She told me once in an interview, “You know, I recently met the love of my life. But I need to bring this war to the end first. It is my war.”
Anna Politkovskaya, an award-winning Russian journalist, was assassinated Oct. 7 at the entrance to her apartment block in Moscow. Anyone who knows her would link the murder to her investigative reporting about the war in Chechnya.
Politkovskaya was a brand name. There was no other journalist in Russia who, like her, would persistently go to the war-ridden republic, dig out and expose the truth about this war. Her murder is a blow to the Russian investigative journalism.
Anna was a slim gray-headed woman in glasses with unusually soft voice and delicate manners who turned into a tiger in her stories.
For many years she attacked governments, the military, military intelligence, police and even the powerful Federal Security Service, accusing them of cashing in on the long-term unrest in Chechnya.
She accused the Russian military of numerous crimes against ordinary Chechen people, who had nothing to do with the rebels. Russian troops would perform so-called “cleansing operations” and steal televisions and other property from people’s homes. They would extort money under threat of arrest. And she spoke with the people who were robbed.
She described how the troops would throw Chechens in deep pits in the ground in early spring, up to their knees in cold water, until their relatives brought ransom payments. And she saw those pits.
She wrote about the kidnapping of ordinary Chechens, when people — mostly young — simply vanished into thin air after masked men grabbed them in the middle of the night from their beds. And she spoke with desperate mothers.
She exposed corruption in the Russian and Chechen governments, which cooperated in stealing cash allocated for the restoration of the destroyed Chechnya. And she tracked down that money.
She had little support from the Russian public, brainwashed by the propaganda machine that portrayed Chechens as a nation of crooks.
But she was also trusted. At the hostage crisis at the Moscow Dubrovka theater in 2002, she was the only Russian reporter to whom the hostage-takers agreed to talk. She spent all the money she had with her at the time to buy water for the hostages. Then she went inside.
Hundreds survived because they pressed their watered handkerchiefs to their mouths during the gas attack that killed 129 hostages. The idea to use gas belonged to the Russian authorities.
Hated by those whom she held responsible, she was attacked and threatened many times. She was poisoned on the plane that carried her to report on the Beslan hostage-taking crisis in 2004, and was later treated in a hospital.
Her two children were devastated several years ago when, after receiving death threats, she had to spend several month abroad. Somewhere there she met the love of her life. He lived in one of the Scandinavian countries, she said.
They will never be together.
I cannot lay flowers at the entrance of her apartment where she was killed. But I will always remember that she was a woman who not only was a courageous fighter. I’ll also remember that she wanted to be loved.
Yevgenia Borisova, a journalist who worked previously for The Moscow Times, now lives in New Zealand, where she is working on a PhD in distance learning for working journalists in developing countries. She was at Poynter last week to participate in a conference for newsroom trainers.