A fortnight ago, documentary filmmaker Vera Krichevskaya was anticipating the Russia release of her latest feature, “F@ck This Job,” a spirited, behind-the-scenes portrait of the country’s last independent broadcaster, TV Rain. But just days before the film’s Moscow premiere, Russian military forces invaded Ukraine. On March 3, TV Rain bowed to political pressure and said it would suspend operations indefinitely.

Amid the turmoil, Karo, Russia’s largest cinema chain, dropped the film; a splashy, red-carpet premiere was cancelled in the wake of a bomb threat. Krichevskaya, who arrived in Russia on the eve of the screening, fled the country.

Since then, she’s been working frenetically from Tel Aviv, assisting former colleagues at a station she helped launch to safely make it out of Russia. “It is a completely new reality,” the director told Variety. “When I opened my eyes [after the invasion], I thought it was a dream.”

“F@ck This Job” charts the rise and fall of TV Rain (“Dozhd” in Russian), the rambunctious, free-spirited broadcaster that until last week was one of the last holdouts of an independent Russian media. Told through the story of its founder, the champagne- and tango-loving socialite Natasha Sindeyeva, it follows the remarkable growth of the station during a turbulent decade when Russian President Vladimir Putin was determined to snuff out independent voices.

The film, whose festival run has included the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) and DOC NYC, was released in the U.K. last week and broadcast on the BBC (with the title “Tango With Putin”). Krichevskaya will be in attendance on March 19 for a screening at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.

The director is a former business partner of Sindeyeva and her husband and TV Rain co-founder, the banker Alexander Vinokurov. In recent days, she said she’s watched with dismay as the Russian military escalates its bombardment of Ukraine and the government moves to silence any opposition back home. “I don’t have capacity in my mind to process everything that is going on,” she said.

Last week, the Kremlin ramped up its efforts to crack down on coverage of the war with a series of draconian and Orwellian decrees. According to stringent new regulations announced on March 4, the dissemination of “fake news” could be punishable by up to 15 years in prison. (The use of the words “war” and “invasion” is currently forbidden to describe what the Kremlin refers to as a “special military operation.”) Facebook and Twitter were blocked by the government, while most foreign media organizations suspended operations inside the country.

Describing the current crackdown as a “completely new page” for Russian media, Krichevskaya said the measures have stifled what remained of dissent under an increasingly authoritarian Putin. “Right now, there is no space for any independent voices.”

Founded in 2010, during a brief period of openness under then-president Dmitry Medvedev, TV Rain sought to present a hopeful vision of a forward-thinking, progressive Russia. Dubbing itself the “optimistic channel,” it became a bastion of independent journalism, a launching pad for young journalists and a thorn in the side of the Kremlin and the country’s political elite. It quickly grew into a formidable presence in the Russian media landscape, commanding an audience of millions.

The network frequently fell afoul of government regulators and lawmakers – its first ban came just one week after the channel’s launch – although it showed a tenacious ability to adapt. When backlash to a provocative online survey about the siege of Leningrad forced TV Rain from the airwaves in 2014, the network set up shop in Sindeyeva’s Moscow apartment. It turned to subscriptions, donations and advertising revenue from its YouTube channel to stay afloat. That business model kept the network going for the better part of a decade.

The government nevertheless continued to tighten the screws. Before the shutdown last week, TV Rain had been designated a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin; a banner that runs across its website – still up and running as of March 7 – and all of its social media posts and YouTube videos reads: “The following article and/or post was created and/or disseminated by a foreign media outlet carrying out the functions of a foreign agent and/or a Russian legal entity carrying out the functions of a foreign agent.”

After the livestream of its final broadcast – which saw the channel’s staff gathered around a studio news desk – the feed cut to several seconds of a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” a symbolic reference to when Soviet state broadcasters played the ballet on a loop for three days straight during the failed attempt to topple Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.

Whether the station will broadcast again remains in question. “We need strength to exhale and understand how to work further,” Sindeyeva wrote on social media after the livestream of the network’s final news report. “We really hope that we will return to the air and continue our work.”

The network head and her colleagues have since fled the country, but Krichevskaya said the group is already trying to figure out a way for TV Rain to resume transmission. “We need to relaunch coverage of the war. It is crucial now,” she said. “Right now, all the Russian nation, they don’t have sources of what is going on…. We need to fill this vacuum as soon as possible.”

Krichevskaya, who moved to the U.K. not long after Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, has returned often in the years since to document the political and civic life of her homeland. Among her feature films are “The Man Who Was Too Free,” a documentary about the prominent opposition figure and outspoken Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, and “The Case,” which tells the story of Anatoly Sobchak, Putin’s political mentor and the first democratically elected mayor of St. Petersburg.

Almost daily throughout her exile, said the filmmaker, she asked herself if she was wrong to leave. The war in Ukraine, however, has quelled any doubts. “It looks like I made a proper decision,” she said.

The shutdown of TV Rain has not only dealt a blow to free speech in Russia, but has upended the lives of so many of Krichevskaya’s former colleagues. “All these people were driven so many years by their love for Russia. These people I show in my film are real patriots,” she said. “They want to have Russia as a part of the world, with normal, healthy values. For these people, white is white and black is black. Right now, this journey became a tragedy for each of them personally.”

In the days since TV Rain was forced off the air, Krichevskaya has received thousands of messages from everyday Russians expressing their support and praising the crucial role the network played in what remains of civil society in their country. “People in their routine lives, they do not understand how important it is to have independent media,” said the filmmaker. “Independent journalism is the backbone of any society. The example of Russia and Dozhd now is a clear example of how essential it is.”