Whenever the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was asked if she feared losing her life as a result of the dangers of her job, the courageous war reporter said she’d rather not answer. Politkovskaya was superstitious and (even if half-heartedly) believed that voicing her fear of dying in the line of duty would make it a reality.
To many, Politkovskaya appeared indestructible. She’d lived through hundreds of hours in war-torn Chechnya, huddling under fire alongside civilians to report on the way the Second Chechen War of 1999–2009 disrupted their lives. She survived poisoning on her way to assist the 600 children and their caregivers held hostage at Beslan School Number One in September 2004. She led face-to-face negotiations with terrorists during the 2002 Nord-Ost theater siege, which ended in a raid that left at least 200 hostages dead. She continued to work as a war reporter in Chechnya despite being put through a mock execution by the republic’s militia. The public saw her emerge unscathed from the most horrifying ordeals, her reputation and accolades seemingly forming a protective shield around her.
Politkovskaya herself remained free from the delusion that fame meant invincibility. She knew a gun could care less about her Courage in Journalism or Amnesty International awards. Politkovskaya, 48, was murdered on October 7, 2006: shot five times, with four of the bullets hitting her at point-blank range, in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building.
She was on her way home from visiting her mother at the hospital; her guard was down in the days after her father’s passing. Her daughter, Vera, was pregnant with a baby girl and Politkovskaya was preparing to become a loving grandmother. She even was “head over heels” in love for the first time since her divorce. She walked into the elevator after dropping off her groceries, ready to head to work. The doors opened on the second floor. Five shots rang out, and Politkovksaya’s life ended.
Politkovskaya’s murder shook Russia and was felt far beyond its borders. President Putin addressed the assassination during his joint conference with German Chancellor Merkel, promising a thorough investigation. The Associated Press covered the funeral in a TV segment. The Economist, BBC News Europe, The Guardian, and other outlets published obituaries and tributes in the days following Politkovskaya’s death. Reach All Women in War established an award in her honor: The first one went to a Chechen human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, who worked with Anna and had been murdered three years later.
Time passed and Politkovskaya’s name, while no longer in the headlines, spread in ways very few journalists’ had before. Places across Europe were named in her honor: a villa in a Roman park; a garden in Milan; a street in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and another one in the Italian Ferrara; a promenade in Prague; a tree in Genoa; and more. Songs were sung about her. And a garden was planted in front of the Novaya Gazeta office, where she’d worked from 1999 until the day of her murder. Politkovskaya’s mother, Raisa Mazepa, who saw her only hours before the shooting, was in attendance and planted flowers known as “Anna’s eyes” in Russian.
Mazepa outlived her daughter by 15 years and witnessed the world’s commemoration of her memory. She saw Politkovskaya’s granddaughter, named Anna-Victoria, grow up. She saw the man who shot her daughter get locked away—with the one presumed to be behind the contract killing still walking free. Though five men were sentenced for Politkovskaya’s murder, it was suggested that an unnamed Russian politician might have paid off the killers. This likely possibility was brought up in court testimony and by the shooter’s defense attorney.
Politkovskaya’s colleagues from Novaya Gazeta as well as her family believe there was a mastermind behind the crime, unidentified and still not yet prosecuted—especially because the sentenced assassins had no personal motives or much to gain from the reporter’s death. After the 2014 trial, former Russian Investigative Committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin stated that “exhaustive efforts” were being put into finding “the person who ordered the murder of Anna Politkovskaya,” cementing the contract killing theory.
Anna’s mother passed away on July 18 of this year, never having found out the name of the person truly responsible for her daughter’s murder.
And in three short months, on October 7, 2021, the statute of limitations on the investigation will run out, while the individual who paid for the journalist’s killing remains free. But, despite the cessation of the investigation, we, the international community, especially journalists and readers, shouldn’t forget or stop fighting for justice.
Politkovskaya’s colleagues and loved ones, while unable to move the case along on our own, intend to keep Anna’s memory alive until change does happen. On August 30 this year, for her 63rd birthday, Novaya Gazeta is planning a flash mob in her honor. There will be musicians playing tango (Anna’s favorite) in Moscow and other European cities and across various social media platforms. The paper also encourages its readers to send in clips of them congratulating Anna on her birthday, which it will put together to show Politkovskaya’s executioners she’s not forgotten.
The day Politkovskaya’s mother passed, Dmitry Muratov, Novaya Gazeta’s editor in chief, who was her editor, mentor, and friend of many years, spoke about Mazepa and never giving up hope.
“We won’t have an expiration date,” Muratov said in a written statement. “Stop trying to make us forgetful. Having a clear conscience usually means having a bad memory. Our conscience is as disturbed as ever.”
Editor’s Note: Dmitry Muratov, quoted above, is the author’s father.