Ovsyannikova, former editor-in-chief of Channel One, Russia’s state-controlled television channel, staged an astonishing live protest in March. She shouted: “No to war! and held up a sign condemning the invasion of Ukraine and telling people not to believe the government’s lies.
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She has since been fined twice for discrediting the Russian military and was placed under house arrest for two months in August for spreading false information about the military, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years.
The latter was linked to a demonstration in July when she stood on the river bank opposite the Kremlin in central Moscow and held up a poster calling the Russian president and his soldiers fascist.
“How many more children have to die before you stop?” said the poster.
Her ex-husband first reported her absence to authorities on Saturday, Russian media reported. Igor Ovsyannikov, in an interview with the pro-Kremlin network RT, said he did not know where his ex-wife was, but his daughter did not have a passport.
Since April, Ovsyannikova and her husband have been fighting over custody of their two children. Their 17-year-old son has already said he wants to live with his father, Russian media reported.
“After my daughter disappeared, I made a request to the authorities, but I still haven’t received an official response from them about the progress of the investigation,” Ovsyannikov said. “When I called my daughter, she was confused and answered my questions oddly.”
Several other prominent figures, including activists Lucy Shtein and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot, have already fled Russia despite restrictions on their movement.
Ovsyannikova’s escape is the latest embarrassment for Russia, which has faced staggering battlefield casualties in Ukraine and growing criticism of the war at home, even among some key Kremlin supporters. At the same time, the Kremlin has cracked down on protests of dissent as it strives to recruit thousands of new soldiers for the fighting in Ukraine.
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Ovsyannikova did not respond to calls and text messages from The Washington Post on Sunday and Monday.
Born in Ukraine, Ovsyannikova had been editor-in-chief of Channel One. But when she went to the office the day after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, she said, she realized she could no longer work there.
“Unfortunately, I worked at Channel One for the past few years, working on Kremlin propaganda,” Ovsyannikova said in a video message she released after the March protest. “And now I’m very ashamed. I am ashamed of having allowed lies to be told on television screens. I’m ashamed to have let the Russian people be zombified.
“It is in our power to stop this madness,” she said, alluding to the high price of dissent in Russia. “Go down the street. Do not be afraid. They can’t imprison all of us.