Russian authorities have been cracking down on the free press for many years, but after the invasion of Ukraine, this fight became particularly hard and fast. According to laws introduced there, anyone who calls what is happening in Ukraine a war must be held criminally responsible.

“Already at the beginning of March, in the first days after the introduction of military censorship, the police came to us,” recalls Denis Kamaliagin, editor-in-chief of Pskovskaya Gubernia. “The OMON came with weapons and scared all my interns who were at that moment in the newsroom. They threatened to send them to the battlefront the next day. The interns are young of military age. All our equipment was taken.”

Denis Kamaliagin continues his work at the Riga-based Media Hub, which since the beginning of the war has provided assistance to more than 500 media workers from Ukraine, Belarus, but mainly from Russia.

During the first months of the war, the journalists working in Russia were invited to move to Riga by the Latvian foreign minister. Deutsche Well and BBC Russian Services, Washington Post and others have opened offices in Latvia. Leading Russian opposition media such as Meduza, Novaya Gazeta, Current Times television and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty are now also based in Riga.

“We see Riga as a strategic place from which we can hear what the Russians think, including the Russians in exile,” said Elmārs Svekis, bureau chief at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “We still have access to some of our journalists and colleagues who continue to work under quite significant danger from Russia. And we also target Russian-speaking audiences in Russia, in the CIS, but also in the European Union”.

Fact-checking and investigative journalism

Fact-checking to refute Russian propaganda messages as well as investigative journalism have become crucial genres.

To communicate with colleagues and informants in Russia, journalists use anonymous communication tools and social networks.

“The voices of Russia are being heard,” says Current Time journalist Timofey Rozhanskiy. “And they very much need to be heard. And, of course, in a way, we can be the voice of the people who remained in Russia, who disagree with what’s going on.”

Although Russia actively restricts access to independent media and threatens those who read or watch these publications, journalists are confident that the content they produce reaches a wide audience of millions in Russia.

“We’ve known that for the past year,” said Kirill Martynov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta Europe. “At the beginning of the war and at the time of the announcement of the mobilization in September 2022, all the independent media had a record number of viewers. People were very eager to understand, to find out what was really going on.”

For many journalists, moving from Russia to Riga was a hastily adopted temporary solution. But they already feel that this temporary solution can last for a very long time, if not forever.