Sunday, Nov 27, 2022

Explained: Who is Natalia Sindeyeva, and why has Russia cracked down on her TV channel Dozhd?

Members of Dozhd, or TV Rain, a small and independent television channel in Russia, resigned live on air last week as Russia invaded Ukraine. What is this channel, and who started it?

When protests erupted across Russia over the rigged elections, Dozhd reporters were on the streets showing events that other media channels were ignoring.

Last week, members of Dozhd, or TV Rain, a small and independent television channel in Russia, resigned live on air, signing off with the message, “no to war”. Dozhd was important, as every other television channel in Russia is in state control and obeys Kremlin’s orders. In 2015, The Guardian reported that when Dozhd held a rock concert to celebrate its fifth birthday in Moscow, the crowd reserved its loudest ovation not for the rock group but for the independent journalists of the channel.

Dozhd had not started out to speak truth to power; it was supposed to be a lifestyle, cultural and intellectual channel. As a documentary F@ck This Job shows, in 2008, Alexander Vinokurov and Natalia Sindeyeva, a happy, newly-married and fabulously wealthy couple, decided to launch an independent television channel in Russia. It would have attitude, glamour and youthfulness.

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Vinokurov was the head of an investment bank, came from old oligarchy money and lived in a great mansion. Sindeyeva was a prominent socialite and dancer who drove a bright pink Porsche Cayenne and flaunted her fashion sense and zest for life. She was “looking for fame, reputation, and the realisation of her dreams” with Dozhd.

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According to the imdb description of F@ck This Job, the channel quickly drew “an open-minded team of outcasts”. “You are watching Dozhd TV, the optimistic channel,” said the anchors. It was a time when Dmitry Medvedev was President of Russia and seen as a modernising influence. Putin was the Prime Minister.

In 2012, Medvedev was removed, Putin became President and sweeping changes were brought to the Constitution to keep the latter in the top job. “Nothing went according to plan,” says the film between montages of Putin and scenes of human rights violations, clampdown on press freedom, protests by marginalised communities such as the LGBTQ+ and the war in Ukraine. “I realised just how much injustice there was around us, which I simply did not see before,” says Sindeyeva.

Dozhd chose truth over propaganda in their coverage. It focussed on news, discussions, culture, politics, business reports, and documentaries. Mostly, though, Dozhd shows were live broadcasts. The channel’s motto became: “Talk about important things with those who are important to us”.


When protests erupted across Russia over the rigged elections, Dozhd reporters were on the streets showing events that other media channels were ignoring. When they were arrested, the journalists reported over cellphones from prison vans. Wars in Chechnya and Ukraine, interviews of dissidents and the Opposition as well as the realities of the LGBTQ+ community, officially considered second-class citizens in Russia, were given airtime.

In a report on the documentary in The Observer, veteran filmmaker Vitaly Mansky is quoted from the film: “When Natalya started her journey with the Dozhd TV channel, she was naive enough to believe that it was possible to create independent, light and, let’s say, glamorous television in Russia. Instead, this innocent young woman drove her Porsche into a war zone and her glamorous car got very dirty and hit by shrapnel.”

The state came down hard on the channel.

When the channel were forced to move out of their headquarters, they continued to work out of their founders’ home. Dozhd continued to be a platform for dissidents and hired “oppositional reporters and minorities” and turned into “the lone island of political and sexual freedom”.


By 2020, Sindeyeva had, reportedly, lost all her money. In August 2021, the Justice Ministry of Russia announced that Dozhd TV was a “foreign agent”. Sindeyeva hit back saying that they were transparent about funding and were a responsible media outlet that had been working for 11 years and was well-known among decision-makers.

Today, it is a crime in Russia to criticise its war against Ukraine. Media outlets who use terms such as invasion and war, or report the Ukrainian side of the story, face the brunt of state machinery.

Dozhd TV, which was threatened with closure, ended it their own way last week — by airing Swan Lake. After the staff walks out, the screen fills with black-and-white images of dancing swans, a reminder of August 1991 attempted coup to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev, when Russian television kept showing Swan Lake as confusion reigned in the country. The famous Tchaikovsky ballet, however, has layered allusions for Russians, most importantly that the forces of virtue will ultimately win over evil.

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First published on: 07-03-2022 at 11:27:23 pm
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