Our guest writer* worked as the culture editor for a large Russian media company but was forced to leave St. Petersburg after the invasion of Ukraine. She has been living in exile since May 2022. This is her story.
*In this series, we publish personal diary entries of journalists from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Afghanistan, working and living in exile. They speak about their new lives and the personal and professional challenges they face. In order to protect the safety of all participants, the protagonists in this series remain anonymous.
The protagonist is taking part in DW Akademie’s Space for Freedomproject, which aims to enable journalists to continue their crucial work in exile while securing their livelihood.
Country of origin: Russia
Job title: editor/cultural editor
It is 7.30 a.m., and the alarm clock goes off on my phone. I open my eyes, reluctant to get out of bed. It is warm under the blanket, in contrast to the temperature in the rest of our apartment in the center of Riga. The rooms are cold and the sun can hardly fight its way through our windows. In the kitchen, the draft practically blows you away. Oddly enough, I feel safe in this place where I have been living since May 2022 with my husband and two-year-old son.
We moved to the capital of Latvia from St. Petersburg, Russia, where my family had lived in a spacious three-room apartment with my spouse’s relatives. Shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we had been thinking of taking out a mortgage and buying a car. But on February 24, 2022, those plans were canceled.
My husband (who is a journalist, too) and I realized that our life had changed completely. We needed to leave our home in order to continue doing journalism. New censorship laws were implemented at ridiculous speeds in Russia: initially, it was the law on the “discreditation” of the army, then the one on “fake news”. According to them, no one could criticize Vladimir Putin’s military aggression and not even call the war a “war”.
In exile, she collects children's books in different languages (Russian, English, Latvian, French) for herself and her two-year-old son.
I walk to my office through a park, watching rays of the sun peeping through the branches of trees. I work in a cozy and spacious coworking space in the city center. It was created for Russian and Ukrainian journalists. There is everything you need there: comfortable desks, large monitors to connect your laptop to, podcast and video studios, and meeting rooms. Most importantly, you can come across colleagues from various media organizations in this place to share information and brainstorm ideas.
Today, I have a morning shift as an editor. This means I should be on duty from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The news agency I work for is one of the major Russian independent media outlets. It covers protests and politically motivated court cases, social and environmental issues from Volgograd to Khabarovsk. The agency managed to maintain its independence due to the fact that its founder and editor-in-chief emigrated. Nevertheless, we have a large staff of over 20 correspondents in Russia. They are mostly civil activists who are lacking journalism education and experience yet strive to tell the truth about the situation in the country. These people take risks, attending court hearings and covering street protests. Our journalists were arrested several times. It still did not stop their activities.
I am having a busy day: the Kovrov City Court is considering the claim of Alexei Navalny. The imprisoned politician was thrown to a punishment cell for washing his face at 5:24 a.m. (according to the prison rules, this could only be done later.) In Moscow, the court is examining the case of Kateryna Varenik. The activist held a one-person protest with the poster: "Ukraine is not our enemy, but our brothers." She was arrested and held for ten days and now Varenik is challenging the decision.
I help reporters to create news stories, edit photos and videos. I am also in charge of correcting factual errors and avoiding violations of journalistic ethics. When reporters have any questions, I am willing to give them a hand and share my knowledge and expertise.
The work that I do today is quite different from what I had done before February 24, 2022. I had been the culture editor with a large Russian media outlet, responsible for reviewing books and editing stories about movies, exhibitions, and theater. It was hard to leave my favorite job, as I believe that it is culture that makes people more humane. However, I assume that editing political stories and assisting citizen journalists in finding their voice is my mission at the moment.
I will work on cultural stories when my shift is over. I continue reviewing books for various publications and covering exhibitions, performances and films as a freelancer. After lunch, I will be preparing for an interview with a famous Russian cinema director. I also hope to write a number of posts on my blog about books.
DW Akademie is conducting the Space for Freedom project as a network partner of the German government'sHannah Arendt Initiative. Through this initiative, the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media are supporting journalists, media workers and defenders of freedom of expression in crisis and conflict areas, as well as those living in exile.