“I’m tired of burying my friends, every time it’s the same thing. This damn, endless string of deaths.”
Arkady Babchenko wrote this after his friend and colleague, prominent Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, was assassinated in Kyiv in 2016.
Yesterday, May 29, it appears Arkady was an assassin’s target.
Arkady, an outspoken Russian journalist, died on the way to the hospital after being shot in the back in his home in Kyiv, where he had been living with his wife and daughter since 2017, working for Crimean Tatar TV.
Arkady is known for his searing reporting on the war in Chechnya and, more recently, for his reporting on the conflict in eastern Ukraine. He had a near brush with death in 2014 when a Ukrainian military helicopter he was supposed to be on was shot down, killing all 14 people on board. Poignantly that day was also May 29, a day he began to call his second birthday.
Arkady faced serious hazards doing his job as a reporter but also serious threats for the views he expressed. He was a fierce critic of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, its military intervention in Syria, and of the Kremlin overall. He did not mince words. On Facebook, in response to the outpouring of grief after the crash of a Russian plane transporting a Russian military orchestra, he expressed no sympathy but berated Russia for supporting airstrikes in Aleppo, stirring extensive controversy, even among his friends.
This sparked a smear campaign in the state media, with public officials calling for people like him to be deprived of their Russian citizenship, and one state and one pro-Kremlin outlet publicly called for people to beat him up.
No one does justice to the bone-chilling threats he faced better than Arkady himself, who summed it up in a February 2017 article in The Guardian: “Like many dissidents I am used to abuse, but a recent campaign against me was so personal, so scary, that I was forced to flee”
Officials in Kyiv and Moscow are trading accusations about who is responsible for Babchenko’s killing. No matter who did it, it’s very difficult to imagine the killing is not related to his work.
So far Ukrainian authorities have been taking Babchenko’s murder seriously. They immediately launched a criminal investigation, and a top police official said Babchenko’s journalism was “the first and the most obvious” reason for the killing.
Some are skeptical about the ability and willingness of Ukrainian authorities to effectively investigate the murder because the killings of Sheremet, and of Oleg Buzina, a Ukrainian journalist, remain unsolved, despite many public commitments by Ukraine’s leadership to find the killers. A group of Ukrainian journalists started their own investigation to ensure that the killers do not escape justice.
Let’s hope this time the authorities’ investigation is effective. Without justice, anyone can be the next target.