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Editor-in-chief of Russia's last remaining independent TV station on media's role now

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Talk about a signoff. When TV Rain, Russia's last remaining independent TV station went off the air this month, the last words that viewers heard were no to war, definitely no to war.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV RAIN NEWS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR #1: (Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS ANCHOR #2: (Speaking Russian).

KELLY: And then the hosts stood up, unclipped their mics and left the set. Many of the station's journalists fled Russia after that, including Tikhon Dzyadko, the editor-in-chief. He and his family came here to Tbilisi, where I found him today in the apartment they're borrowing from a friend. We sat in the front room - big French windows framing a pretty view over Tbilisi's old town. Tikhon told me they hope to stay a few months, plot their next move. I ask the obvious question - what happens now to TV Rain?

TIKHON DZYADKO: Unfortunately, TV Rain does not exist anymore, at least that the good, old TV Rain we used to know. Now some of our journalists have, just like us, left the country. And now they are figuring out what to do next. But what we do understand that we have to continue - that we have to continue spreading information and truth to Russians and the Russian-speaking audience. We don't know where. We don't know how. We don't know when. But definitely sooner or later - rather sooner than later - we will continue broadcasting.

KELLY: Yeah. How would it work in terms of - say you could set up a channel in some city, have a newsroom, be covering Russian news from outside Russia, working sources, how do you get that news into Russia, given the internet clampdown there?

DZYADKO: Well, it's not the only problem. Basically, there are two problems. The first problem is to get information from Russia. And the second problem is to reach to audience in Russia. As for now, we see that there is no digital iron curtain yet. YouTube is not blocked. Telegram is not blocked. And people are using VPNs to get to Facebook and Twitter and other social media - Instagram, for example. But, of course, anything could happen. But maybe I am naive here, but I'm sure that technologies are always one step ahead of repressions. And I'm sure that smart people around the world - they could find ways to break this potential digital iron curtain. I don't know how because I'm - I don't understand anything in technologies, so I don't know how. But I'm sure that there is a way.

KELLY: In 2022...

DZYADKO: Yes. Absolutely.

KELLY: ...It's got to be very different from the last time...

DZYADKO: Yes, that's what I was about to say.

KELLY: ...The iron curtain was up. Yeah. I mean, I guess, there's the technology and those issues, and then there's - can you be TV Rain if you're not in Russia? I visited your newsroom a few years ago, 2018, it was very clear just in that brief visit you were telling stories that nobody else in Russia was telling. So if you're not in Russia, how does that work?

DZYADKO: That's a good question, but - and the simple answer is no, TV Rain could not be TV Rain if it's not in Russia. But the problem is that TV Rain does not exist anymore. And it will not be TV Rain. It will be new news stories.

KELLY: Something else.

DZYADKO: It will be something else. But we had two very important things on TV Rain. We had the brand, which was trusted by the audience. And we had our journalists. They were trusted by the audience. Now we don't have this brand, but we still have these journalists. And I think that no matter where, they will say - they will do the same thing. It will be different. It will be something new, something else. And I hope it will be even better than it used to be.

KELLY: As a first step maybe, you and your wife have just started a YouTube channel. Tell me about it.

DZYADKO: Yes, that's correct. Well, it's our decision. And I know that some of our colleagues are doing the same thing. It is for this period of time while we are understanding what's next. It's really important now to talk to the audience. It's important now to tell them the news because all these crazy, crazy things are happening. So we just decided now to build this vacuum of information.

KELLY: Do you have any worries about your security, your safety, people you left back in Russia, continuing to speak out even from outside Russia?

DZYADKO: I don't have an answer because I think all what is happening is absolutely unpredictable. One month ago, we lived in a different world. I was sure that war was not going to happen.

KELLY: I read your wife was sure it would.

DZYADKO: Yes.

KELLY: And unfortunately, she was right on that one.

DZYADKO: Yes. Yes, that's correct.

KELLY: Yeah.

DZYADKO: I think that anything could happen, anything good or anything bad. So what I decided to do is just do and try not to think about potential consequences.

KELLY: Yeah. So what do you see as the role for Russia's media now? And I guess, that's two separate things - people remaining in Russia and the people on the outside now.

DZYADKO: I think that the question of media is the most important question now because a lot of people in Russia are brainwashed by the propaganda. And a lot of people in Russia, unfortunately, don't understand what is actually happening in Ukraine or in Russia or in the world. So it is our - I mean, by saying our, I mean journalists - it is our role now to try to reach out to every citizen of Russia, telling them that black is still black; white is still white; the grass is green; the skies are blue, et cetera, et cetera - because, unfortunately, Russian government wants them to think black could be red or black could be blue, and everything is not that simple, et cetera, et cetera.

KELLY: That a war is not a war.

DZYADKO: The a war is not a war, that the Russian army is succeeding there, et cetera, et cetera, yeah.

KELLY: Will you go back?

DZYADKO: Absolutely. I don't know when. And that's the problem because I miss my my apartment, my life there. But I am absolutely sure that I will go back.

KELLY: Tikhon Dzyadko, editor-in-chief of what was Russia's lone independent news channel, TV Rain, speaking with us here in Tbilisi, Georgia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.