Marina Ovsyannikova’s extraordinary flight from Moscow with RSF’s help

At a press conference on 10 February at the headquarters of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Paris, Russian producer Marina Ovsyannikova and RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire described the extraordinary operation whereby she managed to secretly flee Russia with RSF’s help four months ago.

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Deloire initially contacted Marina Ovsyannikova to offer her RSF’s help five days after she became a symbol of resistance to Russian propaganda on 14 March 2022, when she interrupted the evening news programme on the Russian state TV channel Pervy Canal, brandishing a sign with an anti-war message.

Ovsyannikova got back in touch with RSF in June, from Ukraine. Then, in September – when she was under house arrest in Moscow, fitted with an electronic bracelet and facing a possible ten-year jail sentence on a charge of “spreading false news about the Russian armed forces” for reporting the number of children killed in Ukraine – an intermediary let RSF know that she wanted to flee.

RSF assured her of its support and she left Moscow a few days later. It was clear from the outset that getting Ovsyannikova and her daughter out of Russia was going to be difficult and dangerous. For four months, a small unit of RSF employees worked in the utmost secrecy on organising her escape, called “Operation Evelyne.”

“The resources deployed by RSF were extraordinary,” Ovsyannikova said at today’s press conference. “They saved my life, they helped me to flee Russia, a country where the government is run by war criminals.”

RSF coordinated her extraction from Russia. The decision was taken to do it on a weekend, when many guards would be off work. She deactivated her electronic bracelet with a wire cutter. In all, seven cars were used. Shortly before she reached the border, her car got stuck in a muddy field. So, she and her guide had to cover the final several hundred metres in the dark, trying to guide themselves by the stars. After wandering for several hours, she eventually crossed the border and found the contacts who were waiting for her.

Ovsyannikova finally reached in France in October. Prior to her arrival, RSF made sure that she would be welcome and found accommodation for her. RSF also did some initial shopping for her, organised doctors' appointments and handled her contacts with the French authorities. Some of the details of her escape must remain confidential in order to protect her, her daughter and those who helped her, but RSF can confirm that, thanks to this operation, it has acquired expertise in discreet and effective action.

What Marina Ovsyannikova has done “shows that it is possible to resist propaganda apparatuses, that one can disrupt them from within, that one can say no, and that it is possible to get out of them, to defect, to oppose the falsification of history and the news, and to oppose their manipulation,” Deloire concluded.

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