Storyville, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Tango with Putin, Directed, written and produced by Vera Krichevskaya 

Storyville, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Tango with Putin, Directed, written and produced by Vera Krichevskaya 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00156cw/storyville-tango-with-putin?page=1

Memory is always being subverted. Tango with Putin begins with the Muscovite fairy-tale princess and her pink car looking for a prince. Natasha and Sasha…and they lived happily ever after in their castle.

James Cameron (reporting on the North Vietnamese):

‘They whispered that I was their dupe, but what they really meant was I was not their dupe.’  

The princess wants a toy to play with. And Sasha buys her a television station.

Ecclesiastes: ‘Who gathers knowledge, gathers pain’.

Starvation as a weapon of war. Stalinist policies kill between four and ten million in the Ukraine. War is called peace and stabilisation.

Ashkhabad, a crossroad that became a town when a Russian fort was built in 1881 to help break the Turkmen’s resistance to annexation, disappears in fifteen seconds in 1948. The Turks constitute the largest language group in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  An earthquake wipes out the city. Only the statue of Lenin remained.

Advisors from The Chicago School came to advise the Communist government how to initiate change in post-Gorbachev Russia. Shares. Every Russian citizen should have shares in the former dead-hand of the Russian economy and state enterprises. ‘You pretend to pay us and we’ll pretend to work’ is the Russian way of life. Job done in the free-market Russian economy. With their new-found shared wealth, former Soviets invested in new businesses.  They all lived happily ever after.

Maps of the world. American National Geographic Society cut the USSR in half place it in the fold where no child could find it. Moscow’s Institute of Geography prints a different map. Putin’s map shows Russia in a central spot. Former Soviet States in the middle. The United States is an appendage, cut in half and down to size.

Russia has a shrinking and ageing population. From 150 million 1914 to around 140 million. Natural wastage. Around 20 million, a generation lost in The Great Patriotic War. Around 24 million ethnic Russian’s live outside the former Soviet System, but not all is lost. It maintains the criterion of blood purity. Russia for Russians. Muscovites queued for hours to enter Lenin’s mausoleum. Another queue formed to get hamburgers, ketchup, fries and Coke. They came together. Closing McDonalds in Moscow helps maintain imperial isolation. Paradoxically, the second element is land. But the more land the former Soviet States claim, the greater the dilatation of Russian ethic purity. Ukraine provides an ideal fix. Population 44 million. The former breadbasket of Russia (and Germany) is ethnically pure. Many of the battles fought in the Great Patriotic War were fought in and around Ukraine. Many Russian troops that died and continued to die in wars such as Afghanistan were also Ukrainian.  You will see old Ukrainian comrades in news reports disparaging Putin’s claims that the Ukrainian people are Neo-Nazis or terrorists.

Stalin’s road to heaven. An ounce of gold is worth an ounce of bread. Auschwitz, Treblinka, Hiroshima, (Kolyma) Magadan. 11th November 1931, the Central Committee of the Communist Party create a trust to mine for gold, silver and other metals in Siberia. 160 gulags. Three million slaves don’t make it home. Permafrost maintains the expression on their faces when they died.

Russian’s console themselves, ‘Don’t despair, it was worse in Kolyma’.

There are no heroes in the camps, only survivors. Slave labour creates the long corridors underneath the Kremlin, Moscow Underground and Ukrainian Underground. Deep enough to shelter from bomb blasts, but not intrigues. The Georgian Stalin tried to destroy the old Moscow, but succeeded in only creating the new Moscow on the bones of the old.

Perestroika stretches only as far as the Kremlin walls: six comrades protest in Red Square about the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968. No one asks a victim of the gulags were they have been for five, ten, twenty or twenty-five years. To ask questions is to leave yourself open to answers. Spies and informers are part of the state apparatus. Only those in power ask questions. The guilty are punished. The innocent fare worse for they have committed no crime. Truth is relative. Hunger ever-present.  Minsk to Pinsk.  Identification of comrade citizens is no longer easy. Mass deportations, famine, colonisation.  Some regard themselves as Georgian, but not Russian. Chechen, but not Russian. Ingush, but not Russian. Uzbek, but not Russian. East German, but German. Ukrainian but not Russian.  

The bounty system. The NKVD would inform locals when a prisoner had escaped from the camps. Bring a prisoner’s hand to match their fingerprints. Their reward was a sack of flour. Political prisoners were gullible. He would be taken along with a group of escaping prisoners and eaten. One less political. They lived happily ever after.

T.D. Allman: ‘Genuinely objective journalism not only gets the facts right, it gets the meanings of events right. It is compelling not only today, but stands the test of time. It is validated not only by ‘reliable sources’ but the unfolding of history.’      

Notes.

Jim Morrison: ‘Whoever controls the media controls the mind.’

By the end of Vladimir Putin’s second term in 2008, all Russian television was under state control.

Before this story begun, I spent 15 years working on independent television. News and political talkshows were my main passions. After all independent television had been destroyed in my country, I found myself at this house, where I spent many months in discussion of a new enterprise.

Putin 2009. [Cheering] The elections for the President of Russia are over. And our candidate, Dmitry Medvedev, is clearly in the lead.

Back in 2008, Russia still looked like a land of business opportunity.  For Natasha Sindeeva, the owner of that white mansion and this pink car, every road was another adventure.  And every adventure was her excuse for another party.

The top executive of a Moscow music radio station, Natasha was the dancing queen of the city. 

In Putin’s Russia, former music radio producer Natasha Sindeeva dreams of becoming famous and decides to build her own TV station to focus on pop culture.

‘Without any false modesty, I’m going to sing and dance. So be prepared to be sick of me on stage, today. Because today is all about me Natasha Sindeeva.’

Natasha knew how to make things up. She even dreamed up a husband, to be precise—a prince. I remember this moment. I was falling asleep, thinking: ‘I’ve been so good. I deserve a prince. To love me and cherish me. To bring flowers and gifts. A handsome, tall, smart guy with character. I literally painted Sasha’s portrait in my mind.

Their wedding was a literal palace. The Russian Versailles. Natasha spun around the fountains with the world-famous Russian ballet behind her.

And there was a new president too: Dmitry Medvedev. Just like Natasha he saw the world through rose or rather pink coloured glasses, but his partner was more czar than prince.

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

Do you remember when he was asked about the most important thing in life?

Suddenly, the Russian President said ‘Love’.   If we had a president that talked about love being the most important thing Russia would be a perfect country. But he enjoyed it. Here’s my iPhone, here’s my iPad. Here I am meeting with American entrepreneurs. He enjoyed being the good guy.

Dmitry Medvedev:’ The principle of freedom is better than non-freedom. These words are a distillation of human experience.’

It seems naïve now, but when I watched that clip I wanted to cry. Like: ‘Look Americans, this is what our President is like’.

There was no room for politics in my life. We didn’t vote. We just didn’t.

The economy was booming, as if on steroids. It seemed that anything was possible. It was going to keep growing. 

Sasha made money banking, during Russia’s boom years and could finance a crazy idea. So Natasha had one. To build her very own tv empire. And that’s where I came in.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

We started at the most expensive real estate uptown (Moscow). Natasha loved the view.

I remember having talks with Natasha. ‘Why isn’t there tv for normal people, why don’t we make it?’ That’s how it started. It was as simple as that.

What’s the date today? Ah,  the 30th. It’s July 30th. The 31st. 2008 and our television station is on its way to being built.

Here it was. The American Dream. The definition of a start-up. ‘Where’s your business plan?’ We’ll finish our business plan later. That’s the reality we lived at the time.

Natasha was a big dreamer. She already had a name and colour palette for her tv station.

DOZHD: Optimistic Channel.

Big, obnoxious.

That was the first time fate intervened.

Radio broadcast: What’s happening on Wall Street… traders say…

Sasha’s bank had not survived the recession of 2008. And from uptown we came down to earth and downtown.

Downtown Moscow. The cheapest building… in ‘Red October’. An old chocolate factory named after the revolution of 1917. Our floor smelled of caramel and rats.

I love that. Those incredible pillars and windows. So the sofas could go here. We thought so too… We’re going to have a TV station. We’re going to do this.

‘All the elements are based on truth, this real life.’

So everything and everybody must be themselves as much as possible. Life must be as authentic as possible.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter.  Executive Director.

We came to the office to meet Natasha. And then at one point, this girl walks in and gives Natasha this bundle. Natasha takes this new baby and opens her shirt. And without missing a beat, Natasha starts breastfeeding her. I understood immediately these were great people. I really liked them.

Anna Anya Mongayt. (Journalist)

That was the first time I saw Natasha in person. She made a great impression on me because she was only wearing purple. Purple knee-high boots. Purple leggings. And a purple sweater. And she was wearing this ring with a huge stone.

Right away she made a big impression on me.

They switched on all the lights at once above our main news desk. From afar it looked like an operation table that was incredibly bright. There are people all around the table. The cameras are rolling. The screens are on. Vera  is yelling out orders from the control room. So it looks like we’re going to have a tv station after all.

In English, ‘Dozhd’ translates as rain, TV rain.

Only God knows why Natasha picked that name. In truth, the most accurate name for this enterprise… would have been The Adventure Channel.

April 2010 [opens] Dozhd TV goes on air.

The first broadcast looked hideous. Totally DIY.

I was afraid of running into my old colleagues from the real tv stations.

We were the industry’s biggest joke. But Natasha loved it. The parties I hated were great from the start.

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

When the project started, Natasha knew nothing about tv news. How it works. What it’s for. And so on… her initial concept was very different. She wanted to have lots of nice conversations. Things like that.

Statement: Regardless of sexual orientation. Regardless of age. Regardless of health conditions. Of hair and eye colour. Of faith and political views. We are always yours.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

When I came to Dozhd, I instantly felt not to lie to myself. To be honest with myself. Because at that point I was still accepting myself as gay. 

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

I had ten years’ experience reporting from war zones. I wanted…I don’t know, I wanted an adventure.

Apparent suicide bombing in the hall of the Domodedovo Airport. On TV, people are outraged the CNN and Twitter already has images. Apparently 70 dead. While Russian channels, federal channels have nothing.

Suddenly we found ourself in a different reality to other tv stations. Sometimes I felt that we lived in two disparate countries. The news we talked about were ignored by all State controlled media as if it didn’t happen.

In the last year of President Medvedev’s term we launched a weekly sketch show in which, with the help of the classics of Russian poetry, we staged scenes between the President and his  Prime Minister Putin.

And True Glory came. Our audience doubled every week. In April, 2011, we lauched a new episode of our viral show in which our father of the nation, Putin, decides not to give his heir Medvedev a second term.   

…But the episode never went live.

Natasha:

Because I think there are boundaries of constructive criticism. And occasionally drift towards personal criticism. That crossed the line. So I found it impossible to broadcast.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Everybody on social media shamed us for selling out. Federal media popped champagne. Opposition activists turned of Dozhd. I saw it as self-censorship. Then, in two weeks, I learned that President Medvedev wanted to visit out humble station.  At that point, I felt we had run out of independence. Natasha was busy preparing for the visit. But, for me, it was the end of our fairytale. Then I quit.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

When the broadcast finished [after Medvedev’s visit] we all had the feeling of having done well. And I remember for the rest of that week, I would come to work and see people crying at their desks. Our audience thought this was all part of some big pact. Natasha kills our satire show in order to host Medvedev as a guest.  Vera quit in protest. And now we’re all playing Judas…For Natasha, it wasn’t a pact.

Q to Natasha. What did you say to Medvedev?

A You’re a really cool dude. You should run for re-election.

CONGRESS

Medvedev : ‘I think it’s right that Congress should support the candidacy of our party leader, Vladimir Putin for the post of president of our country. 

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

Now, I’m going to scare you a bit. The thaw is over Medvedev represented political moderation. Now the screws will be tightened.

We’re living inside an experiment. An experiment in stopping time. Is it possible to survive 12 more years without change?

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

So I just hoped. Little by little, things would improve. That hope turned out to be completely naïve. It’s a shame, my hopes. All my hopes were wasted on this.    

4 December 2011.

Legislative Elections 

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

The parliamentary elections are coming up. There are no battles. And the only way out I could think of was to get credentials [Parliamentary] for all our editorial staff. I got them all accredited as members of the electoral commissions at various polling stations.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

‘Hi Misha, I’ve only got a minute, we’ve opened the first electoral ballot box. There are stacks of 9-10 votes for United Russia that are for sure cast together. We’ve just found 3 huge stacks, 20 ballots wrapped in other’s ballots. Wonderful.   There’s no way to drop those in together by accident.

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

When I went to that protest [against Putin] I expected to see some weird people, to feel a little awkward or even scared. But many of the people I found there were my friends. They’d say, ‘Hi, so, you’re here as well. Look—so and so is here too’.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Ironically, Sasha and I ended up in the same crowd. I was shooting my first documentary at the protest. Sasha was led there by voter fraud.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

The last thing we heard was one of our Dozhd reporter, Ilya Vasyunin was arrested.  We’re still trying to reach him now. We can see him in the police van. We should reach him soon.

Anna Anya Mongayt. (Journalist)

You said it was normal to be running from a police van.

Natasha

At first, I thought it would be a cultural, intellectual, lifestyle channel. But when I began to learn more, when I found myself on this wave of information, I realised just how much injustice was around us, which I hadn’t seen before. I honestly didn’t see it. Didn’t know it existed. I couldn’t keep not having an opinion about it.  

Cable audience grows exponentially (over 8 million).

When the protests started, Mr Gromov, an official from Putin’s administration called me for the first time.  He was screaming at me, ‘What do you think you are doing? How dare you! You’re spreading US State Department lies.

I remember I told him, ‘You know, I don’t work for you. I’m not part of the state media. We work in the way we think is right.’ 

Then he said, ‘We’ll ruin you.’ Something like that. It was a very nasty conversation.

6th May 2012.

Boris Nemtsov, opposition politician.

Today, Putin proved that he was elected illegally. The sheer number of special forces and military. This hasn’t happened in the centre of Moscow since 1993.

[crowd chanting: New elections]

Timur Olvesky, war correspondent.

My first live broadcast was at the elections on May 6th with everything that happened there.

‘It looks like a stampede. Nobody is planning to leave. They are breaking through police cordons. Unfortunately, I can’t see what’s happening.

[Pulled down from his platform by riot police]

Polina Koslovskya  Digital Director. 

It looks like Boris Nemtsov is getting arrested too. The stream is unavailable. No one expected us to be attacked like that. At the time, it was the job from hell. Because I was negotiating with different platforms. So that people could watch our broadcasts. On other websites if they got hit. So during life broadcasts most of the work we had to do was sending people to the right website on time. The cyber-attacks always came. We were sure they would come and we couldn’t avoid them.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

I clearly remember May 6th, Putins third inauguration. That was the day I switched on Dozsd again. 

Our online broadcast has partially stopped. I’ll remind you that today we have been cyber-attacked. The station I’d left just didn’t tell you what’s really happening around you, it also makes you feel less alone.

Q Natasha what are you afraid of?

A I’m afraid that after all the effort and emotions invested into this, something out of control it gets closed down, dies, or gets taken away. I don’t know. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I just don’t want it to happen. Because I’ve put a lot of personal feelings into this. There’s a lot of my heart in this.

3rd Inauguration: Stately event.

Cf

Protest and chants, ‘Russia will be free.’

11th June 2013.

The law criminalising ‘gay propaganda’ passes with just one abstention.

The lives of many Russians will change. The problem with these homosexual propaganda laws is that for the first time in Russian history they are legally introducing the idea of the second-class citizen.

This law touched Dozhd more than other organisations. The newly inscribed second-class citizens made up more than half the team. When the bill was passed, it hurt us all.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

When the Afisha issue came with my interview came out, I was very afraid. Back then, I think, I was the first person with some level of recognition. To publicly come out as gay. And among journalists I was probably the first. Really, I should have approved the interview with Natasha Sideeva or Misha Zygar. I was, after all, a face on the station. The station had stuck my face onto buses as part of a promo campaign. Natasha took me into her office. Sasha, her husband, was there.  They hugged me, poured me a glass of wine. Sasha brought out a copy of the magazine he had found and asked for my autograph. I signed it. Then they told me I did the right thing. And I burst into tears. 

Natasha.

If nothing bad happens with advertising budget, maybe this year we’ll break even.

 Sasha, her husband

By the summer of 2013, we had essentially reached out goal. The station was popular. Many advertisers were eager to work with us.

Anna Anya Mongayt. (Journalist)

We were the voice of a new era.   People admired us. We felt like the media of the future.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

In  interviews with prospective employees would say, ‘what we are offering is not a job. We’re offering you a dream. ‘

Behind me is the ‘Sosny’ Holiday Homes Cooperative. The gates of which just closed on our camera crew. Holiday homes owned by Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin’s First Deputy.  Chief of Staff, Sergey Prihodka, Head of the Government Apparatus. And prominent United Russian Party members.

Aleksei Navalny (Opposition Leader)

We’re demanding that all of these people explain where they got their money for such luxurious lifestyles. Where did they get that money?    

The level of luxuries they have is not at all compatible with their actual incomes.

KYIV [loud explosion]

Meanwhile, at the independence square, protests continue. They are targeting the Ukrainian government, which refused to sign the deal with the European Union.

[Ukrainian protester] Please tell Russians that we are not against them. We are not against you. Not against Russians. We love them. We just don’t love Putin. That’s all.   

Timur Olvesky, war correspondent.

I realised we were witnessing an event that was not only historical but one that was also determining our future. And I begged Misha to send me there.

From Kviv.

We have a breaking story. Both sides are firing live rounds. Some have been detained. It’s an absolute shitstorm over here. It’s a real war.

19th June 2014 was the first fight on Kyiv’s streets. At that point, everything split into Russian reporters on federal TV who’d talk about fascists burning down the SWAT teams, and Dozhd which covered it from a different angle.    

6 Days later (25th June)

Natasha:

Good afternoon,  It’s 8.37pm, you’re watching  amateurs broadcasting live.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

On the day, the show’s theme was the anniversary of the Leningrad siege ending. They mentioned this quote by a great Russian general, Victor Astafyev

‘Maybe Leningrad should have been given to the Nazis, so that thousands of lives could have been saved.’

[cf Moscow given to Napoleon]

Natasha:

Should Leningrad been given to the Nazis to avoid hundreds of thousands of deaths?  Should it?

[commentator,  people can answer this?]

Yes, I understand there’s already a debate on twitter.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

An avalanche falls.

[announcement on air]

About an hour ago, Dozhd tv was dropped from the NTZ and cable package. Dozhd was replaced onscreen by darkness. 

Alexander Sasha Vinokurov (Natasha’s husband and investor)

Nobody thought they would use it as a pretext to shut us down.

[screenshot of other stations] this question was morally and ethically beyond the pale for other people. The station crossed the line of what is acceptable.

Renat Davletgildeev Deputy Editor-in-Chief

The next day, on Tuesday, I think the State Parliament releases a statement chastising Dozhd tv. And on Wednesday, the expulsions begun.

‘Hello, my name is Anna Mongayt. Today I’m hosting the show ‘Online’. Our plan was to devote this hour to the life to Sochi in the lead up to the Olympics. But the situation has changed. Today, for the first time, the show will be devoted only to ourselves.’

It was interactive tv, you’d talk only to people that called in.

‘Can you hear me?’

When I started the show, all the providers were carrying us. But by the time I finished the show, everybody had dropped us.

[cable audience around 8 million drops exponentially to around 60 000 listeners]

A short break while we tell you who else has switched off Dozhd. 

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

That night for the first time since I left, I called Natasha. Sasha picked up the phone. They were hosting a late-night meeting with the newsroom at home. Natasha was smoking in silence. In one day they had lost most of their 80% of their audience and most of their advertisers.  Right away, we began again. We started to brainstorm new plans. It was like we had never split up.

Renat Davletgildeev interview on Dozhd with Natasha.

What is going on? What is happening now?

They were looking for some excuse, and now, it seem, we have given them one. In confidential conversations, meaning off the record, for all these providers told us today that they were ordered to find any excuse—technical, ideological, commercial, legal—to terminate these contracts with us. And  everyone who switched us off, confirmed it, just not as a public statement.

[cut to Putin announcement]

‘Dozhd is an interesting station. With a good young team. But, as you said yourself, one that’s made some mistakes. To put it bluntly, not simple mistakes, but an offence to many of our citizens. But you need to own up to it, which you’ve done, and figure out how to proceed.’

Renat Davletgildeev

‘Today we’re holding a press conference for Dozhd TV’s CEO Natalia Sindeeva. And Dozh TV’s investor  Aleksandr Sasha Vinokurov.’

Anna Mongayt

I could tell how difficult it was for Natasha. She was a mess. She looked as pale as a ghost. You could see it was hard for her because it was all about to collapse.  All of Sasha’s fortune had gone into it. You could see how hard it was on their relationship. She was completely lost. She’d come to work grief-stricken. Looking like a widow.

Q ‘Arkady Orstrovsky, The Economist Magazine: ‘Will you appeal to Vladimir Putin without whose approval this expulsion likely wouldn’t have happened?

A Natasha: I think in that situation I would appeal to Putin, because I will fight to the end for this station, for this business, for this baby, for the right to work in an independent media.

I remember being at their house. Sasha always grilled steaks. Natasha always danced around the pool. We drank champagne with strawberries and imagined our TV future. I recited chapters of the Russian Constitution on citizens’ freedoms and quoted Harvey Milk on the need to fight for your rights. Natasha kept saying: ‘We won’t lose anything.’ We were so fucking stupid.

Sasha.

An opportunity came to sell the house. Without a second thought we invested the money into the station. We sold several properties. 

Natasha.

What happened, yes, consequentially led to all doors closing for Sasha. He’s become toxic because he is owner of Dozhd tv.

Sasha

There came a point when we had almost no money left for ourselves.   When we trimmed our expenses down, life became more fun.

Natasha.

For Sasha, the bad consequences of the station are elsewhere.  For Sasha…he lost me.

[report]

Mr Putin, Anton Zhelnov,  Dozhd TV, the key tv players cable and satellite providers are saying there is no command, the situation’s getting worse.

Putin: Maybe they’re fooling you. You think I give commands to cable people and all your advertisers?

Q Well, they’re saying abstractly. There’s no command, so may I ask, who this command has come from?

Putin: I don’t know. I don’t give such commands. I didn’t tell the cable providers to stop working with you and I don’t think I have the right to tell them to start working with you.

Q You work with them you yourself?

[cut to Natasha]

As of now, we have a month left to live. These are not just words. We have to shut down in a month. There’s a little bit of hope in today’s staff meeting, where I will ask the whole team if I can cut their pay and our expenses by quite a lot. If the team agrees we might be able to last another two or three months. So much as I’d like it to be, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

PAYWALL.

Anya Mongayt

It’s a pressing topic for us here, because we have decided to take some unusual measures. So, why is Dozhd going to sell its content?

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

The audience paying for our content gives us freedom.  It provides independence. What we’re putting behind the paywall is the live broadcast: $26 for annual subscription.

That’s something you’re probably going to miss, but it will be reasonably priced.

Anya Mongayt

It’s truly a way for us to be independent.  It’s a new way for us to survive. If you are in the same boat, you’ll understand why we are doing this.

[cut to]

What? When are we going on air? Anya get ready.

July 2014.

News feature on the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger plane. Ad lib. Responsibilty give an advanced surface to air missile to terrorist fighting against Ukraine in Ukraine who did not understand the system.

[cut to]

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

Natasha has gone on vacation. Summer.

And suddenly, real combat operations begin in Donbass. And the first information comes in about Russian soldiers participating in real combat operations. I tasked all Dozhd staff with calling all Army recruitment offices to find out whether any Russian soldiers had been killed in Donbass. And to find out their last names.  

[in office]

Renat Davletgildeev

We are making a list of people to call urgently. Some of them possibly on air.  

[cut to Putin]

So the question is, ‘Is our army present in Ukraine or not?’ I’ll answer you directly. The Russian Army is not present in Ukraine.

[cut to] Timur Olvesky, war correspondent.

Also today, reports of strange disappearances of Russian soldiers. Reports are coming from other cities. On this list: Saratov, Kostroma, Pskov. Our reporters are trying to find out how many soldiers were buried in the town’s cemeteries. 

Today, my colleagues and I, and other journalists were repeatedly attacked after trying to talk to the families of the people most likely being buried in Pskov’s cemetaries.

[cut to Army reservist jumps in front of their car]

What do we do?

Wait. What do they want?

[voice outside the car] they will break your camera.

You slashed our tyres.

Guys! We’re leaving.

They’ve slashed our tyres. We’re being attacked. We can’t drive away. I was asked to come here. Wait. Wait. Wait. We’re being attacked by two young unknown men who have threatened us. The said there are many bogs around Pskov and that if we continue asking questions we’ll simply disappear.

[cut to]

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

Natasha has come back from holiday and asks me: ‘Am I imagining things, I was walking here from home and this black car seemed to be following me as if I’m being tailed.

I say, you know, I don’t think you are making it up. Look, this is what we’re up to.  

[cut to news]

Today, a Ukrainian press centre posted videos of four Russian soldiers captured by Zarleny village, near Donetsk.

[cut to press conference featuring a roomful of captured Russian soldiers]

[address them] ‘Hello, I’m Timor Olevsky,  a reporter from Russia’s Dozhd TV.

Q When did you understand who had detained you?

A When we were captured, we were told we were on Ukraine’s territory and were being held captive.

[fellow captive]

A  We didn’t know what was going on here. So we believed what the news showed.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

We saw a jump in subscribers form around 15 000 to 50 000 in four days.

A month later, we got evicted. 

Natasha.

Option 1, we get our stuff together and move somewhere, where? Option 1 is to move to some factory.    

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

The idea of eviction at first seemed incomprehensible. It seemed terrifying for it to come true. If we got evicted we’d completely perish.

[cut to]

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

I never again became part of the team, but I always stayed close. At that point, I realised how much I wanted to help Dozhd survive. In between my filmmaking projects, I try to make up for lost time. Back then, our goal was to keep the news on air, no matter what. But how? We had absolutely nowhere to go.

[cut to newroom]

My name is Mikhail Fishman. It’s 8pm on the 31st October  and I’m hosting the last ever broadcast from this great Dozhd studio.

I was thinking about what these years at Dozhd means to me.  I can tell you one thing, that it’s clear to me after all these years that Dozhd is a big deal and will be around a long time. Why am I alone? Come along. Join me guys.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

We would drive around looking at places for days on end. Five or six places a day. Someone from our side would start the initial discussions. Everything would be a good fit, then—the size, the price, the condition. Then we’d tell them we were an actual TV station. That was the moment they’d understand who we really were. 

Two days later, we’d get a ‘no’.

This was right before Natasha was planning to go to the United States.

[cut to]

I really miss everyone. Life is really hard over here.

[rejoinder]

I’ve heard life overseas is hard. Don’t know why you even bother going. Should have stayed with us.

It’s awful, the way they treat black people. Terrible.

Natasha, let’s talk business because there’s a ton of people here and we need to get moving on schedules.

[cut to]

Natasha

This was the first time I’d given up hope. I said, ‘That’s it. I can’t beat the machine.’

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

So, one night, I called Natasha, I had this idea. I said, I know a place that’s perfect from a legal point of view. We can move in and nobody can stop us.

The view. That’s the Patriarch’s Pond there. Cool. Right?

Yeah.

This was Natasha’s flat in Central Moscow, which was not just unsuitable for a studio, but even for family life, because it was very much a bachelor pad. So, I go to this apartment with our engineers.

[cut to]

The mattress. Let’s lean it a bit.

That’s it.

We go into the bedroom and I say, ‘This will be the control room.’

Dec 2014

Natasha’s Appartment.

Secret Office.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

In the same building, the floor below Dozhd, housed an illegal brothel. Just like that. Two of the world’s oldest professions accidentally collided in the heart of Moscow. In a building owned by the Ministry of Defence.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

Stop, Stop my friends, us posing a legal issue.  We’re gonna invite guest here. Roughly, every third guest will rat us out to everyone. But the KGB will find out about this on Tuesday…They already know. That’s all.

[cut to]

It’s 1.31 pm in Moscow. You’re watching Dozhd TV. Presenter Masha Makeeva.

Hello, we were stopped the Anti-Corruption Office where we are sitting on a windowsill next to Aleksei Navalny

I wanted to say, I’m very happy to be in your studio again.

But I’m very happy you dropped in and today our studio is a windowsill.

Natasha

I could feel a provocation coming on. People were afraid to leave the office at night. And my intuition came true. I called Forsch in the evening and said, Anna, pack up the studio, ASAP, I feel some shit’s going to happen.

Natasha to workforce.

The locks were covered in some sort of resin. They were shoved full of bolts. Basically, it took professionals, four hours to open the doors. No one has left us yet. Just as they are watching us, they still are. When it comes to work, we don’t have issues. But everything to do with your personal or political stuff…Just keep in mind it might become public.

[cut to]

Toast. A new life.

February 2015.  

Flacon

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

Miracles happened to us all the time. Our new office found us by itself. I got a call. ‘Hello, We’ve got a 1000 square meters and we know you’re Dozhd.’

I said. ‘OK, when can I come for a viewing?’

‘How about right now?’

‘Of course.’

We had to move everything ourselves. We didn’t have a moving company. It was just us. Misha was here, carrying boxes.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

We would always say we became very much like a cult. That we all felt this familiar cultish atmosphere.  It wasn’t a cult in the name of Natasha. It was in the name of… I don’t know. The name of freedom.

Anya Mongayt

People got lost here. Their whole life is here. Few people here have functional families.

Evgeniya  ‘Zhenya’ Voskoboynikovia (Journalist)

At some point you stop distinguishing your work from your life. And you don’t notice the moment of this transition.

Natasha.

Hello, this is Dozhd TV, from our new home and location.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

It wasn’t just for Natasha to keep her dream project. It wasn’t about her dream. It was mainly about saving [Dozhd]  as a source of information. It was for the cause. We had to save our cause.

Evgeniya  ‘Zhenya’ Voskoboynikovia (Journalist)

I want my country to look like the faces of these people. I think this is important.

[cut to]

Natasha.

Well, to a happy new life for us in Flacon.

Timor Olevsky

After that we were a family. Just a family.

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Zygar Editor in Chief.

We are the chosen ones. Everyone wanted to be us.

Alexei ‘Alien’ Navalny.

Nadya ‘Alien’ Pussyriot.

Natasha ‘Alien’ Sindeeva.

Attention! Foreign Agents.

Putin:

We’re ready to talk to the opposition. We’ll continue to have a partnership with civic society, in the most expansive meaning. We always listen to everyone who constructively criticises any action or inaction of the government. That is on, any level. This kind of dialogue, this partnership, is always healthy. They are absolutely necessary for any country, including our own.

[cut to]

Dozhd is back with an emergency broadcast. My name is Vladimir Romensky. We’re currently on Moscow City centre on Zamoskyvorosky bridge, where Boris Nemtsov has been murdered. He was shot, it’s not yet known by whom, right on this spot

[cut to newsroom]

I’m Pavel Lobkov here with the main news. Boris Nemtsov’s murder.

Natasha

There was a point when I got scared and I thought: This place is wide open and I don’t have security guards.   I do everything myself. For a while I lived with this fear. And the fear ate me alive. I kept looking back in case I was being followed, or somebody was waiting for me. I don’t dwell on it because I don’t know how to change my life so that it doesn’t happen. Probably, shut down the station and leave the country. So I don’t think about it. If anything, I’m afraid to think about it, because if I do, it will definitely happen.

Anna ‘Forsh’ Forshtreter

When the battle is over When you’ve carried all the wounded to the rear and fixed them up.  It’s over. And now you don’t know what to do next.

All the boys and girls. All the young hipsters have all gone grey. All the ‘light’ news pisses them off. Civilian life pisses them off.

Natasha.

We all started to have conflicts. We all started to hate each other. That was it, when we met at briefings, it was impossible.

[cut to broadcast] Pavel Lobkov

Q to Natasha.

There’s a sense of despair, I’m not going to be positive. I’m not going to say everything is great here. I want to say that we’re sick. We’re sick with narcissism. And all of this dancing. You can’t fake that smile for five years. We had good times, but like we had this pigskin-pink colour. Enough. There’s a dissonance now.

Natasha.

We’re not trying to replace serious journalism, and what we do with dancing. Nothing has changed. You know this.

[cut to outside broadcast, face against a police van window]

‘Russia without Putin! Russia without Putin!’ 

Excuse me I’m on Dozhd TV, could you please tell me if you’re being released today? [faces camera] Unfortunately, the police aren’t talking to us yet, but we’re still here.  Just to remind everybody, there’s eight of us here. It’s unclear what will happen next.

Natasha

In a county of 140 million, only 60 000 are willing to pay for independent news. The paywall keeps Dozhd alive. But you cannot change the world with such a small audience. Over these five years we won small battles, but the war was lost.  Our grand adventure failed to change the world for the better. As long as you are invisible behind a paywall and never break even, you are not a threat to the state.

Evgeniya  ‘Zhenya’ Voskoboynikovia (Journalist)

We are all really believed in this bright future.  It hasn’t come. It’s time to admit it.

Anya Mongayt

I recently watched a film about the great Russian writer Sorokin. It has this very depressing but spot-on phrases. He says: ‘Russia shouldn’t hope for things to get better in the future. Russia’s present is Russia’s future.’

[cut to Putin and dog, barking in front of two Japanese dignitaries. Putin gives the dog a treat. ]

Anya Mongayt

She gathered us all in a room and said, ‘You have to make me happy’.  She said, ‘If you don’t make me happy in a year. I’ll shut the whole damn thing down.’ 

Mikhail ‘Misha’ Kozreyv, Music Programming Producer: TV-Host.

I took it in the most pessimistic light. Maybe the last deadline had already past. And the decision to sell us off was fast approaching.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

It felt like the end. ‘If this is it,’ I said to Natasha, ‘I’m going to film it.’  But, as always with Dozhd, nothing went according to plan.

July 2019.

Moscow Summer Protests.

[cut to] We are unarmed. We are unarmed. ‘Hello to all Dozhd veiwers from this police van to which I was admitted during the process against the barring of opposition candidates from participating in Moscow City Council elections.

[cut to] PROTEST FOR ALLOWING INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES TO RUN FOR OFFICE.

We are unarmed. We are unarmed [chant]

[cut to newsroom and back to protest]

Masha we are going to leave you a second to go to Romensky. Right-now, they are trying to destroy the sit-in. People are being grabbed.

[cut to Natasha in studio]

We decided to hold this emergency broadcast late last night.

[cut to protest]

‘I’m a reporter. I’m a reporter.’

Natasha

We saw this was all completely lawless and unjust.  And realised we had to do something. So, we’re taking down the paywall for our  broadcasts.

Today you’ll be allowed to watch Fishman’s show for free. Please share and talk about it.

[cut to crowd, Fishman’s show]

‘They were pushing forward very roughly. Still, I’d never seen anything like this.’

Fishman:

We must be very open. We must be accessible. We must report things as we see them. This is our social mission as journalists, if you will.

After opening of paywall figures jumped. 18 000 viewers to 25 million (roughly). 

Anya.

Sorry to interrupt [coverage] but Dozhd TV is being raided. You can see it live. Police have entered our offices.  Right next to Natasha Sindeeva there are policemen, who are talking to her as we speak.  

There’s a cyber-attack happening against all of Dozhd’s internet channels. We have no internet connection. We can’t stream pictures from Trubanya Street or anything else that requires the internet.

Natasha.

[cut to] Hello Dad, sorry, did I wake you?

No worries.

I just thought I’d call. You must have read the news. I wanted to call, so that you didn’t worry. You were called in for questioning? You got a subpoena? I’m on my way to the Investigative Committee. Don’t worry, it’s about the protests.

OK. Thanks for calling. Good luck and good bye.

To say I was nervous was an understatement. This was my first time. This was my baptism of fire. This was my first subpoena, even with all of Dozhd’s difficult years and situations. 

In the morning at  the Investigative Committee my hands were sweating. This had never happened before.

[cut to Natash outside and her report]

I can tell you first they asked about how we covered the protests on July 27th. How we worked and who funded Dozhd TV. That’s it. There weren’t any other questions.

Q You came as a witness on the case? A witness?

[cut to Anya in studio]

The Moscow case isn’t over for our television station. Today, Natasha Sindeeva was called in for another interrogation  

Sasha.

I was worried. Of course. And the kids were even more worried. Because they didn’t understand what was going on. The night before, we had a long conversation about it. What to watch out for. What her strengths and weaknesses are. What to be wary of, what not to worry about, what to expect.

Natasha.

I was nervous. I didn’t sleep all night. I’d never been that scared before.

Sasha

It’s very difficult to decide what’s important to do in life—go to war and die heroically? Or live a long live and die from some common sickness? Both scenarios are possible for a person, or a TV station.  

December 2019.  

Natasha.

Right now people are unsubscribing for two reasons. First, they’re dissatisfied with the content etc, but that’s only a small part of it.

Second, people don’t have time of Dozhd. They don’t watch it, because they can’t find time.

?

Honestly, for the last few years I’ve had this feeling not only of stagnation, but of death This slow, horrible death, of this station, we all love.

?

If the most optimal way to reach our goal is to kill Dozhd, we need to kill it.

[cut to Natasha at home]

I’m awake at 4am yet again. I can’t sleep. It’s either old age or nerves. Dozhd is the thing that never lets you rest. You’re constantly thinking of where to find the money for all this.

At the beginning of 2019, I set myself a goal. By April 2020. Dozhd’d 10th birthday, I have to answer for myself. Only for myself. This question: What do I want to do with all this? I don’t know how I will answer this question in April.

Sasha believes closing the company is one of the best options. So that it just doesn’t die quietly, you know. But things can’t continue the way they are now.

Sasha

Selling the station to a media group is out of the question. We haven’t lived through our last ten years to end with a shitty thing like that.

Natasha

Sasha asked me, ‘Imagine you don’t have a TV station. It’s all good. Everything is calm. What do you do now?’

And I said, ‘I want to do the tango’.

[cut to Natasha doing the tango in a studio with a young male dancer]

Sasha.

Of course, I want to be the top priority for my wife and kids. But that’s extremely egotistical. It’s stupid and impossible. This is about our relationship. Not Dozhd. Even if not Dozhd, ‘Dancing with Stars’, or something else would have taken her, if not Dozhd. I just wish she could be next to me more often.

Natasha.

It’s unexpectedly hard to clap for yourself and to record. What I’m to say, I feel I must record it. Against the background of discussions and next moves etc. While all this was going on, last night I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sometimes I think everything happens for a reason. Maybe it’s time for me to stop and think about what’s really important. Are you prepared to sacrifice yourself for some mission or goal?

Where do your priorities lie?

Or, at the very least, this is a chance for me to stop and think.

Anya.

Dozhd means so much—socially, emotionally, historically—that if Natasha decides to shut it down, people won’t forgive her.  If, at a certain point, she decided to pull the plug, she will be always be remembered as the person that killed Dozhd. And not even Putin wants that honour.

February 2020.

Freiburg, Germany.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Natasha had never been away from Russia this long. She decided to take a break from the news.

Natasha.

I don’t miss it at all. You know I was guided by illusions. For quite a long time, I hoped things would change. But my optimism has run out. I’m not saying that I’m depressed all the time, but…yeah, I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that Putin is here to stay. He’ll be in power as long as he lives. I can’t say I know what to do with the rest of my life. But it’s definitely something I’m thinking about a lot.

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

On our way to radiotherapy we found out that Vladimir Putin announced new constitutional amendments that let him stay in power until 2036, when Natasha will be 65. 

[cut to Putin]

Our duty is to protect the Constitution. To respect it, as we respect our country, our history and our accomplishments.

2003.

[cut to Putin speech]

I oppose anyone—however good their intentions—violating the Constitution of our country.

I repeat myself, we should protect the Constituion. I oppose any changes to it.

2007

[cut to Putin speech]

Amending the Constitution to serve a specific person is, I think, wrong.

2018

[cut to Putin speech]

I have never altered the Constitution. I wouldn’t do it for myself, and I don’t plan to, even today.

2020

 [cut to Putin speech]

I repeat once again, these amendments have been necessary for a long time, and I’m sure they’ll be useful to this country and its citizens.

Natasha [radiotherapy for her breast cancer]

You understand that nothing’s happening, things are getting worse. You just have to figure out how to live and exist in this. I think we live in a world that is so inverted, unfortunately, where our people get bullied, locked up, arrested, punished, killed, and persecuted and so on. There are very few of them. These people, us who fall prey to this machine. There are few of them. And, in that case, yes, you have to stick with each other. It’s very important. And not to betray your people. Is this journalistic? Probably not. Human. Yes.

I have remained human for ten years, and have never betrayed myself and my values. That’s more important to me. I don’t care whether I remain in history as an unprofessional media manager. But I remained a human with compassion, conscience and responsibility. 

Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

When we shot the interview, she took breaks every twenty minutes to wash off the sweat. Still, the first thing she did when she got to Germany was finding a local tango teacher.

[cut to Natasha dancing a tango with her teacher]

The worse she felt the more she thought about dancing. Her goal was to ‘master the tango with tricks’ before she returned to Moscow.

April 2020.

 Moscow.

What is really going on in the hospitals and in the regions?

Natasha.

Right now, journalists are like doctors. They’ve ended up in the frontlines. Just like doctors have, although neither of them wanted to be. For journalists, this moment calls for an act of bravery.  

I completely stopped thinking about what I’ve been thinking about for the past year. About where I should go, leave, stay, or shut this down. I’ve gained a better understanding of why we need Dozhd and why we need to work. Our task to explain that to people, to be a guide in this complex situation. You know, when they cut out this sickness, it felt like they cut out something unnecessary. Something bad has left and I feel lighter inside. And I think, or need even think, I know that Dozhd needs to exist.

[cut to Moscow office]

Natasha.

[champagne] have you looked inside the fridge.

What’s in there?

It’s very beautiful in there. Though there’s less already.

[with friends]

Natasha.

I’ve lost weight. Got in shape. I feel great, I’m ready to fight. I really want to work and think we’re entering another good phase. So, I invite everyone to have a drink. Please make sure everyone has a drink.

[toast]

So to us. We haven’t been together in a while.

Natasha.

Today is 17th June, 2020. And there’s less than 2 weeks until the referendum.  I just got a call from the editor-in-chief, who said the police were at Dozhd. To question one of our reporters, who’s been investigating online voter fraud. 

Sasha

They can shut the station down at any time. They can put all sorts of pressure on us, literally. Even something directed at the owners of the station. I don’t think anyone doubts that for a second.

Moscow. Eve of the Constitution Referendum, June 2020.

Why won’t they tell people honestly that you want to rule over Russia for 36 years—7 years longer than Stalin? And two years longer than Catherine the Great? [broadcaster]

Natasha.

We want to release this at 3pm, alongside Putin’s address.

Today?

Yes, today.

We’ve grown up. Who are we to know who to love? No. [broadcaster]

Natasha

Hello. Hello, take this [camera phone] I’m here to vote on the constitutional amendments.  Let me take this selfie[shot]?   That’s it. Ballot paper and vote (camera shot) Not sure if it’s visible?

[cut to outside polling station]

Of course, this is all for show. The amendments have already been approved. I don’t really know why I bothered, but since this is the first time in a long time I’ve got the opportunity to say, ‘NO’ to tick that box. I decided to go.

Sasha.

I decided not to vote. The main reason is that I don’t think the state can be changed by some kind of flashmob. I don’t think it will be changed by elections. It will be changed in some other way.

Results are as follows: YES 77.92%. NO 21.27%.

Natasha.

Dozhd. So for the first time in ten years we’re celebrating in this zoom format.

The station changed us in many ways. The station and the changing times. Being in the middle of all these events and movements really changed us and the way we viewed life. What is or isn’t important. 

So, here’s the station, right. I think it had quite an effect on, among others, how we evolved as a family, as individuals, as Sasha, and I.

I think Sasha doesn’t regret it either. And believes all of it was done right.

Q) Vera Krichevskaya (tv producer)

Is Dozhd the right kind of investment or the right kind of loss?

A The right kind of loss.  

Sasha

She regards this as her life’s work. Not a responsibility, not a burden, but her life’s work. And if it’s your life’s work, you have to do it well. You need to somehow see it through to the end.

Natasha.

This is my life, Vera. I now understand this is my life, you know. I’m now at a place where I can say, this is my life. And this is how I’m living it.

After the summer of 2020, Dozhd intensified its news coverage and started publishing on YouTube for free. There, broadcasts quickly reached tens of millions and quickly allowed Dozhd to pay off its debts.

In May 2021, Dozhd was banned from the Kremlin’s press corps, ‘for covering the protests in support of Alexey Navalny’.

In August 2021, a month before the Parliamentary elections, the Russian Ministry of Justice labelled Dozhd as ‘a foreign agent’.

In February 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

In March 2022, after six days of live coverage of the war in Ukraine, the Russian government shut Dozhd down again. Its new is available in Russia again as long as YouTube is available in Russia.

Natasha and Sasha have separated.

Tango with Putin charts Natasha’s journey, from building the station, Dozhd, to recruiting an open-minded team of outcasts who find themselves reporting on some of the biggest and most controversial stories of the day while trying to protect independent journalism in their country.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s