Editor's Note: This article was written on May 29, 2018 when Ukrainian police reported the death of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko in Kyiv. Since then, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has revealed that Babchenko is alive and that staging his death was part of a sting operation aimed at detaining the organizer of an attempt on the journalists' life.
On May 29, unknown assailants shot the Russian opposition journalist Arkady Babchenko at his home. As a result of the wounds received, Babchenko died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The police are looking into the case from two angles: his professional activity and his civic stance.
Hromadske has gathered some key facts from Babchenko’s life, as well as some of his most famous quotes.
Who is Arkady Babchenko
Babchenko was born in Moscow in 1977. His father was an engineer and his mother was a Russian language teacher. Babchenko took part in the First Chechen War in 1995. He retired from service in 1997.
During the Second Chechen War, Babchenko served as a contract soldier. He later stated that he was ashamed to have participated in these “imperial-chauvinistic wars.” He claims to have most likely not killed anyone during these wars.
Photo credit: facebook.com
After 2000, Babchenko turned his hand to journalism. He was a war correspondent for the Moskovskiy Komsomolets newspaper where he collaborated on a number of projects, particularly with TV channel NTV. He was also a special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, a Russian independent newspaper. In that role, he covered the 2008 war in Georgia, after which he adopted an anti-war stance, adding to his oppositional view.
His memoirs, entitled “War”, has been translated into 16 languages and published in 20 countries around the world. Babchenko has received several awards for his work, including the Swedish PEN-club prize.
He took part in the 2006-2007 Dissenters’ March in Russia. On March 20, 2012, it came to light that the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office had filed a criminal case against him under Part 3 Article 212 of the Russian criminal code (calling for mass protests.)
The case escalated after the head of the pro-Putin youth movement Nashi and member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation Boris Yakemenko appealed. The reason for this was a LiveJournal blog post from several days before the protest on “fair elections,” where Babchenko calls for civil resistance and the overthrow of the ruling government.
Photo credit: facebook.com
In 2014, Babchenko vehemently opposed Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. He criticized the Russian regime, referring to the Russian Federation as “Mordor.”
In 2016, MPs Vitaly Milonov and Frants Klintsevich suggested that Babchenko be stripped of his Russian citizenship following the 2016 Tu-154 catastrophe which killed the entire Alexandrov Ensemble (commonly known as the Red Army Choir) – the official choir of the Russian Armed Forces.
Babchenko left Russia in 2017 due to the constant threats against his life.
“There is an informed, reasoned opinion that I am better off living outside of our homeland for a while,” Babchenko wrote on Facebook.
In an interview with Open Russia, Babchenko stated that he had left Russia for the Czech Republic out of fear of arrest. He said:
“Information has reached me that ‘comrades’ are deciding what to do with me: either open a criminal case and imprison me, or let me off, as in ‘he can continue writing his petty posts on Facebook’”
Photo credit: Ivan Trefilov
The Russian government tried to stop Babchenko from leaving but he did manage to get out of the country. After he left, Babchenko started receiving fines, which, in his words, could have been a “delayed measure to stop his departure.”
“There was a similar case with the lawyer Mark Feygin, whose departure the Federal Bailiffs Service tried to stop,” Babchenko recalled.
After Prague, Babchenko moved to Israel, and then, in August 2017, he came to Ukraine. Since October 2017, he has had a show on the Ukrainian Crimean Tatar channel ATR called “Prime: Babchenko.”
Photo credit: facebook.com
The Russian Investigative Committee say that they have filed a criminal case concerning Babchenko’s murder.
Photo credit: facebook.com
“Over the last few years, several Russian citizens have been murdered on Ukrainian territory: journalist Pavel Sheremet, ex-MP Denis Voronenkov. The Investigative Committee does not intend on ignoring the brutal crimes committed against Russian citizens,” their statement reads.
The journalist was known to express his opinion on various topics. His posts on Facebook and his statements on television would often be sharp and ambiguous.
On the unlikeliness of changes in Russia:
“I don’t believe that anything can be changed [in Russia]. Vladimir Putin is the most powerful dictator in the world, who has two million militia, an excellent gigantic army, four divisions – two of which are tank divisions – that can reach Moscow within four hours. Therefore, changing something is impossible today. But damn! It is my home country. I want to live there.”
On the restrictions on his profession:
“Can you work as an independent journalist in Russia? No, of course not. For everyone who thinks differently, everyone who disagrees, every opposition journalist, there are restrictions on their profession. You can count them on your fingers… You can work until you reach a certain limit. When you cross this limit – for example, in the investigation into Senchin’s yacht, in investigations into some sort of corruption and theft, in the investigation into Boris Nemtsov’s murder, in the investigation into Ramzan Kadyrov – then that’s when you have problems.”
On the petitions to strip him of his citizenship:
“I signed it. Seriously. I categorically support it. No, well, really, friends, leave me without citizenship, turn me into Luis Corvalan and draw a full stop after it.”
On the “immortal regiments” and the war in Ukraine:
“Until you come out with photographs of tens of thousands of Ukrainians killed by your country, all your “immortal regiments” are bullshit hypocrisy. That’s all.”
On the Euromaidan murders:
“The people who were murdered near the barricades were killed by Berkut. I have all the proof. All the puzzle pieces are coming together with regards to Serhiy Nihoyan and Mikhail Zhyzhievsky both murdered near the barricades on January 22, . It was previously assumed that they died from the bullets fired with militia efforts. I only made one mistake: by saying that the Berkut were using sub-caliber hunting bullets. But that wasn’t the case. Berkut were using lethal large-caliber special munitions with carbide core, designated for forcing cars to stop by destroying their engines.
Berkut shot at people using lethal large-caliber ammunition with hard-alloy cores, meant for the forcibly stopping cars and destroying their engines.”
On the detention of teenagers in Russia:
“I’ve been saying this for a long time: it’s a country that’s eating its children alive. I have no comments.”
On carrying weapons:
“Using the news opportunity, I would like to remind everyone that carrying civilian self-defense weapons and protecting your own life and wellbeing is an undeniable inherent right of every human being. Short-barreled rifles should be legal. Free people carry weapons.”
On the events in Yerevan, Armenia:
“What a load of bullshit I read from my fellow Russian citizens saying that the Yerevan events are not like Euromaidan. They’re trying hard, digging deep, all to find some differences and little details and then exclaim cheerfully ‘It’s not Euromaidan, it’s not Euromaidan!’”
On MP Milonov’s stance on Russian citizenship:
“Vitaliy Milonov, a Russian duma MP, has suggested journalists Arkady Babchenko and Bozhena Rynska be stripped of their Russian citizenships and have their property confiscated because of their statements on the victims of the TU-154 airplane crash in Sochi.”