In 2016, I visited Moscow, and I remember being driven to a destination somewhere in what seemed like the suburbs, albeit the funky, bohemian suburbs, to meet journalists from, and be interviewed by, TV Rain, the only independent television news operation in Russia. I did not, that day, meet editor in chief Tikhon Dzyadko, but I was told about him. TV Rain started in 2010 as mostly a culture and lifestyle channel. Slowly, it moved more toward hard news, reporting critically on Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. It was allowed to stay open, Dzyadko told me on Friday, because at the time Russia “pretended to be some sort of democracy.” But in 2014, TV Rain was cut off by the government from major satellite and cable networks. “The Kremlin thought we would die,” Dzyadko said. TV Rain changed its business model to a subscriber service, and subscriptions flooded in.
In early March, not long after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Duma passed a draconian censorship law, and Dzyadko and his colleagues knew that TV Rain couldn’t go on. “We had a choice,” he told me. “Become part of the Ministry of Defense or face 15 years in jail.” In this Tomaskycast episode, Dzyadko recalls a grimly hilarious phone call he received from an oh-so-polite state censor just hours after the invasion started. Future calls, he knew, likely wouldn’t be so diplomatic.
Dzyadko spoke to me from Tbilisi, Georgia, where he’s riding things out. He and his wife now create broadcasts for YouTube that are accessible in the United States.