Ukrainian national police in Kiev have confirmed that Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist who had fled Putin’s Russia for the security of Kiev, has been shot multiple times in the back and killed by an unknown assailant as he was returning from the grocery store. The influential Ukrainian member of Parliament Anton Gerashenko has publicly declared that Babchenko was executed by an assassin who had lurked in wait under the stairwell. Babchenko died in the back of the ambulance. His friend, Borislav Bereza, posted on social media, saying: “They killed Babchenko. The Bastards!
Babchenko was a strident critique of Russian militarism, including of Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict. He was also an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and of the present state of Russian politics. Babchenko was considered to be a legendary war journalist with few peers in the post-Soviet world,
Like many Russian dissidents, Russia’s great war reporter had found refugee in Kiev. And like some other critics of the Kremlin, he, too, was murdered there: The prominent Bellarussian/Russian reporter Pavel Sheremet was assassinated by a car bomb in July of 2016, and, last year, a former Russian MP was also killed in a shootout between an assassin and one of his bodyguards.
Drafted to the army in the mid 1990s at the age 18 while he was a law student in Moscow , Babchenko came of age amid the horrors of Russia’s blood-drenched war against Chechnya. His wrenching and unremitingly critical memoir of that war, One Soldier’s War, became the main literary classic response to the Chechen conflict, and conferred upon him both celebrity and widespread criticism from state-owned media and patriotic politicians. It is difficult to explain to a non-Russian readership how widely read and influential Babchenko’s book was: Imagine a Russian Joseph Heller and William T. Vollmann rolled into one. He had probably the most articulate manner of speaking about the ways in which war stripped away social taboos of any war reporter that I had ever heard speak.
Early last year, he wrote an article in the Guardian explaining his having had to flee Russia in the wake of a coordinated campaign of harassment that resulted from a Facebook post which was considered by “patriotically” minded jingoists to not have been reverent enough.
Ten hours before Babchenko was killed, he had tweeted about the time, four years ago, that he had not been allowed on to a Ukrainian helicopter in east Ukraine by a Ukrainian general because it was overloaded. Two hours after the helicopter left without him, it had been shot down by Russian backed separatists with all 14 men aboard being killed. He referred to that moment as having “a second birthday.” He was not so lucky tonight.