Inside Russia: Traitors and Heroes

Programme editor & moderator
Despite huge risks, the Russian journalist Anastasia Popova and the award-winning film director Paul Mitchell filmed the impact that Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine has on individuals in Russia. Their documentary Inside Russia follows ordinary Russians. After the screening, both directors enter in conversation. What is the position of Russian citizens 1.5 year after the Russian invasion in Ukraine. And what possible futures does Russia have?

Ordinary Russians have never really been able to speak up against Vladimir Putin’s regime. New censorship laws, introduced since the invasion of Ukraine (February 2022), have made it tougher than before. Since then, thousands have fled Russia and those who stayed were forced to choose: stay silent, oppose, or support the Russian government.

About the documentary

Inside Russia: Traitors and Heroes documents an extraordinary year in the lives of ordinary Russians. As anti-war protests are brutally suppressed across the country, a local politician, Nina Belyaeva, condemns the war on social media. In a local council meeting, she films herself accusing the army and the Russian President of war crimes. Her messages and video go viral, and she receives an outpouring of support from around the world. But the authorities decide to press charges. She must decide whether to face a criminal conviction for discrediting the Russian armed forces – or flee the country.

In Ekaterinburg, a city in the Urals, a group of young graffiti artists begin a campaign of subversive art to mock the government’s pro-war propaganda. Soon, one of their members is arrested. “I used to joke that we’d all become criminals or extremists. We’d be jailed for a drawing or a text. That kind of thing. But when it happened, I was terrified,” says another.

In Moscow, an actor mourns her brother, who was killed in Mariupol fighting for the Russian Armed Forces. Their father believes his son died for a just cause. She is against the war, but is also deeply conflicted. “I can’t go to war against my own father. How could I say, ‘I hate you because we have different opinions’?”

Whilst almost all of Russia’s independent media outlets close when new censorship laws are introduced, the film follows one small independent YouTube channel as it continues its work across the country, capturing views of ordinary Russians on freedom of speech, on Ukraine’s President Zelensky, on mobilization, and on whether peace between Russia and Ukraine is possible.

About the speakers

Anastasia Popova is Russian journalist and documentary maker for 25 years. After the Russian invasion in Ukraine, her husband, who was an anchor for the independent television channel TV Rain, had to flee the country. Anastia stayed 5 more months to film Russian citizens.

Paul Mitchell is an award-winning documentary maker focusing on international politics. He is known for Inside Obama’s White House (2016), Russia’s Open Book: Writing in the Age of Putin (2013) and Putin: A Russian Spy Story (2020).


Anastasia PopovaRussian journalist and documentary maker
Paul MitchellAward-winning documentary maker