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After he criticized Ukraine war, speculation that Russian TV host fled to Israel

Ivan Urgant’s popular late-night talk show was taken off the air shortly before Russia invaded its neighbor

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Russia's last-night show talk show host Ivan Urgant hosts American TV host Stephen Colbert in 2017. (Screen grab/YouTube)
Russia's last-night show talk show host Ivan Urgant hosts American TV host Stephen Colbert in 2017. (Screen grab/YouTube)

Russia’s most popular late-night talk show host, Ivan Urgant, who has been dubbed Russia’s version of American television host Jimmy Kimmel, is believed to have fled to Israel with his family following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Urgant’s talk show, which has aired daily since 2012 on Russia’s state-run Channel One, was taken off the air on February 21, only three days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine, in what commentators say was a result of his anti-war views.

On February 24, the popular comedian posted a pitch-black square to his Instagram account, followed by more than 10 million people, alongside the caption “Fear and pain. No to war” in Russian — a slogan that has since been heard in anti-war protests across Russia.

While the timing of the canceled show is conspicuous, Russia’s state-run broadcaster has rejected claims Urgant’s talk show was canceled due to his views. According to statements issued by the channel, Urgant’s show had been “temporarily” taken off the air to allow more news-related airtime.

Whatever the reason behind the canceled show may be, Russian media has speculated that the Jewish comedian, who reportedly holds Israeli citizenship, has fled to Israel with his family, fearing potential persecution by the state.

Shortly after Moscow invaded Ukraine, Russian officials threatened journalists and independent media with severe implications if their statements or coverage of the invasion deviated from the official narrative dictated by the Kremlin.

Violating these terms could lead to anywhere between 3-15 years in prison, depending on the consequences of the shared information.

Attempting to locate the popular TV host, BBC Russia tried calling his cellphone but reached a voicemail message in Hebrew, according to a report by Israel’s Channel 12.

According to the reports, Urgant and his family arrived in Israel several days ago.

Urgant visited Israel before as part of his work, according to Channel 12, documenting life in the Jewish state, home to more than 1 million Russian-speaking Israelis.

In 2020, he hosted Israeli pop singer Netta Barzilai on his show.

Urgant himself has neither confirmed nor denied the reports of his supposed trip to Israel.

Addressing the widespread rumors of his abrupt disappearance, on Friday he posted a picture of himself alongside the caption: “Don’t panic. They let me go on vacation, but I’ll be back soon.”

Urgant is not the only Russian celebrity to publicly speak out against the war in Ukraine. Others include pop star Valery Meladze, television presenter Ksenia Sobchak, comedian and television presenter Maxim Galkin, and comedian Alexander Gudkov.

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