Wed, 21 February 2024

Poison vs opinion – the Putin way

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by Elena Kostyuchenko of Meduza, Russia

My reporting on the invasion of Ukraine led to an assassination order being issued – and then came the mysterious illness.

I didn’t want to write this for a long time. I feel disgusted, afraid, ashamed. Even now, I can’t write about everything I know because I have to protect the people who saved my life.

Elena Kostyuchenko (artwork, London Guardian)

On 24 February 2022, my country attacked Ukraine.

The day of the invasion, I went to Ukraine on assignment from Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian newspaper where I had been working for 17 years. I crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border on the night of 25 February. Over the course of four weeks, thanks to the incredible support of countless Ukrainians, I was able to file stories from the border, Odesa, Mykolaiv, and Kherson. Kherson was under occupation. Getting in and out meant crossing the frontlines twice. In Kherson, Russian soldiers were kidnapping and torturing people. I found people who had survived being tortured. I found the detention centre where the kidnapped people were being held. I learned the names of 44 kidnapped people and the circumstances in which they were taken. I published my article and handed over what I had uncovered to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office.

The next place I was aiming to report from was the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, where there was active combat and on many days there were no humanitarian corridors. The only occasionally passable road lay through Zaporizhzhia. It often came under fire, and as you approached Mariupol, the Russian checkpoints began. Nevertheless, people travelled this road every day in order to try to rescue their loved ones from the city as it was being destroyed. I decided to travel with them.

On 28 March, I entered Zaporizhzhia. Waiting at a checkpoint, I started getting messages from friends: “Assholes.” “Hang in there.” “Let me know if I can help.” That’s how I found out that Novaya Gazeta had shut down. The paper had received its second warning that year from the state censorship agency, which meant it could lose its licence. I’d been expecting this from the moment of the incursion, but I didn’t know how painful it would be.

I decided to go to Mariupol anyway. I’d publish my piece wherever I could…. more at: Guardian – “you may have been poisoned” 

Translated from the Russian by Bela Shayevich

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