PEN America, a New York City–based group that advocates for press freedom, and New York’s Bard College recently launched the Russian Independent Media Archive. The project aims to serve as a historical record of independent Russian journalism since 2000, when Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president.
So far, the site has archived more than 500,000 articles from 13 independent Russian media outlets. Many of these outlets closed or left Russia following Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the enactment of new laws further restricting media freedom.
Making sense of a ‘pivotal period’
PEN America said the archive “will make the journalism of this pivotal period accessible to the reporters, historians, political scientists and other researchers who will make sense of Russia’s past.”
Dru Menaker, chief operating officer at PEN America and a former foreign correspondent in Moscow, said, “Brave, determined independent journalists have worked against constraints on press freedom and free expression, and their works must be preserved if we are to understand Russia’s present and serve its future.”
The project aims to preserve the work of 70 publications.
“INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM OFFERS SOME FOUNDATION FOR OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IS HAPPENING.”
~ RUSSIAN HISTORIAN ILIA VENYAVKIN
The archive includes articles from Novaya Gazeta, whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, won the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to safeguard freedom of expression. The Nobel Committee specifically commended Novaya Gazeta’s critical reporting. The Kremlin’s media monitoring agency Roskomnadzor threatened action under Russia’s “foreign agents” law, which subjects journalists to fines, harassment and potential imprisonment.
Novaya Gazeta suspended its operations in Russia in March 2022. The next month, exiled journalists launched a European edition of the paper, Novaya Gazeta Europe, from Riga, Latvia.
Roman Badanin, the founder and editor of Proekt, left Russia after Russian authorities deemed the outlet “undesirable.” Proekt’s work, likewise, is part of the archive. So too are articles from Taiga.info, Meduza, Mediazona, OVD-Info, Pskovskaya Gubernia, The Bell, Russian Newsweek, Holod, Agency, Ochevidcy and Verstka.
Kremlin targeted articles about Russia’s aggression
The archive includes articles with independent information and opinions in Russia about the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine. Some specific examples include:
- A May Novaya Gazeta article that described how Russia-installed occupation authorities in Kharkiv, Ukraine, told residents to leave.
- An April story detailing Russia’s recruitment and conscription of soldiers.
- A May essay that wondered if St. Petersburg would “survive” the war.
- A May 2022 Meduza story that says “Almost nobody is happy with Putin.”
“The best thing we can do is collect the media archive, hoping one day it will be supplemented from documents coming from state archives,” said Ilia Venyavkin, a Russian historian working with the project team.