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When Russia invaded Ukraine six months ago, a team of Russian journalists based in New York decided that they could not work under the censorship of their Moscow bosses. Instead, they set up a makeshift studio in their apartment and started broadcasting independently on YouTube.

Russian TV presenters Harry Knyagnitsky and Denis Cheredov at work in their makeshift news studio in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Up until earlier this year, Russian TV journalists Denis Cheredov and Denis Malinin were working for RTVI, covering news that would appeal to ex-pat Russians living in America. Their news broadcasts could be seen by up to 50 million Russian speakers at home and around the world.

When Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, the work of journalists became harder and by the time Cheredov and Malinin left the RTVI it had become impossible to operate independently. “This spring, a scandal erupted in the New York office of the RTVI channel. First, management from Moscow demanded that journalists refer to the war as a ‘special operation’ and ‘give two opinions’. On March 21, the management even interrupted a special broadcast in which journalists were discussing with their guests a New York Times article about Russian soldiers occupying villages near Kyiv and raiding the homes of local residents. After that, some of the journalists decided to quit,” wrote independent Russian outlet Proekt.

That left Cheredov and Malinin out of work, but determined to continue to get independent journalistic coverage to the viewers they had served. In June, they started a YouTube channel called БЮРО — “The Bureau” — out of their apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. “It takes us about 30 minutes before and after the broadcasts to transform our apartment into a studio,” explained Malinin, as he stood in the living room of their highrise home on W42nd Street surrounded by lights, microphones, kitchen and furniture. The bathroom becomes a makeshift dressing room to apply makeup for the TV lights — and the bedroom gets converted into a control room for the broadcast. It’s like CNN, but in an apartment on the far West Side with equipment picked up from B&H Cameras a few blocks away.

Denis Cheredov (center) anchors their ‘offshore” Russian TV channel in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo supplied

For now, they broadcast on Monday and Thursday each week at 8pm. On Monday they report on immigration problems — sometimes dealing with complexities Russians and Ukrainians are facing in America, but often on more local issues. “This week, I reported on the immigrants coming from Texas and Arizona to New York,” said Chernov. Thursday’s edition is about general news in New York, America and the world that would interest their viewers. “We did a report from Brighton Beach about a street being renamed Ukrainian Way as well as having interviews about the six month anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine,” said Cheredov.

Their broadcasts on YouTube can still be received in Russia — and over time they have grown to over 9,000 subscribers to their homespun operation. Back in Russia, Cheredov explained from his experiences working at RTVI on news since the invasion that “broadcasts are delayed by at least six minutes (in case of uncensored statements), and the videos are uploaded to YouTube only after being reviewed by lawyers.”

Denis Malinin in the TV control room set up in the bedroom. Photo: Phil O’Brien

“Since the war started, many Russian journalists have moved to other countries — Georgia, Germany, Lithuania and Latvia,” said Malinin. By mid-2022, almost all independent Russian reporting has become “offshore journalism”, a term coined by prominent media attorney Ilya Novikov, according to Proekt.

Cheredov is joined by fellow journalist Harry Knyagnitsky on the Thursday broadcasts. We asked about how they are managing to get by without salaries from RTVI. “Our lease is up in November, and we will have to leave. We get a little money through a sponsorship from a lawyer involved in the immigration broadcast, but it’s not enough,” said Cheredov. Meanwhile, Knyagnitsky has found a job with a cable company. Their YouTube channel does allow viewers to send money to support their work.

Russian TV presenters Harry Knyagnitsky and Denis Cheredov at work in their makeshift news studio in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Cheredov began his television career as a weather presenter in his hometown in Siberia. “I’d say ‘this is China, this is Russia’, and in winter if would be minus 50 celsius — but it did get very hot in the summer,” he recalled. He then worked for government media for 10 years in Moscow before heading to work in New York as a foreign correspondent in 2014. Cheredov got his US passport just a month ago.

A recent survey conducted by the independent Rosmir polling center found that a quarter of Russian viewers are switching their TVs off to avoid the Kremlin’s pro-war propaganda on state-run stations. Only 65 percent of Russians watch state TV, down from 86 percent at the start of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Denis Cheredov last week at the renaming of a street in Brighton Beach to Ukrainian Way. Photo supplied

The team on W42nd Street still has some way to go to build the reach they had in their roles at RTVI — however, when Cheredov ventures to Brighton Beach he is always stopped by people wanting to take a selfie with him. Meanwhile, it seems he still has fans at RTVI too — “we are told that they watch every show we broadcast from Hell’s Kitchen,” he laughed.

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