Marina Ovsyannikova, who spoke out against Russian intervention in Ukraine on a live TV show, knew that returning to Moscow would be like playing Russian roulette.
Speaking to AFP in an interview, the 44-year-old mother-of-two, who returned from Europe last month, said she understood she could be arrested at any time.
“I decided to play Russian roulette,” said the former Channel One television editor, sitting on a bench in central Moscow in an elegant black dress.
“If they make this decision, they will arrest me in one day. It will only take a few seconds,” she said after dropping off her 11-year-old daughter for art lessons.
In March, Ovsyannikova gained notoriety for interrupting a live television broadcast to denounce President Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine.
In the months following her protest, Ovsyannikova spent time abroad, working for Die Welt in Germany for three months.
In early July, she made the “difficult decision” to return home when her ex-husband, an employee of the Kremlin-backed TV station RT, sued her for custody of their two children.
Since her widely publicized protest, Ovsyannikova has been repeatedly fined and is due in court again on Monday for discrediting the Russian military.
She will also attend custody hearings.
Public criticism of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has been banned, and most critics of the government have either fled the country for fear of prosecution or ended up behind bars.
Ovsyannikova, however, said she would continue to speak out.
“I am a fighter, I continue to actively denounce the war,” she says happily.
“I don’t intend to stop, I’m not afraid despite the constant intimidation from the authorities.”
“Putin the Assassin”
Since her return, Ovsyannikova has come out to support opposition politician Ilya Yashin in court, staged a protest with a poster calling Putin a “murderer” and posted anti-government messages online. She was briefly detained by police near her home in mid-July.
Ovsyannikova, who currently has no permanent job, works as a freelancer for foreign media. Most Russian independent media have either been shut down or operate from abroad.
The journalist, who worked for public television for 19 years, said she had recently sold her car to earn some cash.
His protest drew hostile reactions from many quarters.
Pro-Kremlin officials and former colleagues have accused Ovsyannikova of betraying her country. Critics in Ukraine and the West claimed she was an ever-embedded spy in Russian state media.
Many members of the Russian opposition criticized him for having jumped ship in an opportunistic gesture and in search of glory.
Ovsyannikova denies the allegations.
“It’s convenient for the authorities to constantly create new conspiracy theories around me, people already don’t know what to believe anymore,” she said.
But Ovsyannikova admitted making mistakes in the past and staying “too long” in her comfort zone, not “finding the strength” to quit state television early.
For her, inaction and indifference, embraced by many Russians, are a form of “self-preservation” fueled by fear.
“Our people are really, really scared,” she said. “Even those who understand the absurdity, the horror of what is happening prefer to keep quiet.”
In a throwback to Soviet times, many Russians now criticize the authorities only “in their kitchens” where no one can hear them, she said.
As well as facing criticism in Russia and abroad, Ovsyannikova said she also had to fight a “war at home”.
She said her mother fell victim to state propaganda, her son turned against her, and she had to fight for custody of her children.
“My lot is not enviable,” Ovsyannikova said.
However, she stressed that her problems were nothing compared to the suffering of the Ukrainian people, faced with an offensive that left thousands dead and millions displaced.
The authorities have not announced the opening of any criminal investigation against Ovsyannikova. But his repeated convictions for discrediting the Russian military can lead to a criminal conviction, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Ovsyannikova believes authorities will be reluctant to draw more attention to her case, pointing to her “strong international support”.
She said she wishes she could leave the country with her daughter.
For now, she will stay in Russia.
She has no illusions about the increased official pressure on her.
“They’re going to intimidate me more,” she said.
Using an old Soviet phrase, she said authorities under Putin could punish just about anyone.
“Give me the person and I’ll find the crime.”
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)