Russia will continue to experience a state of apathy until Putin departs.

Investigative reporter Roman Anin warns that if you constantly show apathy, there may come a time when someone will come to your doorstep, forcefully take your husband away, and within three days, send him to [Ukraine] where he will meet his demise. This serves as a stark reminder of the consequences individuals face when they remain indifferent towards their own destiny and the future of their nation.

The Moldova-born Russian is one of this year’s recipients of the Free Media Award from Germany’s Zeit Foundation. And this is only the latest in the string of accolades and awards for the 36-year-old, who is a member of multiple international investigative networks, including the team behind the Panama Papers investigation.

In Russia, Anin’s Important Stories ( website first drew headlines in 2020 by looking into procurement of ventilation machines during the COVID pandemic. In the same year, they also published a report on one of the most sensitive topics in the country — apparent corruption linked to the family of Vladimir Putin. He was forced to leave Russia the following year.

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In a conversation with DW in Hamburg, Anin expresses that his followers in Russia remain interested in understanding corruption at a high level. However, he notes that, overall, Russian society shows little concern for this issue and has become apathetic towards it.

Russia’s corruption and ‘colossal misery’

Anin himself shows no sign of apathy. He moved to Russia as a teenager, studied journalism in Moscow, and in 2006 started working as a sports reporter with the Novaya Gazeta, a paper known for seeing several of its reporters killed under the Putin regime. In 2008, Anin was sent by Novaya Gazeta to cover the brief war between Russia and Georgia, when he joined the outlet’s investigative unit.

He had the opportunity to work on significant stories, such as the tax fraud exposed by Sergei Magnitsky and the corruption related to the 2014 Winter Olympics. Additionally, he conducted investigations into influential individuals within the Putin regime, including Sergey Roldugin, a close friend of Putin and a billionaire cellist, as well as Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft. In 2016, Anin published an article revealing that Sechin’s wife owned a yacht valued at $100 million (€94 million). As a result, Sechin filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper and emerged victorious.

Anin acknowledges that comprehending the extent of corruption within the Russian elite is challenging for many individuals.

“I cannot reword”

This disconnect is “nothing to marvel at — even the war was only a concern for a few people until the mobilization started and they started detaining husbands and brothers, sending them to the front with no training, where they simply got killed,” he added.

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The reporter suggests that putting an end to the Ukraine conflict is just the initial phase in bringing about change in Russian society. He believes that it would require many years of engaging with the people to bring about reforms. This transformation would only occur following the passing of Putin and the influential group surrounding him, known as the “collective Putin.”

Anin states that breaking the apathy under the Putin regime is extremely challenging. He believes that it is crucial to disclose the complete truth about the war, allowing people to comprehend the horrifying events that occurred over the past 30 years, which they silently witnessed. These atrocities were carried out with the people’s unquestionable support. Anin hopes that by exposing these truths, Russia may have a chance to overcome its apathy and embrace a new way of living.

In 2021, Anin was arrested by Russian authorities and his residence in Moscow was searched, resulting in the confiscation of many of his belongings. The reason given for his detention was his potential involvement as a witness in a privacy invasion case. His colleagues at Novaya Gazeta believe that this was a delayed retaliation for his 2016 Sechin story. Both Anin and his media outlet, Important Stories, have been designated as “foreign agents.” Anin is currently continuing his investigative work outside of Russia, while Important Stories remains operational despite being officially deemed “undesirable” under Russian law. This designation makes it illegal to share or engage with their content online.

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Apologies, but we have brought this upon ourselves.

According to Anin, he can still connect with his audience in Russia, evident from the high number of YouTube views. Even if all communication channels are eventually severed, Anin believes it would not be the most significant tragedy in today’s world.

Anin states that our objective is to inform individuals about the true events occurring, the actual nature of the government, and the real situation in Ukraine. We aim to convey that this war is unlawful and to expose how the Russian authorities disregard the lives of their own people by sending them into a deadly situation.

“The fate of the people lies in their own hands. If the people in Russia are unwilling to embrace change or seek the truth, there is little we can do.”

Anin states that he has never encountered suspicion from his Ukrainian colleagues when it comes to the perception of Russians amidst the war. However, he clarifies that even if he were to face any insults, he would not take offense.

“I cannot reword”

Edited by Ben Knight