Dangerous Work in Russian Media: High-Profile Murders of Journalists
1 June, 2018

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, hundreds of journalists working for Russian media have been killed at home and abroad.

On the night of May 29, it appeared Russian opposition journalist Arkady Babchenko would be the latest addition to the list. But the following afternoon Babchenko walked out during a police press conference on his “murder” to reveal his death was faked as part of a sting operation to apprehend the person who ordered the hit on him.

Participants of a meeting in memory of journalist Pavel Sheremet, July 20, 2017. Sheremet was killed in the center of Kyiv on the morning of July 20, 2016, when his car exploded. Photo credit: EPA / STEPAN FRANKO

Over the past 27 years, however, many murders have been carried out and remain unsolved. Hromadske compiled a timeline of some of the most high-profile murders of journalists who worked in Russian media.

Dmitry Kholodov

A correspondent of the newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets, Kholodov investigated corruption in the army and criticized the then Russian defense minister Pavel Grachev. One of his most famous articles is headlined "A thief should be in prison, not the minister of defense."

On October 17, 1994, Dmitry Kholodov (pictured left), a correspondent for the newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets, was killed. This was the first murder of a journalist in the history of the "new Russia." The case was solved, but the murderers were acquitted. In the photo on the right, Kholodov is being carried on a blanket. Photo сredit: Novaya Gazeta

Kholodov was killed in October 1994. An anonymous "informant” told him that a briefcase in the storage room of Russia’s Kazan railway station contained compromising documents. But instead of documents, the briefcase contained an explosive device. Kholodov died of blood loss. He was 27 years old. The case was solved, but the killers were acquitted.

Vladislav Listyev

In the early 1990s, Listyev was the general producer and president of Russian TV production company VID  before becoming the general director of newly created Channel One Russia in 1995. On March 1, 1995, Listyev was on his way home after shooting the program "Rush Hour" when he was shot at the entrance of his house on Novokuznetskaya Street in Moscow.

Vladislav Listyev examines the first issue of the newspaper Vzglyad, February 1992. Photo: New Look Team (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The murder remains unsolved.

Larisa Yudina

Yudina worked as a journalist and editor of opposition newspaper Soviet Kalmykia Today. In June 1998, she was killed while investigating corruption in the government of Kalmykia. The perpetrators of the murder were convicted.

On June 7, 1998, Larisa Yudina, journalist of the newspaper Soviet Kalmykia Today (pictured left), was killed. After Yudina’s murder, indignant residents went to the square in the city of Elista and demanded authorities find the murderer (pictured right). Photo: archive, blog "Echo of Moscow"

Igor Domnikov

Domnikov was a journalist with Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta. From 1999 to 2000, he actively criticized the Lipetsk region’s former vice-governor Sergey Dorovsky.

Novaya Gazeta journalist and editor of its special projects department Igor Domnikov. Photo: Novaya Gazeta

In May 2000, Domnikov was attacked and struck several times with a hammer on the head. The executors were from a well-known criminal group in the region called "Tagiryanovskie". Domnikov died a few days later from the head and brain injuries.

The investigation found Dorovsky had ordered Domnikov’s murder, but he was never prosecuted. Dorovsky managed to stretch the case out until the statute of limitations had run out.

Yuri Shchekochikhin

From 1996 Shchekochikhin worked in the investigation departments of Literaturnaya Gazeta and Novaya Gazeta. He covered corruption scandals in the highest echelons of power and within the Russian army. During the last years of his life he was investigating the Three Whales corruption scandal, which involved several furniture companies and federal government bodies. During the case there was conflict between Russian customs and the Ministry of Internal Affairs as well as Russia’s security service (FSB) and the Prosecutor General.

Journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin reported on corruption scandals in the highest echelons of power and in the Russian army. Photo: Novaya Gazeta

Shchekochikhin died suddenly in July 2003, after suffering from a mysterious illness for two weeks. In the lead up to his death, he began to lose his hair quickly and his skin started peeling off. Pharmaceutical elements of phenol and lidocaine were found in his body later. It was reported that he had Lyell's Syndrome - an allergic reaction, usually to a drug. It is believed Shchekochikhin was poisoned. But the criminal inquiry into his death was shut down because investigators said they found no evidence that he was poisoned.

Paul Klebnikov

In early 2004, Klebnikov headed the Russian version of Forbes magazine and managed to release the first list of Russia's richest people. Four editions of the magazine were published under his editorship. On the evening of July 9, 2004, Klebnikov was shot near the editorial office. The killers shot at him from a car. Klebnikov was taken to the hospital but never made it to the emergency department. The medics and Klebnikov got stuck in the elevator, where he died.

Forbes editor-in-chief Paul Klebnikov at a news conference in Moscow, July 9, 2004. Photo: EPA / MAXIM NOVIKOV

Although the murderer was found, he has not been punished.

Anna Politkovskaya

Politkovskaya worked at Novaya Gazeta since 1999. She wrote about the second Chechen war, repeatedly traveled to the war zone and was investigating corruption in Russia’s Ministry of Defense. She helped the victims of the 2002 Nord-Ost siege, when a group of armed militants seized and held hostage hundreds of theatergoers who came to the musical "Nord-Ost”. She also authored Putin's Russia and Russia Without Putin, in which she criticized the existing regime. Politkovskaya spoke in defense of the Chechen fighters, calling them "a resistance movement.”

Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya (left). In the photo to the right are the suspects in the murder of Politkovskaya: Ibrahim Makhmudov, Lom-Ali Gaytukaev, Rustam Makhmudov and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov in the Moscow Court, June 9, 2014. Photo: EPA / PETER ENDIG; EPA / MAXIM SHIPENKOV

She was killed in October 2006 in the elevator of her house. Brothers Rustam, Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, as well as police lieutenant colonel Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, were arrested for her murder.

Magomed Evloev

Evloev was the owner of online portal (launched in 2001), which criticized the government of Ingushetia. In 2008, following legal action from the prosecutor's office, the site was closed for "inciting ethnic hatred."

Owner of the portal Magomed Evloev. Photo: Schekinov Alexey

Evloev was detained in August 2008 on suspicion of organizing illegal actions and in connection with an investigation into an explosion at the house of the President of Ingushetia. However, he never made it to the station. According to the official version, there was a confrontation with one of the officers in the vehicle, which resulted in the officer – allegedly inadvertently – firing at Evloev. Later, it was reported that Evloev's body was thrown out of the hospital in Nazran, Ingushetia. The case was classed as murder by negligence, and the killer received two years in a minimum-security prison colony.


Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova

Markelov was a Russian lawyer who specialized in cases related to war crimes in Chechnya and human rights. He also represented the victims of the 2002 Nord-Ost siege.

A rally in memory of murdered lawyer Stanislav Markelov and Novaya Gazeta journalist Anastasia Baburova, Moscow, Russia, February 15, 2009. Photo: EPA / YURI KOCHETKOV

Baburova was a freelance journalist with Novaya Gazeta and an active participant in the anti-fascist movement. Both were shot in the head in Moscow in January 2009. Later, members of the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity were arrested as suspects in the murders. It is believed that members of the group were involved in one of the cases that Markelov was working on.

Natalia Estemirova

A human rights activist and journalist, Estemirova devoted herself to investigating cases of torture, kidnapping and extrajudicial killings, and executions in the Chechen Republic. For a short period she was head of the newly founded Human Rights Council of Grozny in 2008. After serving on the council for a month, she was excluded for criticizing government policy, which dictated that women had to wear head scarves in public buildings. It was reported that she was personally threatened by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who has denied this.

A meeting in memory of journalist and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova in Moscow. Photo: Yuri Timofeev (RFE/RL)

In July 2009, she was abducted from her home in Grozny. Her body was found in Ingushetia with bullet wounds to the chest and head. According to one version of the events, her murder was carried out by militants in revenge for her work. Currently the case is suspended.

Pavel Sheremet

Since the start of his career on Belarusian television, Sheremet expressed opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. He spent three months in a Belarusian prison for illegally crossing the state border, after which he moved to Russia. There Sheremet worked for Russia’s Channel One and Public Russian Television. In 2014, he moved to Ukraine, where he wrote for the publication Ukrayinska Pravda and worked on Radio Vesti.

Journalist Pavel Sheremet, Kyiv, February 27, 2015. Photo: UNIAN

A prominent critic of Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian officials, Sheremet was killed on July 20, 2016, when his car exploded in the center of Kyiv as he was driving to work. The investigation has so far failed to find those responsible for his death, or even to identify suspects.

The authorities are considering five versions of the murder. Meanwhile, relatives are accusing the authorities of dragging out the process.

/Translated by Natalie Vikhrov