How Russia’s largest independent publication fights for survival after a complete block
‘The lack of freedom of speech always leads to grave political consequences.’
In April 2021, Meduza — the most prominent Russian independent publication — was labelled a “foreign agent”, a mark that’s been used profusely by the Kremlin to disrupt the work of news organisations and independent journalists touching on sensitive political issues. This label, jokingly referred to by Sonya Groysman — the founder of Proyekt (Project, in Russian) and an independent journalist — as ‘the assurance of quality and independence of a media publication’, has been visible across Meduza’s articles, Telegram and social media posts.
Almost a year later, the Russian government initiated a full-scale block of Meduza. These drastic measures resulted from Ukraine’s invasion when the stakes of keeping the population on board with the Kremlin’s agenda were higher than ever. On March 4th 2022, Meduza’s desktop sites became unavailable unless you used VPN. The editorial team sent out a note to its readers: “Meduza is blocked in Russia. But we were ready — and keep working.”
When Meduza was launched in 2014, the founding team — consisting of the former employee of Lenta.ru Galina Timchenko, journalist Ivan Kolpakov, and the former Chief Editor of Afisha, Ilya Krasiltschik — made a conscious bet on its mobile application. “You can’t block mobile apps. It was a very safe choice for us,” recalled Ivan Kolpakov, the current Editor-in-Chief, when we spoke over Zoom in early May. The decision served them well today, as the Kremlin started purging all major media outlets. “Right after we got blocked,” said Ivan, “we updated the app and are now 100% accessible on the Russian territory.”
Ivan Kolpakov — a seasoned journalist, in his thirties, with a shining bald head — was serving first as the deputy to Galina Timchenko — a formidable woman and a well-respected Russian journalist. She left Lenta.ru to start Meduza, dragging almost 40 of her co-workers to Latvia’s capital. After two years, Timchenko decided to step down, appointing Kolpakov in her place. In 2018, Kolpakov was forced to resign after a controversial scandal, only to be reappointed nine months later. Since 2019, he’s been…