Residents of Kyiv, Ukraine, practice with wooden guns as they take part in training for civilians Feb. 19, 2022. Credit: Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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The war in Ukraine is not new. Ukrainians have been living through “the long war” of a threatened – and brutally real – Russian invasion for decades. We hear from 60-year-old Irina Dovgan, who refused to leave her home, with its blooming garden and many pets, when separatist fighters took over her region in 2014. She became an international symbol of the invasion after Russian-backed forces arrested, abused and publicly humiliated her. Now, Dovgan is living through a second invasion.  

Reporting from Ukraine, Coda Story’s Glenn Kates explains what it’s been like to live in Kyiv as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to invade. While many Ukrainians speak Russian and have deep ties to the country, Kates talks to Kyiv residents about how Putin’s threats of invasion and violence have shifted their sense of identity. As the invasion approaches, each person has to weigh the nearly impossible question of what they will do to survive.  

To understand what it’s like to be a journalist in Ukraine and Russia right now, host Ike Sriskandarajah speaks with propaganda expert Peter Pomerantsev. Born in Ukraine and now a fellow at Johns Hopkins University and contributing editor at Coda Story, Pomerantsev describes how challenging Putin’s official version of events can land journalists in prison. Under a new law, even calling the invasion an “invasion” could lead to a 15-year prison sentence. 

Finally, Reveal’s Elizabeth Shogren takes listeners back to a time when Russia was charting a different course. In 1989, Shogren was a Moscow-based reporter covering the Soviet Union’s first freely elected legislature. She talks with Russian reporter Sergey Parkhomenko about how, since Putin’s election in 2000, the Russian president has consolidated power by systematically squashing dissent inside the country. This month, Parkhomenko’s radio show and the whole independent Echo of Moscow network was taken off the air. The Kremlin’s harsh new censorship law, punishable by 15 years in prison, makes it illegal to call the war in Ukraine a “war.”

Dig Deeper

Read: Murder in St. Petersburg: How disinformation killed a journalist (Coda Story) 

Read: Exploring the everyday lives of people in eastern Ukraine (Coda Story) 

Read: The club that wants Russia to take over the world (Coda Story)

Credits

Reporters: Glenn Kates and Elizabeth Shogren | Lead producer: Emily Harris | Producers: Nadia Hamdan and Jess Alvarenga | Editors: Queena Kim, Brett Myers and Kevin Sullivan | Voiceover: Nadia Tarnawsky | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, with help from Steven Rasón, Kathryn Styer Martínez, Jess Alvarenga and Claire Mullen | Host: Ike Sriskandarajah | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan 

Special thanks to our episode partners Coda Story and Russian historians Benjamin Nathans from the University of Pennsylvania and Kathleen Smith from Georgetown University.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Ike Sriskandara…:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah. Al Letson is wrapping up his sabbatical and he’ll be back next month. Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been seeing things happen that a lot of people thought would never happen again in Europe. A massive military power invades a sovereign country to expand its territory and influence.

Millions of civilians flee their homes. Nuclear threats are in the air. And suddenly everyone’s worried about World War III. It’s like we’re living in some bizarre 20th century time loop. But what’s happening isn’t a sudden crisis, it’s been on a slow burn for years. Goes back way before Russian tanks and troops crossed into Ukraine last month. And that’s what we’re focusing on today. The long war in Ukraine and the people who are living through it. Like Irina Dovgan. For many Ukrainians, she’s a symbol of Russia’s brutality, she’s been pushed to her limit.
Irina Dovgan:Now, I think I’m ready.To shoot and to fight for my homeland.
Ike Sriskandara…:Irina is 60 years old. We met her through Koda’s Story, our partners on Today’s Show. Irina lives outside Kyiv, but that’s not really home. Home is a small town on the outskirts of Donetsk in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, where she had lived her whole life. Her husband is a contractor and they built a big house there. The perfect house to grow old in, Irina says. It has a barn style roof, a balcony, and a big garden full of flowers.
Irina Dovgan:I love my garden and my flowers. We were a middle class family and we traveled. And everywhere we went, I would bring home plants. And they all grew and I loved them.
Ike Sriskandara…:That life came to an end back in 2014.
Irina Dovgan:I ask myself, how many times must I endure what I endured in 2014.
Ike Sriskandara…:That’s when Russian troops invaded and annexed the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Then Russia gave support to separatist fighters in Donbas. They eventually took control of a lot of territory, including Irina’s hometown. Irina’s husband, their teenage daughter, grown son and his child all fled, but Irina didn’t go. She says she couldn’t abandon her home, her pets, or her garden that was in summer bloom.
Irina Dovgan:Even if I could take the fish tank, there’s no way we could have moved the fish. I told my husband, I’m staying.
Ike Sriskandara…:She wasn’t ready to take up arms herself, but she did begin helping Ukrainian soldiers. She and a friend made food for them, borsch and pancakes, or blini, and she also brought them warm clothes.
Irina Dovgan:At first, they were afraid of us because we came from the occupied area. They told me later, they were even afraid to eat our borsch at first. And then we told them how much we love Ukraine, that we are Ukrainian citizens and we feel a responsibility. And then I got arrested.
Ike Sriskandara…:And this is where things turned really bad for Irina. The pro-Russian separatists accused her of spying for Ukraine forces and detained her. For three days she says they hit her, fired guns around her, even threatened rape. And then-
Irina Dovgan:And then they got bored. They said she is already garbage. Let’s take her up and tie her up at the checkpoint when Ukrainian Army fires on us. And let those bastards kill her. And then they started arguing. I was lying on the floor and hearing them argue about who was going to tie me there.

They were looking for some sort of entertainment to overcome their boredom.
Ike Sriskandara…:The separatists took her to a traffic circle. They tied her to a lamp post. They wrapped a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag around her shoulders and they put two more small flags on her head, and they made Irina hold a sign that said, she kills our children.
Irina Dovgan:They took me to the traffic circle. And they stood me there. There weren’t very many people, but a few locals walked by and they shouted at them. “Look, we caught a killer.” And everyone who passed by believed them. And they hated me, they hit me and spit on me.
Ike Sriskandara…:By sheer chance, a Brazilian war photographer covering the conflict caught all of this. He took a photo of a woman kicking Irina while she was tied to the lamppost, flags decorating her body and head, child killer sign in her hands, eyes squeezed shut, chin-length copper hair blowing across her face. The photo was published in the New York Times, sparking international outrage.

Under intense pressure, the rebels released Irina two days later. A few weeks after that, she told her story to the United Nations Human Rights Council through an interpreter.
Speaker 3:And I give the floor to United Nations watch. You have the floor and you have two minutes.
Irina Dovgan:Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Irina Dovgan. I am an inhabitant of Donbas in the Eastern Ukraine-
Ike Sriskandara…:But by then Irina had fled her home in Donbas, and in a bizarre 21st century twist, she watched another family move in.
Irina Dovgan:All these years I’ve followed their posts on social media. I’ve seen their third child arrive in my bedroom. I’ve seen how they dress her in my granddaughter’s clothing that she grew out of, but I saved. Very nice clothing. I’ve seen them in my church baptizing their daughter. The wife was wearing my clothing and the child rides my granddaughter’s bicycle.
Ike Sriskandara…:It’s as if someone else is now living her life. Irina has her dog and cats. She has a new garden, but she’s still haunted by what happened.
Irina Dovgan:Sometimes I have this dream where my plants say, “Irina, where are you? Why did you throw us away?” And I cannot explain to them why I threw them away because they were alive to me, like my children. But war is never nice. It is never intelligent. It is always cursed and cruel.
Ike Sriskandara…:And now that curse has come to her homeland again.
Irina Dovgan:It’s already been eight years. I would love to say that I’ve already put this past me. I would love to say that I’m no longer in pain, but I always think how my experience is not unique. That in different countries all around the world people have suffered. They are suffering. And they likely will suffer further.
Ike Sriskandara…:We’ve been staying in touch with Irina. She says she has no plans to leave Kyiv and she tells us her husband has joined a group of civilians who are defending the city. We’ll meet some of those civilians when we come back and we’ll wind back the clock a few weeks to see how people in Ukraine experience the run up to war and the decisions they had to make. When it finally broke out.
Speaker 4:We have been leaving in siltation for the last eight years and nobody believed us. And now it’s like a moment of truth. When everyone can see what Putin does to us.
Ike Sriskandara…:You’re listening to Reveal. From the center for investigative reporting and PRX. This is Reveal I’m Ike Sriskandarajah. Vladimir Putin has been laying the groundwork for a full scale war with Ukraine for years. Eight years ago, when Russia invaded Crimea in the south and supported rebels in the Eastern part of Ukraine, Putin said he was protecting ethnic Russians who lived there. About a fifth of Ukrainians are native Russian speakers, but identity is never so simple. Glenn Kates a reporter with Coda’s story has been living and working in Ukraine since 2020 and reporting from the region for the past decade, he takes us back to early February when a second Putin invasion of Ukraine was still just a threat.
Glenn Kates:It’s February 6th. In 18 days Vladimir Putin’s Russia will launch a full scale invasion of Ukraine. I don’t know that yet. Neither does Alyssa, my fiance. Alyssa?
Alyssa:Yeah.
Glenn Kates:Have you read the news yet?
Alyssa:[foreign language]
Glenn Kates:Alyssa is a journalist like me. She’s Ukrainian. And we tend to speak to each other in a mashup of Russian, Ukrainian and English. We’re in her apartment in Kyiv. And I tell her the news I just got from my sister in New York. I woke up to a message from my sister saying, Glenn, have you left Kyiv yet with a big excalation point. And I looked and I had a notification from the Washington post that said that Russia could invade Ukraine within days, leaving up to 50,000 civilians dead
Alyssa:15,000 civilians?
Glenn Kates:Not 15, 50. That’s not the kind of news she wants to hear first thing in the morning. To be honest so far headlines about a coming war haven’t changed their lives at all. Alyssa is 30 weeks pregnant. I’m more worried by that rapidly expanding bump than the growing number of Russian troops along Ukraine borders.

Putin makes a lot of threats, but we know the baby’s coming. And I keep thinking about all the stuff we need to buy to get ready for it. We don’t have time for that today. We’re going to check out Ukraine’s territorial defense forces, the regular citizens who are preparing for war.
Adre:Right now. If we will not fight, we will lose everything.
Glenn Kates:Andre should know. He’s 49 and from Luhansk a region in Eastern Ukraine, that’s been partially occupied by per Russian separatist since 2014. Like many people in this story, he only feels safe sharing his first name.
Adre:I have lost my house. I have lost my friend. My father was in Russian touch a facility for three months. So it’s not like, okay, you will have some government that you don’t like it. No, you will lose everything.
Glenn Kates:We’re in a wooded area on the outskirts of Kyiv. It kind of looks like a movie set for film about [inaudible], with an abandoned schoolhouse, decay Soviet area, mosaics, and about 20 people learning to shoot. The guns look real, but I’m told they’re fake. I tell a man who goes by Inva, that news reports say that Russia could occupy Kyiv within days.
Speaker 8:Well, I say, let him try. Kyiv is a vast city with millions of people living in there, and those people have something to lose. I think they would try and very much possibly regret their decision to storm Kyiv with tanks, armor and personnel.
Glenn Kates:For years, Putin has been making this absurd claim that Ukrainians are carrying out a genocide against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. It’s totally unfounded, but he’ll use it as a justification to invade the country on. February 10th, two weeks before Russian invades, I go into the city center to meet a woman who like many people here has Russian parents.
Valentina:Hi
Glenn Kates:[inaudible]. Good to see you.
Valentina:Good to see you too.
Glenn Kates:Valentina [inaudible] is wearing a gray cap and a puffy coat, a much different look from the first time I met her. She was at a territorial defense training site dressed in do it yourself military garb, knee pads, hiking boots, a vest with lots of pockets. We are at a restaurant called veterano pizza. Valentina says she chose it for its symbolism. The restaurant was founded by a veteran of the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine. Inside it’s like the military themed planet Hollywood. I guess these are the what like the patches from different units and-
Valentina:Northern Ukrainian, we see that there is Lithuania and you can find the Canadians as well.
Glenn Kates:But you won’t find Russian. And the tables have, I guess spent shell casings. Valentina tells me both her parents came here from Russia in the 1970s, but she was born here and she’s ready to put her life on the line for Ukraine. Did you have a sense of Ukrainian patriotism when you were a kid?
Valentina:Absolutely not. It was first of all Soviet times when was studying in school and I was a bit, probably Russian misogamist a bit. Because I made my Ukrainian language teacher cry. I told her that I’m Russian and I don’t need to study Ukrainian language.
Glenn Kates:Valentina says that her sense of identity began to change in the run of Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych was president of Ukraine at the time. He was about to sign a deal that would align the country more with the EU. But at the last minute, he backed out in favor of closer ties with Russia. In November, 2013, thousands of people gathered at the central key of square known as Maidan to protest both his decision and rampant government corruption. The demonstrations grew into a massive protest camp. Valentina joined in.
Valentina:And I was helping in the kitchen. I was helping to cook food to make tea. And I was pouring tea and giving sandwiches.
Glenn Kates:When you originally said that you were going to go there, it wasn’t to you about necessarily like Ukraine. It was about your feeling that you just wanted to-
Valentina:Standing for what is right. It’s in the beginning, it was just to stand for what is right?
Glenn Kates:Over several days in late February, 2014, Ukrainian, right police shot at the Maidan protestors. More than a hundred people died. How did you feel?
Valentina:I was in shock, because I saw dead body laying on the ground. And I saw this magic scaring, like dead or wounded people. I think all my then participates are still traumatized psychologically from those friends.
Glenn Kates:In that moment, Valentina says something snapped in her.
Valentina:I felt like all those people, like we are family. We are one and I was actually very calm. [inaudible] I felt this unity. And I understood that it’s proof we will go through it. We will win.
Glenn Kates:I still don’t really get like this. You grew up, you didn’t really feel Ukrainian. You spoke Russian probably at home. Did it really just like happen overnight for you?
Valentina:No, it’s through [inaudible] the more you do something for your country, the more you love your country.
Glenn Kates:President Yanukovych, he fled to Russia, but celebrations in Ukraine were shortlived. Days later, Russian troops trying to disguise themselves as locals invaded the Crimean Peninsula in Southern Ukraine. Valentina felt she needed to help. She went to the area and ended up filming in documentary about the occupation. Now, eight years later facing the growing threat of a larger Russian invasion. Valentina is varying to stay and fight.
Valentina:You know, I was born here and I don’t have where to run and I don’t want to run. Actually I will fight for Kyiv.
Glenn Kates:She invokes her grandmother, her name’s sake, actually who survived Nazi Germany’s brutal 872 DC of [inaudible] during World War II.
Valentina:She was repairing the battleships. And I found this document that she have medal for the defense of [inaudible] . And I always had my first thought that, oh, I need to get the medal for defense of Kyiv as well.
Glenn Kates:Do you think your grandma would support you if she were alive today?
Valentina:I think not because she was having like having strong soviet mentality. But praise God, she’s not alive anymore.
Glenn Kates:As Valentina prepares to fight. Alyssa and I think about what an invasion would mean, especially with the baby coming. We’re getting an ultrasound.
Speaker 10:So they just said that the baby’s head is big. So you must be smart.
Glenn Kates:On the screen we see the image of an almost fully developed baby boy.
Speaker 10:Look at that baby.
Alyssa:I’m so excited after all this news about possible invasion, now I’m feeling like very happy person.
Glenn Kates:But even here we can’t escape talk of war. The ultrasound tech tells us she left her city in the east when it was taken over by Russian back separatist eight years ago.

She says, she’s horrified about the possibility of living through that again. It’s now 10 days before Putin will invade, Valentine’s day. Alyssa and I are making breakfast. Alyssa, you said that you woke up and you felt like everything would be okay.
Alyssa:Yes. I have this good feeling that everything will be okay. And we will have a nice weekend, happy weekend with our new car. Maybe we can go outside of Kyiv to see some beautiful places.
Glenn Kates:Was there anything in the news that made you feel that or just like a feel?
Alyssa:No, it just like intuition.
Glenn Kates:Cool. That night we’re in a hit Chinese restaurant full of people celebrating Valentine’s day. Alyssa isn’t as optimistic as she was earlier in the day.
Alyssa:It’s strange how quickly my mood changed today. From very positive shine me day, tiny morning. And I was so happy that the spring has been coming. And at the end of the day, my eyes full tears. I’m so scared. And I didn’t know what to say even.
Glenn Kates:I try to comfort her, but honestly, I don’t know what to say either. We start wondering if we should leave Kyiv. If an invasion happens, we have no idea what Russian soldiers would do. Would they bomb the capital? Would they cut off supplies? On February 18th, there are signs that war could break out any day. In coordinated announcements, the Russian back separatists in the east tell residents they should leave the territory for Russia.

It feels like there on a mission to provoke a war. With all this in our minds the next day, Alyssa and I head into the city center. I’m now sitting in a taxi. We decided to get married. So we’re in the taxi. Alyssa you were telling me that this isn’t how you expected to be married. When you were thinking about marriage, when you were younger.
Alyssa:You know, I’m like in different reality.
Glenn Kates:I ask her what she means by that?
Alyssa:We can’t escape from this life right now. And we have to live in this station for 100%.
Glenn Kates:Well, you have a smile on your face. So that must mean you’re kind of happy.
Alyssa:I think I’m happy.
Glenn Kates:We’ve been planning a big fat Ukrainian wedding for June, but with a possible invasion and our baby on the way we realize we have no official documents showing that we’re together. So we decide we need to have a marriage certificate.
Alyssa:[foreign language].
Glenn Kates:We meet a handful of friends outside of government hall in central Kyiv. Inside the wedding room, we take photos in front of an arc of fake flowers, a purple Neen light. And the words from today, decorating the wall. Guests, sit on plastic chairs. The ceremony it’s so quick that I’m not even sure when to kiss the bride. We’re happy, at least for a little while
Speaker 11:Insurance [foreign language]
Glenn Kates:Two days later, we’re back in our apartment, curled up in bed with our dog. We’re watching Putin make a speech [inaudible]. Alyssa what is your reaction to this?
Speaker 11:[foreign language].
Glenn Kates:He basically calls Ukraine a fake state and says that it’s really just a part of Russia. We realize that his designs aren’t just on Eastern Ukraine, but on the entire country. The next day we pack one suitcase each, about a week’s worth of clothes. We have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s really emotional.

Okay. Bye house, we’ll see you soon. Right?
Alyssa:Right.
Glenn Kates:We lock the door, put our suitcases and our dog in the car and head west towards Alyssa’s hometown. Four hours out of Kyiv, we feel safe enough to stop and sleep. The next day we work from a hotel. Officially Alyssa has started maternity leave already, but she can’t pull herself away from her job at a TV channel. It’s the biggest story in the world. And she’s living it.

That night, neither of us can sleep. Because I had calls Alyssa also did, we decided to stay here in [inaudible]? It seems pretty clear that in the next few hours, Russia’s going to begin its massive invasion. We were sitting there talking a little bit earlier just about how weird and cruel it is that Russia is about to launch a massive military attack on this country that hasn’t done anything to it. Is not planning on doing anything to it. And it doesn’t matter.

We’re both waiting for the war to start, but somehow around 3:30 in the morning, I doze off. I wake up to this. [foreign language]. Alyssa is on the phone with her dad, frantically telling him he must leave Kyiv immediately. He’s been there for a construction job. She’s woken him up and he wants to go back to sleep. She begs him not to.
Alyssa:[Foreign language].
Glenn Kates:She tells him that an hour ago, Putin essentially declared war in new Ukraine. And there have already been explosions in Kyiv.
Alyssa:[foreign language]
Glenn Kates:We leave immediately and drive two more hours to Alyssa’s hometown of [Tunopo]. Even here in relative safety. Ukraine is already different. The lines at gas stations are getting longer, at ATMs too. We managed to get some food. We plan on staying here, but that night air raid sirens scream in the city center. We do not want to have a baby in a bomb shelter. We decide to leave Ukraine.

So it’s now I guess the third day of the war, or actually only it’s been like 48 hours. Yeah, the second. And we decided to leave the country. It’s hard for me, but I think it’s even harder for Alyssa because this is the country that she loves.
Alyssa:We have to think about our baby. He is innocent. He doesn’t know who’s Putin is.
Glenn Kates:We’re in Vil Lithuania now. Yesterday we finally bought some baby things. Two onesies from H and M though really cute. Today, Russia bombed a maternity ward in the Ukrainian city of Mary Opal, millions of people have been forced to flee their homes. I still keep thinking about what Alyssa told me on the first day of the war.
Alyssa:We have been leaving in this citation for the last eight years and nobody believed us. And now it’s like a moment of truth when everyone can see what Putin does to us.
Ike Sriskandara…:Thanks to Coda’s stories, Glenn Kates for bringing us that story and thanks to his new wife Alyssa as well. Glenn recently caught up with Valentina. She was still in Kyiv preparing to defend the city.
Valentina:I think this is my destiny.
Ike Sriskandara…:The same destiny as her grandmother, but instead of defending Leningrad from the Nazis, she’s protecting Kyiv from Putin’s Russia. When we come back, we’ll take a deeper look at president Putin from the time he first came to power in Russia,
Speaker 12:He started his rule by destroying the press and the Liberty of voices and the Liberty of ideas.
Ike Sriskandara…:You’re listening to Reveal.
Speaker 13:I know it’s hard. You wait all week for this podcast and then it’s over and you find yourself wanting more. Let me make a recommendation. The Reveal newsletter. It goes behind the scenes into how we make and report the stories. Subscribe now at reveal news.org/newsletter.
Ike Sriskandara…:From the center for investigative reporting and PRX. This is Reveal. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah in for Al Letson. Everything that’s not propaganda is being eliminated. That’s what a Nobel prize winning journalist in Russia recently told the New York times. Under a new law, even calling the invasion of Ukraine, an invasion could mean 15 years in prison. In Russia, the government has started putting up war posters all over the country. One in St. Petersburg has a big portrait of Putin and a line in Russian that reads [Russian 00:32:09]

Peter Palmer was born in Ukraine, grew up in England and is now a senior fellow at John’s Hopkins university, studying how Putin uses propaganda.
Peter Pomerants…:Literally the quote is we were given no chances to act in any other way. V.V Putin, big portrait of Putin. And then hashtag we together.
Ike Sriskandara…:Peter says the Russian leader claims he had no other option, but to invade Ukraine.
Peter Pomerants…:They’re going for, we have no choice. And that’s a clever one because that allows people to get rid of responsibility. And nobody wants to feel like the bad guy. Nobody wants to feel like they’re the country doing the invading, doing the murdering.
Ike Sriskandara…:What is the substance behind that message? Like how did they make that case that they were forced into this?
Peter Pomerants…:Yeah, so it feeds into a conspiratorial framing that has been around in Russia for forever, but is particularly strong the last seven years. Which is the whole world has got in for Russia. The whole world wants to destroy us. Actually, it’s not the whole world, it’s America. Europe, Ukraine, Paris, Berlin are puppets in the hands of America and everyone is against us and you need a strong man to lead you through the mark. That helps consolidate a sense of us and them, which is vague enough to just be all encompassing.
Ike Sriskandara…:So we want to move to how Putin’s strong man message and identity is resonating beyond Russia. Is Putin blowing up his friend with his former fans in Western Europe and the US?
Peter Pomerants…:Without A doubt, this is going to hit some of the more high profile fans. Look at the moment people are outraged, but this is going to be a long, long, long conflict. Both the war in Ukraine, but also the political and economic and psychological war that Putin will address towards Europe and America. Even Marine Lappen the leader of the French far-right party that is funded by the Kremlin has taken down pictures of her and Putin together. I think even Donald Trump was like backtracking saying, Well, no, what he’s done is wrong, but I would be tougher on him than Biden”
Ike Sriskandara…:At this stage, this early stage of what you’re predicting will be a very long war. And while we’re still all paying attention to this and the shock is so visceral, what are we missing right now? What is the story that the media is missing?
Peter Pomerants…:Well, I think we should listen to what Putin is saying. Yes, it is propaganda and it’s manipulative, but when somebody keeps on repeating stuff, we’ve got to listen. So as far as he’s concerned, he’s not just at war with Ukraine, he’s at war with you, with America. He says this to openly, he’s trying to undo 1989. What we saw as this great moment of the victory of freedom of a dictatorship, he saw as a humiliation.

He always tells the story and he means it how devastated he was as a KGB officer, working with the Stazi at the end of the cold war in the KGB, in the embassy, in the KGB departments of the embassy in Germany, where he was a KGB officer, burning all the files. And this horror that nobody was picking up the phone in Moscow while all around him, where these crowds of pro-democracy demonstrators in which he found appalling and horrific and disgusting.

He talks about this all the time. So he’s at war with you. Now, we should be careful about the word war. I’m not saying he’s going to bomb Kentucky, but his idea is he wants you to feel as empty and as humiliated as he felt in 1989. And how will he do that? Well, and since he’s been trying to do that since 2014 and with his various attempts to interfere in American politics, but we need to start thinking quite seriously, how he can do that. It’s not just about Ukraine. How can he make the US feel impotent? And it’s allies know it’s incompetent. That’s what he’s thinking about.

So he’s going for you guys. And again, I’m not trying to be alarmist. I really don’t think he’s going to set off like a nuclear weapon in Alaska, but he is thinking about you,
Ike Sriskandara…:This act of aggression to invade Ukraine. How does that change Russia’s influence on the rest of the world?
Peter Pomerants…:Well, we shall see. Their gambit was to prove that they can remake the world order, that they can get away with things and that all the stuff about sovereignty and small nations having rights is an absurdity, a freak accident of history that we diluted ourselves, meant something for the last few decades. But at the end of the day might is right.

Russia will take Ukraine. China will take Taiwan. Russia can openly build labor camps and execute opposition people, which is their plan for Ukraine, according to the intelligence leagues. China can openly have concentration camps and all that nonsense that we said about never again and rights of nations and rights of people is a Mirage that real men can break through.
Ike Sriskandara…:Well, it’s not a rosy picture, Peter.
Peter Pomerants…:They would say it’s reality. But he might be wrong. You know, that’s what I mean. He may have miscalculated horribly and maybe these very empty words that we throw around about democracy and rights. Maybe they have some sort of depth, maybe rich old democracies, where these words have become cliches for some people, maybe they can start meaning something again.
Ike Sriskandara…:That was Peter Pomerantsev, a senior fellow at John’s Hopkins university contributing editor at Coda story. An author of this is not propaganda adventures in the war against reality. This interview was produced by Nadia Honda.

We just heard how Putin is messaging the war at home, telling his people that Russia had no choice it had to act. Many Russians believe it. For 22 years, Putin has silenced voices that criticize his regime just like Soviet leaders did long before him. But there was a time beginning in the late 1980s when Russia was headed in a very different direction. In 1989, Russia held its first free election forming a new legislature called the Congress of people’s deputies.
Speaker 15:The new Congress holding real power assembled in the Kremlin. And Kyle [Rubitov] said we are learning democracy.
Ike Sriskandara…:Reveals Elizabeth Shogren was a reporter in Moscow at the time. She takes us back to that moment and explains how Vladimir Putin steered Russia to where it is now.
Elizabeth Shogr…:I remember riding into the Kremlin on a bus full of journalists. Inside we had free reign to run up to the new legislators. Many of them were people who couldn’t have imagined being in power just a few months earlier. One lawmaker was Russia’s most famous dissident, Andrei Sakharov, he was the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb and had been awarded the Nobel peace prize for criticizing the Kremlin’s human rights abuses.

He’d recently been released from internal exile. Now he was telling president Gorbachev and everyone else, how things need to change?
Speaker 18:We can’t do it the old way, with orders coming down from the top.
Elizabeth Shogr…:There was one Russian reporter who had that building wired Serge Parkhomenko. I wondered if you could go back way back to 1989 when I first met you. If memory serves me correctly, we literally met inside the Kremlin.
Sergey Parkhome…:I would say it was the best time in my life.
Elizabeth Shogr…:At the time, Sergei was a young Russian journalist covering the Congress. And I remember him as the smartest reporter in the room.
Sergey Parkhome…:I would say it was the time of the big hope and big changes because before the communism it’s forever. But it was forever until it was no more.
Elizabeth Shogr…:Sergey and other Russians found themselves with freedoms they thought they’d never have. They voted in multiparty elections. They could travel abroad, criticize the government. Sergey’s journalism career sword. In the mid 1990s, he founded a weekly news magazine in partnership with Newsweek called Etogi.
Sergey Parkhome…:It was the best weekly magazine in Russia, maybe the first classic weekly magazine in Russia.
Elizabeth Shogr…:Sergey’s long career as a journalist provides a window into how Russia rolled back the clock on freedom of speech and restricted the news available to many Russians. The reversal started in 2000 when former KGB operative Vladimir Putin took charge in the Kremlin.
Sergey Parkhome…:He started his rule by destroying the press and the Liberty of voices and the Liberty of ideas.
Elizabeth Shogr…:And one day in 2001, Sergey and his staff had a surprise when they got to work.
Sergey Parkhome…:All the newsroom of Etogi, 74 or 76 people was fired. Everybody, everybody, hundred percent.
Elizabeth Shogr…:Putin shut down the leading independent TV network too. And throughout the next decade, he went further muffling dissent and claiming more power for himself. Starting in 2004, he canceled elections and appointed his own regional governors. They were members of his party, United Russia. Increasingly Putin, and his party dominated the media, especially television. In 2011, Putin went further he rigged elections.
Speaker 20:Massive protests against Putin have clogged the city streets [inaudible 00:43`:31].
Sergey Parkhome…:It was the time of big protest in Moscow in San Petersburg in 2011, 2012. And it was the last period of big protest. And since then it was a very powerful campaign of state to destroy Russian civic society.
Elizabeth Shogr…:At this time, Sergei was hosting a weekly radio show for echo of Moscow. The New Yorker had called the news outlet, an endangered species, a Dodo that still roams the earth. Because it was one of the few independent media organizations the Kremlin had left standing. Then after those widespread demonstrations, Kremlin passed a new law, making it even easier to silence, opposing voices.
Sergey Parkhome…:It was law about foreign agents. It’s an instrument to destroy the life of professional journalist. It’s a kind of repression
Elizabeth Shogr…:Part of how Russia prepared for the war in Ukraine was by conducting a domestic war, a war against information that stretched back two decades. Putin snuffed out dissent, leaving the Kremlins version of reality the only one, many Russians hear. This 2012 law was an important part of that war. It made it so that any person or group that gets money from abroad could be forced to register as a foreign agent.
Sergey Parkhome…:In Russia, to be designated by ministry of justice as a foreign agent it’s to loss all the human rights.
Elizabeth Shogr…:Lots of people and groups have been labeled this way. Just last year, the law was used against members of the punk rock group, pussy riot. Now the band has had to include a disclaimer on every webpage, news article and social media post saying that they’re foreign agents. Just weeks ago, the Kremlin used the law to shut down an organization that for decades had brought to light the atrocities of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The organization Memorial also fought for human rights and opposed Putin’s aggressions in Ukraine.
Sergey Parkhome…:It was logic to destroy it because it was something truly opposite to totalitarian idea of Putin’s dictatorship.
Elizabeth Shogr…:And as Russian tanks rolled towards Kyiv, Putin signed that new law that doles out 15 year sentences to anyone who calls his war a war. But Putin’s propaganda war hasn’t been perfect. Lots of Russians are getting their news from the internet and some are finding ways around the Kremlin sensors.

Even now, many of these people have been protesting the war, thousands have been arrested. But Sergey doesn’t expect demonstrations to get big enough to give Putin pause.
Sergey Parkhome…:Russia became not even a totalitarian, but absolutely dictatorship state without any civil rights, without any right to speak, to demonstrate opinion.
Elizabeth Shogr…:Many of Sergey’s friends, other journalists and academics are packing bags and leaving Russia. About a year ago, Sergey went on vacation in Greece and didn’t return home. People convinced him it was too dangerous for him in Russia.
Sergey Parkhome…:It’s not my choice to be not in Russia. Yeah, that’s my life now.
Elizabeth Shogr…:Sergey still has his weekly radio show. The same one he’s had for almost 19 years, but just a few days before I spoke with him, the Kremlin took echo of Moscow off the air. So Sergey started streaming on YouTube. He says, they’re not giving up.
Sergey Parkhome…:Millions and millions people ask the team of radio Echo Moscow to continue. So we can’t refuse them.
Elizabeth Shogr…:Sergey is in his late fifties. I ask if he can imagine returning to Russia someday? His answer surprises me. Can you imagine going back?
Sergey Parkhome…:Yes. I think this situation of war strangely and paradoxically give us some hope.
Elizabeth Shogr…:Sergey thinks Putin’s finally gone too far and he thinks it could change the course of history. That it could change Russia.
Sergey Parkhome…:Finally, he become a real dictator and I think it’s the last days of Putin’s country and it’s a very important moment, a very tragic and important moment today.
Elizabeth Shogr…:Sergey is hopeful that somehow after this horrible war, his country could transform into a country like the one he dreamed of as a young reporter back when Russia was learning democracy.
Ike Sriskandara…:That’s Reveals Elizabeth Shogren. We’re going to continue following the war in Ukraine. To stay up to date on what we are covering sign up for our newsletter @revealnews.org.

Our lead producer for this week is Emily Harris. The show was also produced by Nadia Hamdan and Jess Alvarenga. Queena Sook Kim, Brett Myers, Kevin Sullivan edited the show. Thanks to our partners, Coda story, thanks to Russian historians, Benjamin Nathans from the university of Pennsylvania and Kathleen Smith from Georgetown university. Nadia Tranoski provided our voiceover. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy Mostafa. Score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. Our post production team this week also includes Steven Rascon, Katherine Styer Martinez and Claire Mullen. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our CEO is Kaizar Campwala. Sumi Aggarwal is our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan.

Our theme music is by Camrado lightning. Support for reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan foundation, the John D and Catherine team MacArthur foundation, the Jonathan Logan family foundation, the Ford foundation, the Hisen Simon’s foundation, the Hellman foundation, the democracy fund and the inn as much foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of the center for investigative reporting and PRX. I’m Ike Sriskandarajah. And remember, there is always more to the story.

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Emily Harris is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She previously served as an NPR international correspondent, based first in Berlin and later in Jerusalem. Her 2016 series on Israelis and Palestinians changing their minds about some aspect of their conflict won the Overseas Press Club’s Lowell Thomas Award, and her 2014 coverage of Gaza was honored with an Overseas Press Club citation. She also was part of the NPR team that won a 2004 Peabody Award for coverage in Iraq. Harris lived in and reported from Russia during the upheaval of the 1990s. In the U.S., she covered a range of beats for NPR’s Washington desk and reported jointly for NPR and PBS’ “Now” with Bill Moyers. Harris helped start and host “Think Out Loud,” a daily public affairs talk show on Oregon Public Broadcasting. She worked to evaluate and share new financial models for journalism as editorial director of the Journalism Accelerator startup. She’s drafted a screenplay about relationships born in war and collects audio stories of awful and mind-changing moments in people’s lives. Harris is based in Portland, Oregon.

Nadia Hamdan (she/her) is a producer for Reveal. Previously, she was a public radio reporter with NPR station KUT 90.5 in Austin, Texas. Hamdan's reporting has been heard on NPR's “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” WBUR’s “Here & Now” and the BBC’s “World Service,” among other programs. She's won numerous awards for her reporting, including a national Public Media Journalists Association Award, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards and multiple Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Awards. Hamdan was awarded a Texas Gavel Award from the State Bar of Texas for a podcast on why sexual assaults are so hard to prosecute in Austin. She once conducted an entire interview while riding a mule through downtown Austin, where she is based.

Jess Alvarenga (they/she) is an associate producer for Reveal. They are an audio producer and documentary filmmaker from the American South. Meeting at the intersection of art and journalism, they use storytelling as a way to document and reimagine immigrant narratives, particularly those of the Central American diaspora. In 2017, Alvarenga was awarded an individual artist grant from the Houston Arts Alliance and the City of Houston for their work on the city’s Central American population. They have a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.

Queena Sook Kim

Queena Sook Kim is a senior editor for Reveal. She was previously at KQED, where she supervised the weekend desk. Before that, she headed the Silicon Valley desk and hosted a statewide daily news show, The California Report, for the station. Kim was also a senior reporter covering technology for Marketplace and covered homebuilding and toys at The Wall Street Journal. She has spent much of her career starting up shows and editorial projects for local public radio stations. She most recently edited an eight-part documentary, “The Political Mind of Jerry Brown.” Kim is also the head of audio at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Her stories have appeared on NPR, WNYC’s The Takeaway, Here & Now, BBC’s Global Perspective and The New York Times’ multimedia page.

Brett Myers is a senior radio editor for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Kathryn Styer Martínez

Kathryn Styer Martínez (she/ella) is a production assistant for Reveal. She studies audio and photojournalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a Greater Good Science Center reporting fellow, focusing on Latino well-being.

Martínez was the 2020-21 Toni Randolph reporting fellow at Minnesota Public Radio, the 2019-20 New Economy Reporting Project fellow and the former director of KGPC-LP FM, Peralta Community Radio. Her work has appeared in El Tecolote, The Oaklandside, MPR News, National Public Radio, Outside Online, Talk Poverty, New Life Quarterly and Making Contact.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in Raza studies and political science from San Francisco State University.

Claire Mullen worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2017. is an associate sound designer and audio engineer for Reveal. Before joining Reveal, she was an assistant producer at Radio Ambulante and worked with KALW, KQED, the Association of Independents in Radio and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She studied humanities and media studies at Scripps College.

Ike Sriskandarajah

Ike Sriskandarajah is a senior reporter, producer, and fill-in host for Reveal. He has worked on projects that have won an Emmy, two medals from Investigative Reporters and Editors, and awards from Third Coast, the Education Writers Association, and the New York Associated Press Association. He was a narrative audio producer at The New York Times, making investigative episodes for "The Daily." Sriskandarajah is from Wisconsin and reports from New York City.