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«When you back off little by little, it's hard to notice how deep you fall.» NTV's former anchor talks about working for the state TV

NTV anchor Lilia Gildeeva, who quit her job and left the country after Russia's attack on Ukraine, has given her first interview. She told The Insider how the state channels work based on the “theme guides” (temniki)  received «from on high,» admitted that she had made a deal with her conscience in 2014 by keeping her job at the propaganda TV channel and asked Ukrainian mothers for forgiveness.

«I had an immediate nervous breakdown.»

I made the decision to end it all on the morning of February 24, when I downloaded all the news sites, turned on the TV, and discovered it all, saw it all. It's hard to talk about it in any meaningful way, so it was more of a pure emotion. But I think few people reacted adequately to the events that took place - to the invasion. Because first of all it was a very powerful and searing emotion. Actually, the same thing happened to me. I had an immediate nervous breakdown. For days on end, I just couldn't come to my senses. The decision was probably obvious right away. I quit.

It wasn't a week I was supposed to be on air, it was an off-air week. I called my management and told them that I was having a nervous breakdown, that I wouldn't be coming to work on Monday. Knowing that this was it, I nevertheless took the week off. I took a week off in order to at least come to my senses, to figure out what I was going to do next. By the end of the week, it was probably clear that this was it. On February 28 I did not return to work. From the moment it all started, I realized that I wouldn't be able to do it at all.

For the most part, even the state media employ people with normal moral standards. Most of them are not all in with what's happening now – all this hell and horror.

There was no harsh reaction either from the management or from colleagues. There were attempts on the part of the management to come to an agreement. It became clear right away that I wasn't going back to prime time. There were some attempts to offer me other options - to work for other programs. No, of course, <I did not agree>. It was clear that this was not my story.

«It's a deal many of my colleagues and I accepted to keep our jobs.»

As far as my colleagues were concerned, they seemed so unanimous. It didn't surprise me much, after all, because I think that despite all the ambiguity, and given the rift between the official and oppositionist media - for the most part even the state media employ people with normal moral standards. Most of them are not all in with what's happening now - all this hell and horror. I've gotten so many calls, so many messages of support and understanding in regard to what's been happening to me.

For the three weeks this has been going on, I wake up every morning with the thought that it can't be true. It's some kind of a delayed effect of the trauma because the shock still gets deeper and deeper. It won't end quickly.

The first few days there was still hope it would stop quickly, like a bad dream. But every day it became more and more like some kind of sticky nightmare, a quagmire.

I haven't heard anything <about the colleagues who also quit>. Maybe I missed something, or I haven't been getting all the information. In any case, I have no such data. I only know of one particular case of «a colleague who quit» - that of Vadim Gluzsker, my colleague, our correspondent in Brussels. He was one of the pillars of the old NTV, one of the correspondents who had been working for so many years. And he quit a few days after me.

By and large I have only recently emerged from this whole affair. I think I am not entitled to judge the motives of people who remain on their jobs even under such conditions. Everyone has their own reasons. But for me it was impossible. I understand that having to call the invasion of one country by another and the war being waged on another country's territory a «special operation» every day is simply impossible for me. And I don't know and can't evaluate the motives that guide other people who continue to work, and I think it's still a very hard job for them.

<What Marina Ovsyannikova did> was an absolute shock, absolute. I've talked a lot with my colleagues, everyone has roughly the same opinion, and more often than not the words «heroic deed» are pronounced. This is an absolutely incredible platform for expressing one's civic position. It certainly is incredible. To take advantage of Channel One's airwaves is an incredible expression of one's position. Incredible choice of a starting point, choice of audience. It's pure admiration, of course.

And just at some point you find yourself face to face with this picture you eventually got on February 24. You wake up in the morning and realize it's a chain of small steps.

It's a matter of the deal that I and many of my colleagues made in order to keep our jobs. The year 2014 was a very scary year, but honestly, when you make tiny concessions, you do feel like really bad things are happening, but you think it could probably become better. That leap was very abrupt, there was a sense that everything was still within the bounds of freedom and there was a hope it would level out, and when you back off little by little, it's hard to notice how deep you’ve fallen. And just at some point you find yourself face to face with this picture you eventually get on February 24. You wake up in the morning and realize it's a chain of small steps.

Obviously, all the central channels have been working based on the same methodological guidance. The same manuals. I, for example, did not attend the special meetings where these guides or instructions were handed out. We only received them from on high, that's no secret. This was also the case in the past, but recently they've been tightening the screws, it's become very noticeable, it's become very conspicuous.

There were topics we really had to double-check a few times - «are we really not reporting it?» Some noticeable events that were taking place. There were topics prominent not only on a national, but also on the international level, and we just did not report them at all; of course, this raised many questions.

We could go to the management and ask them why we were not allowed to report them. There were no apparent conflicts, but we did make several attempts, my editor-in-chief and I. It was a regular business over the last two years.

There were things unrelated to politics that weren't obvious, things that weren't comprehensible to me. They weren't allowed in prime time.

«It was some kind of a spontaneous decision».

Why did I leave Russia? That's a good question, and I have a pretty funny answer to it. Six months ago my daughter and I started talking about traveling to a seaside resort this year. There were stories about not being able to leave. They mostly concerned the pandemic. And I thought this year I should definitely take my daughter to the sea. Then – during the last week before I left - things started happening... There were rumors the borders would soon be closed. And then I thought, first of all, I had to keep my promise to my own child. And secondly, if it wasn't true, I could always go back. What else was there to do in Russia?

It was some kind of a spontaneous decision, with many reasons piled on top of it all at once. I realized that if I dallied a little longer my child would not get to see the sea. Although, of course, given the war in Ukraine, this sounds completely idiotic, horrible, cynical, I guess. But in fact it was like this. It must have been a very emotional decision.

«Words can't fix anything.»

What would I say to Ukrainian mothers? I would say a phrase that is unlikely to fix the situation... It's very complicated. I would of course say: «Forgive us.» I realize that's not going to save anybody. Everything that's happened will be here for a long time. It will affect not only us, but our children and our grandchildren. Words can't fix anything.

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