cameras, the studios, but also get visas, which Russian citizens today have great difficulty in obtaining,” Dzyadko told 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 that Dozdh has some 50,000 Russian paying subscribers. The channel can be watched live on YouTube for a monthly subscription from as little as two euros per month and hopes that its main website will soon be back up so subscribers with a VPN can open it from inside of Russia.
Now with an EU broadcast license, is also enjoying the backing of other media, with Latvian, Georgian and Dutch TV allowing use of their studios and allowing Dozhd to keep up the slick presentation that marked its Moscow years.
With its headquarters in Riga, Dozhd’s presence makes the Latvian capital even more of a hub for exiled opposition media. The city already hosts the prominent news website Meduza.
The channel, which was once offered on cable, can only be viewed online. But even this may not save it from Kremlin reprisals. “They can block YouTube; they can block the internet. But we can’t, shouldn’t think about it. But we need above all to work,” said Dyzadko.