MOSCOW -- A dissenting employee entered the studio Monday (March 14) during Russia's most-watched evening news broadcast, holding up a poster saying "No War" and condemning Moscow's military action in Ukraine.
The incident was a highly unusual breach of security at the tightly controlled state broadcaster Channel One. Its flagship 9pm news show called "Time" has run since the Soviet era and is watched by millions around the country, particularly by older Russians.
OVD-Info, which monitors detentions at opposition protests, identified the woman as Marina Ovsyannikova, saying she works at Channel One as an editor.
As news anchor Yekaterina Andreyeva launched into an item about relations with Belarus, Ovsyannikova burst into view, holding up a handwritten poster saying "No War" in English.
Below, the poster said in Russian: "Stop the war. Don't believe the propaganda. Here they are lying to you." It is signed in English: "Russians against the war".
The protester managed to say a few phrases in Russian, including "Stop the war!", while Andreyeva, who has presented the news since 1998, tried to drown her out by speaking louder.
The channel then switched hastily to footage of a hospital.
'Zombified Russian people'
Ovsyannikova later said she was interrogated for 14 hours. On Tuesday, the Ostankino district court in Moscow convicted her of committing an administrative violation and fined her 30,000 RUB ($280).
The truth is becoming harder and harder to find in Russia as Russian President Vladimir Putin clamps down on the information environment.
A draconian "fake news" law he signed March 4 criminalises contradiction of the official Kremlin line, with a potential prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Some journalists who work for pro-Kremlin media have said they are restricted in how they can cover the events, and that they are specifically prohibited from using the word "invasion".
OVD-Info posted a video in which Ovsyannikova says her father is Ukrainian and her mother is Russian and she does not see the countries as enemies.
"Unfortunately in recent years I worked on Channel One, making Kremlin propaganda and I am now very ashamed of this," she said.
"I'm ashamed that I allowed lies to be spoken from the TV screen. I'm ashamed I allowed Russian people to be zombified," she added.
"We were silent in 2014 when this was all just beginning," she said, apparently referring to Moscow's takeover of Crimea and support for Ukraine's pro-Russian separatists.
"We didn't go to protests when the Kremlin poisoned [opposition leader Alexei] Navalny. We just silently observed this anti-human regime. And now the whole world has turned away from us."
A video clip of the incident spread quickly on social media, with many users paying tribute to the woman's "extraordinary courage" against a backdrop of a heavy crackdown on opposition.
Ovsyannikova received effusive support from social media users who hailed her courage.
"Thank you for your courage and sense of humanity," Viktoriya Sherstobitova of Russia posted on Facebook.
"If only we had more such people! We could have stopped this deficient senile old man!" posted Nastena Slastena of Odesa, Ukraine.
"Very brave! Truth and virtue will always win, at a VERY HIGH PRICE, but they WILL WIN!" said Yuliia Babych of Ukraine.
'Fight for peace'
Since the start of the intervention in Ukraine on February 24, thousands of protesters have been arrested in Russia.
Navalny, from jail, has called on Russians to continue protesting the war, saying Russia should not be a "nation of frightened cowards" and calling Putin "an insane little tsar".
He urged the people of Russia and Belarus -- which allowed Russian troops passage to attack Ukraine -- to demonstrate in main squares at 7pm every weekday and at 2pm on weekends and during holidays.
"I am urging everyone to take to the streets and fight for peace," he said in a statement posted on Facebook March 2, calling on Russians not to be afraid of going to prison.
"If, to prevent war, we need to fill up the jails and police vans, we will fill up the jails and police vans."
"Everything has a price, and now, in the spring of 2022, we should pay that price."
In early 2021, Navalny led the biggest protests in Russia against Putin in recent years after he was targeted in 2020 in a Novichok nerve agent attack he blames on the Kremlin.
Leonid Volkov, who is close to Navalny, tweeted that his movement "is ready to pay any fine" imposed on Ovsyannikova.