Have you been thinking, “I wish I could do something about the war in Ukraine?” Have you also been thinking, “I wish someone could bring the truth of what Putin is doing to the Russian people?”
I have been thinking those things pretty much nonstop, especially after what happened in Russia just 10 days ago—a massive crackdown designed to shut up what remains of the country’s independent press. Russia’s journalists are living the logical conclusion of the “enemy of the people” line of attack we remember well from the Trump years. Their plight is the extreme end of the authoritarian impulse we’ve also seen rising in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
But they are not taking it lying down, and neither should we. And right now, we have a chance to save the largest independent news site still operating in Russia, Meduza, from Putin’s attack. You can read their letter to the world here. Mother Jones is proud to be part of an international community of reader-supported newsrooms working to keep them reporting the truth.
I first learned about Meduza the night of March 4, when their investigations editor sent this tweet:
Never thought it'd come to this, but I did have to leave Russia, crossing the border on foot in the middle of the night, with my panic-packed bags on my back and my dog in tow. Felt a massive door slam shut behind my back. Barely had enough time to call my parents. Crazy times.
— Alexey Kovalyov (@Alexey__Kovalev) March 5, 2022
I saw it flicker across my feed and thought about what I would take in a “panic-packed bag,” what it would feel like walking across a border forever. But within minutes, the thought was buried by dozens of other grim tweets from Russia and Ukraine. Tweets that made me angry, sad, and somewhat hopeless. In the face of a determined (and nuclear-armed) despot with a massive propaganda apparatus, wasn’t any resistance admirable but futile?
But then, a couple of days later, I got a call from my sister, who by a quirk of fate does the same kind of work I do, as the co-founder of a reader-supported news site in Germany. They’d gotten a request from Meduza: Help save us so we can keep bringing the truth to Russia.
While most of Meduza’s staff had fled the country, she explained, their servers were based in Latvia and so they could still reach their Russian readers, whom they had taught about anti-blocking tools to foil the censors. But while they had once had 30,000 monthly supporters in Russia, none of those folks could send them money now. My sister said her organization, Krautreporter, was going to ask its community of readers to pitch in. Did I think Mother Jones readers would want to help?
Did I? I think I said something slightly more unprintable than “hell yes!” Enough with doom and hopelessness. If these journalists could stand up to Putin’s propaganda machine, for sure the Mother Jones community would rally behind them.
And not just the Mother Jones community. In the days since that call, dozens of newsrooms across Europe and the United States have come together to pitch in. Just in the US, they include the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Public Integrity, BuzzFeed News, HuffPost, Grist, and others. We’re all asking our readers to show up for Meduza and support their vital, unfiltered journalism. Learn more and become a Meduza supporter today. I did, and countless people like you will hopefully do the same.
Meduza is just one of several independent news organizations that suffered from Putin’s crackdown last week. You may have seen the stories of some of the others: The feisty Echo of Moscow radio station was blocked and its FM signal, in a true middle-finger move, taken over by the propaganda outfit Sputnik.
The country’s last independent TV station, TV Rain, went off air after an emotional collective resignation—their final broadcast and the chilling story behind playing “Swan Lake” is a must-watch. Mediazona, the independent site founded by members of Pussy Riot, was blocked by the censors, like the others, for calling the war a war. (It’s a “special military operation,” the Kremlin wants you to know.)
The venerable Novaya Gazeta, whose dissident roots go back to the Soviet Union, self-censored “with terrible shame” by removing its war coverage from the internet (but continues to report on the effects of the “special military operation” in Russia). As Meduza’s Kovalyov wrote a couple of days ago in the Washington Post, “it would not be an overstatement to say that what’s happening now has no precedent” even in Soviet times.
And in perhaps the ultimate irony, even as Putin is cracking down on independent media, he’s also telling regime-friendly newsrooms what kind of journalism he does want to see more of: In official memos that my colleague David Corn got a hold of, the Kremlin is advising journalists that “it is essential to use as much as possible fragments of broadcasts of the popular Fox News host Tucker Carlson.” With friends like these.
All of the journalists who refuse to parrot the Kremlin’s propaganda deserve our support, as do the brave Ukrainian journalists covering what is happening to their country. (You can support a fund set up for them here.) What makes Meduza’s plight unique right now is that they are still up and running and can get the truth about the war to Russians every day. (Check out their English language website to get a sense of their journalism.)
I got to meet Meduza’s editor-in-chief, Ivan Kolpakov, and some of his colleagues on hastily assembled Zoom calls last week. “People are surrounded by propaganda narratives,” he said. “A lot of people believe that the Russian military is destroying military infrastructure and not bombing cities. They don’t know about the refugees. Our role is to bring this war to our readers. We need to destroy this wall between the war and Russians.”
Again, Meduza can do this because they are set up on servers outside Russia. But the sanctions have cut off all of the financial support they were getting from their readers. That’s why we hope to help them find 30,000 new members in Europe and the US. You can hear from Meduza’s journalists and sign up as a supporter on their special page for US and European allies that just went live.
Asking the Mother Jones community to become members of an independent Russian newsroom wasn’t on my 2022 bingo card. But very little of what’s happened the last two years has been on anyone’s bingo card. And amid the shocking headlines and feelings of helplessness, it’s so empowering to find ourselves part of a global movement for truth and democracy.
I know a lot of you will be inspired by Meduza’s story and have their back by becoming a proud supporter today. It’s what you’ve always done, showing up for hard-hitting journalism that oligarchs and corporate conglomerates won’t pay for.