Nasha Canada is a much-needed counterpoint to the propaganda spread by Russian media, which Canadians can still access online, says the head of DisinfoWatch

Tom Blackwell

April 19, 2024

National Post


The writers and artists of the Russian language newspaper Nasha Canada don’t just criticize the regime of President Vladimir Putin, they dare to make fun of the steely-eyed autocrat with witty articles and satirical cartoons. In Russia itself, where dissenting media are now all but extinct, the paper would likely have been shut down long ago.

But even in this country the publication has faced backlash — allegedly orchestrated by the Kremlin — for its mocking opposition to Putin. The harassment, the paper says, has included mass complaints to Meta about its Facebook page and faked photographs suggesting its Jewish founder was a Nazi.

A bizarre incident involving the newspaper (whose name means Our Canada) just last week may also have been a Russian dirty trick, suggests Zhana Levin, its deputy editor. The Putin government’s alleged meddling here is one of the subjects of Ottawa’s foreign interference inquiry.

Most other media catering to the growing number of Russian-speaking Canadians generally avoid outright support of the Kremlin and its policies these days, while stopping short of unvarnished criticism. Nasha Canada appears unique by routinely poking the Putin bear.

The result is a much-needed counterpoint to the propaganda spread by Russian media, which Canadians can still access online despite the outlets being sanctioned by Ottawa, says Marcus Kolga, who runs the DisinfoWatch group. “You have this small but mighty, incredible platform that is breaking down all this stuff,” says Kolga, also a fellow with the Macdonald Laurier Institute — and a target of Russian sanctions himself. “Humour is seen as one of the most effective ways to challenge authoritarianism, number one because authoritarian governments hate it. They want to be taken seriously.”

Toronto-based journalist Alla Kadysh, who has contributed to Nasha Canada in the past, agrees. “It’s important to be able to laugh at the enemy,” she says.  Kadysh is familiar with the consequences of voicing anti-Kremlin opinions within Canada’s Russian-speaking community. She once faced online abuse and even a death threat for criticizing Moscow on a Toronto-based radio show.

The Russian embassy in Ottawa did not respond by deadline to a request for comment on the newspaper and charges that Moscow is behind harassment of it.

While Nasha Canada’s print circulation hovers around a modest 20,000, it has a significant following on the internet. After abandoning Facebook, it moved to X, formerly Twitter, where it has 102,000 followers and about 15 million impressions per month, says Levin.

Vladimir Turovsky, a former music student and humour writer from western Ukraine, came to Canada in the mid-1990s after a stay in Israel. He launched Nasha Canada in 2001. Other Russian-language media in Canada supported Putin at that time, when even some western leaders touted him as a potential reformer. But Nasha Canada has always been a critic, says Levin, also from Ukraine. “When Putin came to power, we understood right away that a former KGB officer couldn’t be a normal person. It’s, like, stamped on your forehead,” she said. “We were reading a lot and we understood what was going on.”

But rather than voicing serious, impassioned condemnation of the regime, Nasha Canada’s approach has leaned heavily on irony and humour.

Under the heading “Putin and Children” a 2022 post featured a photograph of an adorable child in a ballet outfit. “The Russian rocket that killed the little Ukrainian girl cost $7 million,” said the caption. “Putin spares no expense for the children.”

Another item centred around a photograph of a red baseball cap modelled after Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again hats. “Make Putin a taxi driver again,” was inscribed on the headgear, a reference to the strongman’s part-time occupation in the early 1990s.

A 2023 cover of Nasha Canada’s print edition showed a doctored photograph of a Kremlin entranceway, with Russian officials saluting an incoming soldier. “Good Evening, We are from Ukraine,” read the banner headline. “This is our manner; this is our way of expressing ourselves,” says Levin. “We’ve always considered humour to be our best weapon.”

There’s little unusual or controversial about criticism of the Russian government in Canada’s mainstream media. It appears to be a different matter among Russian-speaking Canadians. The 2021 census put the number of Canadians with an ethnic Russian origin at almost 550,000.

By some estimates, a third of them still access the RT television network and other media outlets run by or authorized by the Kremlin, though Canadian cable companies have stopped carrying the TV channels. Such outlets feature “a regular incitement to hatred against Ukrainians,” says Kolga. Levin estimates that a large proportion of Russian speakers in Canada continue to support Putin and his war against Ukraine.

Kadysh says one divide in the multifaceted Russophone population here is between Russian Jews — who typically left their homeland while the Soviet Union was still intact — and non-Jewish Russians who were more likely to come here in the early 2000s, when Putin first took power and enjoyed a less-tarnished image. Russian Jews tend to support Ukraine, their non-Jewish counterparts the Kremlin, says the journalist. Regardless, those who attack Putin in Russian-language media can put a target on their backs.

The thousands of complaints sent to Facebook’s parent company about Nasha Canada two years ago resulted in repeated temporary bans by the social media giant, and prompted the paper to

eventually close the page, says Levin. She has no direct evidence that the complaints originated in Russia, but strongly suspects the source was the Internet Research Agency, the “troll farm” implicated in Russia’s attempts to interfere in U.S. elections.

Kadysh hosted a Russian-language radio show in Toronto in 2014 and repeatedly blasted Moscow for its invasion of Crimea and armed support of ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. First came abusive social-media posts, which she also blames on trolls. Then one day when she was on the air, her boss took a phone call from a man who said “either you stop her or she’s not going to get out alive.”

They called police, but she never heard from the caller again. The Russian show closed during the pandemic and has never restarted, partly because the owner was tired of harassment and its impact on advertisers, said Kadysh. “So eventually the (Russian) consulate got what it wanted.”

Then last week, Nasha Canada faced a strange allegation. According to a news release issued by the GUR, Ukraine’s main intelligence agency, Russia’s FSB spy outfit was recruiting agents in Canada, helped by a “leaflet” published in Nasha Canada last month.

Levin says there was no leaflet and that the Ukrainians likely confused an old, satirical article by the newspaper about FSB recruitment tactics as an actual advertisement by Moscow. (The GUR did not respond to a request for comment from the National Post.) But she wonders if Russian intelligence may have somehow seeded the odd report as a way to discredit Nasha Canada. “They try to put dirt on us all through the 20 years this newspaper existed,” she said. “It’s absolutely stupid.”


Tom Blackwell is a seasoned enterprise reporter, most recently employed by the National Post. Lately I’ve focused on Canada’s relations with China and other countries, but have also covered health, politics, the law & more. I’m a veteran print journalist and communicator who most recently has been covering China’s presence in Canada, the Ukraine-Russia war as it affects my country and the politics around immigrant communities. He previously spent 12 years on the health-care beat. His goal is always to produce enterprise stories – the ones other media haven’t discovered yet. He has been a finalist four times for the National Newspaper Award, Canada’s premier print journalism competition. He recently took early retirement from the National Post, but continues to produce freelance material.