Russia Files Criminal Case Against Prominent Journalist Masha Gessen

The Kremlin accused the New Yorker writer of spreading "false information" when speaking about atrocities in a Ukrainian city last year.

The Kremlin accused a prominent Russian-American writer of spreading “false information” about its invasion of Ukraine, filing another lawsuit meant to punish those critical of its ongoing assault on the country.

Masha Gessen, a staff writer for The New Yorker, was accused by Russia of the crime after sitting for an interview with a popular Russian YouTuber, Yury Dud. The pair spoke about Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, specifically the massacre of civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha in March 2022.

Gessen wrote a lengthy account of the atrocities in Bucha after Russian troops occupied the city for a month, noting hundreds of residents were killed during the brief campaign. At the time of the article, one group estimated at least 2,500 potential war crimes had been committed by Russian forces, with at least a thousand more yet to be documented.

But soon after the occupation, Russia began to spread false accounts claiming that images of bodies left in the street were staged and that reports of the massacre were untrue. The Kremlin appeared to lean on those fake narratives as it announced the case against Gessen this month, the writer told The Washington Post this week.

A document initiating the case against Gessen and provided to the Post said: “According to the information from the Russian General Staff, the information about the mass murder of civilians by the service-members, accompanied by cases of looting, kidnappings and torture in March of 2022 in the town of Bucha during the special military operation is not true.”

Masha Gessen speaks Nov. 17, 2022, at the Committee to Protect Journalists' International Press Freedom Awards in New York City.
Masha Gessen speaks Nov. 17, 2022, at the Committee to Protect Journalists' International Press Freedom Awards in New York City.
Dimitrios Kambouris via Getty Images

Gessen holds dual Russian and U.S. citizenship and lived in Russia for about two decades until 2013. They moved to the United States as the Kremlin began a crackdown on LGBTQ+ citizens. Gessen is a nonbinary trans person who uses they/them pronouns.

In the YouTube interview, they emphatically rejected the Kremlin’s efforts to recast the atrocities in Bucha. The Post reported that Dud’s channel is popular and easily accessible to many Russians while other sources of information, including Facebook and Instagram, are blocked in the country. Dud’s reach — he has 10 million subscribers — and Gessen’s comments may have prompted the recent criminal case and another against a Russian opposition lawmaker last year.

“The chances that I will ever be able to go back to Russia — I’m 56 years old — are pretty slim,” Gessen told the Post. “That has a significant impact on my life and at some point, my journalism.”

They added that travel to any country with an extradition treaty with Russia would now be risky, creating a list of “a whole bunch of countries it would be unsafe for me to go to.”

Russia has taken dramatic steps to limit criticism of the Kremlin during the Ukrainian invasion, jailing critics and passing laws to punish opponents with years-long sentences. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been jailed in Russia for nine months after being charged with espionage as part of that crackdown.

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