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Five Years On, Mother Of Slain Russian Journalist Says 'She Is Always With Us'

Antifascists gather in Khabarovsk on January 19 to commemorate the deaths of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova who were shot dead in Moscow five years previously.
Antifascists gather in Khabarovsk on January 19 to commemorate the deaths of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova who were shot dead in Moscow five years previously.

Larisa Baburova still chokes back tears as she remembers her daughter, Anastasia.

Five years ago on January 19, the young Russian journalist was gunned down in Moscow along with a prominent human rights lawyer in a double murder that shocked the country.

Speaking to RFE/RL from her home in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol, Baburova says the years have done nothing to dull the pain. "Our lives have stopped," she says. "There is nothing more painful than losing one's only child. We never forget her, she is always with us. Every minute, every day, every hour."

Anastasia Baburova, 25, was shot in the head shortly after leaving a press conference in downtown Moscow together with lawyer Stanislav Markelov.

Markelov, executed seconds before her, is believed to have been the primary target of the attack, which unfolded in broad daylight less than half a mile from the Kremlin.

In 2011, a Russian court sentenced two members of a neo-Nazi group over the killings. Nikita Tikhonov was jailed for life for murder and his girlfriend, Yevgenia Khasis, received an 18-year sentence for helping him.

Passionate Crusaders

Both victims were known for their passionate crusade against ultranationalist violence and had received threats in connection with their work.

At 34, Markelov was already a prominent lawyer who made his name defending Chechen civilians brutalized by Russian troops.

He had also represented journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in Moscow in 2006, and Mikhail Beketov, a journalist and environmental activist who died last year, five years after he was crippled in a brutal attack.

The murder of their own daughter prompted Larisa Baburova and Eduard Baburov to publish an open letter warning against the explosion in racially motivated violence in Russia.

The number of hate crimes has since dropped, following what experts describe as a long-overdue government crackdown on radical, white-supremacy groups.

Despite recent progress, however, Moscow is still accused of largely turning a blind eye to racially motivated murders, whose perpetrators often face charges of mere hooliganism.

Larisa Baburova cautions that the underground network of ultranationalist groups that slayed her daughter continues to claim lives in Russia. "These murders have been deliberate and cruel," she says. "They have destroyed people's lives. These victims had relatives, loved ones who were left deeply traumatized. Killing someone on nationalistic grounds is absurd and ignominious."

Baburova says she is nonetheless grateful to the Russian authorities for bringing her daughter's killers to justice.

Journalists at "Novaya gazeta," the investigative opposition newspaper where Anastasia Baburova was interning at the time of her death, also praise the investigation and the trial as a rare instance of justice in Russia.

The newspaper, best known for its hard-hitting reports on rights abuses in the North Caucasus, has had six of its reporters murdered in its 20 years of existence.

Nadezhda Prusenkova was Baburova's editor at "Novaya gazeta." "From all our cases, it was the only one in which the investigation was completed," she says. "Like the official investigators, we examined many possible versions of events. And there really is irrefutable evidence that precisely these people carried out this crime. So we are satisfied with the investigative process and with its results. We believe the perpetrators got what they deserved."

Brave And Inspiring

The newspaper is publishing a special issue in memory of Markelov and Baburova, whom Prusenkova describes as an exceptionally brave journalist. She hopes both will inspire future generations of rights advocates.

"I think that for the generation of 25-year-olds, they were heroes of their times," she says. "Nationalists dealt a well calculated blow by killing Stanislav and, with him, Nastya [Anastasia]. Unfortunately, neither society nor the antifascist movement recovered from this blow. They were unique people who believed in what they did and who got results. I would very much like their accomplishments to live on in the deeds of their colleagues."

Anastasia Baburova
Anastasia Baburova

Baburova studied at the Moscow Institute of International Relations, a prestigious establishment that once prepared children of the Soviet elite for diplomatic careers.

But she soon quit the institute in favor of a career in journalism. In addition to her native Russian and Ukrainian, she spoke fluent English and French and was learning Chinese.

She wrote poetry, practiced martial arts, and was an award-winning chess player.

Friends, colleagues, and supporters of Baburova and Markelov are holding a march in central Moscow on January 19 to honor their memory and to take a stand against ultranationalism. Similar rallies are scheduled in other cities, including Berlin, Athens, and Baburova's hometown of Sevastopol.

"There are people with antifascist views in Sevastopol, too," says Larisa Baburova. "They hold events every year to commemorate the killing of a young woman, a Russian journalist born in Sevastopol. Her name was Anastasia Baburova."

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