Marina Ovsyannikova, an editor at a state-controlled television channel, barged in on Russia’s top news show on Monday to yell, “Stop the war!” with a large sign that read, “They’re lying to you here”.
The extraordinary act of protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine lasted just five seconds before the camera cut from the live broadcast to a pre-recorded report.
The news show Vremya, broadcast on Channel One, is watched by millions of Russians every evening.
The New York Times described it as “among the Kremlin’s flagship propaganda outlets”.
But despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to stifle any opposition, dissent is seeping through the cracks into an ocean of support from the Western world.
French President Emmanuel Macron offered asylum or other forms of consular protection to Ms Ovsyannikova, while Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky praised her for “telling the truth”.
Mr Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, however, called her actions an act of “hooliganism”, a criminal offence in Russia.
After disappearing into police custody for almost 24 hours, Ms Ovsyannikova was released.
Questioned for more than 14 hours
Ms Ovsyannikova reappeared on Tuesday, local time, and seemed physically unharmed in photographs taken outside a Moscow courtroom.
She was fined 30,000 roubles ($385) by a Russian court, but in a twist, Ms Ovsyannikova wasn’t charged for her on-air protest.
Instead, she was fined for a video she posted on the messaging platform Telegram before her protest.
According to Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, Ms Ovsyannikova was charged with an administrative offence for holding an unauthorised protest.
It is not yet clear if she could also face other, more serious charges.
In the Telegram video, Ms Ovsyannikova expressed her heavy shame for spreading “Kremlin propaganda” at Channel One and urged her fellow Russians to “stop all this madness”.
“We are Russian people. A thinking and smart people. Only we have the power to stop this madness. Go protest. Do not be afraid. They cannot put us all in jail.”
State-controlled Russian media have described the invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation”, painting Ukraine as the aggressor.
Mr Putin justified his war by claiming Ukraine is run by Nazis and the invasion is an act of “denazification”.
Supported by her lawyer, Ms Ovsyannikova told reporters after her hearing that she “spent two days without sleep”.
“The interrogation lasted more than 14 hours. I was not allowed to contact my friends and relatives. I was not provided any legal assistance,” she said.
“I will give more comments tomorrow. Today I want to rest.”
‘My father is Ukrainian’
Ms Ovsyannikova, who is in her 40s, has a Russian mother and a Ukrainian father.
“They have never been enemies,” she said in the Telegram video.
She wore a necklace in the colours of the Ukrainian and Russian flags to represent the need for Russia to end the war.
People who know Ms Ovsyannikova told the Faridaily blog that she has worked “for many years” in the international department on Channel One.
The Faridaily blog is run by independent journalist Farida Rustamova, who previously worked for BBC News Russia (formerly BBC Russian Service).
Ms Ovsyannikova’s job was to translate the speech of foreign politicians, businessmen, cultural figures and everyday people into Russian. She also created video reviews.
Ms Ovsyannikova’s colleagues told Faridaily that they were surprised by her on-air protest.
They had never heard her talk about politics before.
One friend said she mostly spoke about her two “children, dogs and the house”.
But in her Telegram video, Ms Ovsyannikova said she felt ashamed over allowing lies to be told from TV screens.
“Ashamed because I allowed the Russian people to be turned into zombies.”
Faridaily reports Ms Ovsyannikova was on the clock when she protested Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is perhaps how she was able to do so.
Perhaps security didn’t see her as a threat because of her long-term employment at Channel One.
Her colleagues “nervously joked” to Faridaily that “no one else will be allowed to come to work with broadsheets anymore”.