Please join the Harriman Institute for a conversation with Sergei Smirnov, Ksenia Zhivago, and Alexander Borodikhin, all of Mediazona. Moderated by Ann Cooper.
During these times of war, political oppression, and intense military censorship, the work of independent Russian news media is more challenging than ever—professionally, personally, organizationally, and logistically.” Launched in 2014 by Pussy Riot, Mediazona anticipated the growing grip of autocracy on Russian public life, covering the criminal justice system and the intensifying political trials. The invasion of Ukraine escalated the severity of cruelty and injustice, affecting people both outside and inside of Russia’s borders. As the Russian news media restructured their operations in exile, Mediazona remains one of the few outlets who maintains presence in the country, actively covering trials, reporting on the Kremlin’s wide-ranging abuses, and publishing investigations into the casualties in Ukraine despite challenges and threats.
Sergei Smirnov is the editor-in-chief of Mediazona, a leading Russian independent online publication, now working from exile. Originally dedicated to covering issues of criminal justice and penal abuse, Mediazona broadened its agenda to reflect the expansion of repression into all spheres of public life, from Navalny’s rallies and trials to personal stories of lone citizens experiencing state persecution. After being labelled a “foreign agent” along with Mediazona itself and a jail term, Smirnov was forced to leave the country, as he was vocal about the need to defy state censorship and championed journalistic freedom. Today, Mediazona’s work — from tallying Russian military casualties and documenting war crimes in Ukraine to highlighting anti-war protests and political persecution in Russia — is critically important for maintaining journalistic professionalism amidst the curtailing of media freedom in Russia.
Ksenia Zhivago has been at the forefront of innovative projects at Mediazona for the past nine years. Her role currently emphasizes operational management and strategic planning in challenging media environments, from operating under an oppressive regime to rebuilding operations in exile from scratch. Ksenia oversees aspects of the media business beyond content production, devising strategies for working within restrictive environments, sustaining a crowdfunding-based financial model, and driving community engagement through partnerships within the media industry.
Alexander Borodikhin is the editor of Mediazona English, with nine years of experience in independent Russian news media. As a reporter, he’s delved into the ins and outs of modern surveillance, both online and offline, championed by Moscow, and how technology is reshaping power. His work has taken him to places like Navalny’s penal colony and numerous court hearings across Russia. After a six-year stint as a Mediazona reporter, he headed to Columbia Journalism School, earning his MA in Political Journalism. At the same time, he’s been working to bring Mediazona’s wartime coverage from Russia and Ukraine to English-speaking audiences. With the war changing the landscape of power in Russia and its ties with the world, Mediazona finds itself at the forefront, connecting the dots, gauging the impact, and highlighting the human stories often overshadowed in major event coverage.