Born Anna Mazepa, August 30, 1958, in New York; died of gunshot wounds, October 7, 2006, in Moscow, Russia. Journalist. Over the course of her career, award-winning Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya dedicated herself to exploring the untold stories of her part of the world. She wrote about government corruption and human-rights abuses but her favorite topic was Russia's military campaign in Chechnya amidst the Chechen fight for independence. Known as a voice for truth and human decency, Politkovskaya frequently angered Russia's political establishment with her unabashed criticism. When covering major events, Politkovskaya's version of the story often differed from official accounts. Her quest to record truth in her homeland ultimately cost Politkovskaya her life. She was gunned down at her Moscow apartment on October 7, 2006. According to the Washington Post , former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called Politkovskaya's murder "a blow to the entire democratic, independent press."
Born in 1958, Politkovskaya spent her first few years in the United States. She was born in New York, where her Soviet Ukrainian parents worked as diplomats to the United Nations, which is headquartered there. Because of her parents' status, Politkovskaya grew up with more freedom than her peers. Even after she returned to the Soviet Union (now Russia) for schooling, Politkovskaya was able to obtain banned books and became an avid reader. Her passion for the written word led her to study journalism in college. Politkovskaya graduated from Moscow State University in 1980 and began working for the Russian high-circulation daily newspaper Izvestia .
Politkovskaya became one of Russia's leading journalists for her coverage of the Chechen conflict. The Chechen War began in 1994 when Chechen separatists began fighting Russia for independence. A ceasefire was declared in 1996 but the tension continued. Politkovskaya traveled to Chechnya in 1998 to interview Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and became intrigued with the story. In 1999, the conflict escalated again and Politkovskaya began a series of trips to the war zone, reporting on hostility and disorder in the region. The work proved tough on her family and she and her husband soon divorced.
Politkovskaya's frank reporting often angered the Russian government. She was particularly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent Russian troops back into Chechnya in 1999 when he was prime minister. In 2001, authorities arrested Politkovskaya on charges of violating the Russian laws that govern how the media may cover the conflict. Authorities expelled Politkovskaya from Chechnya. Death threats followed her home, forcing Politkovskaya to leave Russia and relocate to Vienna for several months. Despite the personal risk, Politkovskaya continued to pursue her stories.
While Politkovskaya's reporting stirred up enemies, it also earned her friends. The civilian population of the war-torn independence-seeking republic of Chechnya viewed Politkovskaya as a friend and called on her for help. In 2002, when Chechen militants took hundreds hostage during the Nordost Theater siege in Moscow, the hostage-takers requested that Politkovskaya be present during negotiations. Though Politkovskaya tried to help, authorities eventually gassed and stormed the place. More than 120 people died. Afterward, Politkovskaya launched an investigation into the controversial use of gas to end the siege. In 2004, Politkovskaya rushed to Beslan to negotiate an end to the school siege there but she became ill during the flight. Many suspect her sudden illness was the result of an intentional food poisoning.
Politkovskaya's reporting made her well-known beyond the borders of her country. The Western media often turned to her to get an expert opinion on the Chechen conflict, as well as on Russian politics. Politkovskaya frequently criticized Putin as well as Chechnya's Moscow-backed Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. While covering the Chechen conflict, she wrote many stories about how both Russian troops—and forces loyal to Kadyrov—mistreated ordinary civilians.
In an opinion piece she penned for the Los Angeles Times in 2002, Politkovskaya admonished the West for believing in Putin. According to the Los Angeles Times , she wrote, "Today's regime in Russia, as personified first and foremost by Putin, is interested only in power—to keep it, consolidate and augment it, and do it in such a way that opponents would not even be able to raise their heads."
Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006 as she exited the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow. She was working on an article about torture in Chechnya. Politkovskaya had been gathering testimony from citizens who claimed they were tortured by Kadyrov's people in an effort to get them to confess to anti-government activities and provide Russian citizens with good news about the war. At the time, Politkovskaya was working as a correspon- dent for the Novaya Gazeta , one of the country's few independent papers. The story, along with video images of the torture and transcripts of the torture sessions, was published shortly after her death. Politkovskaya is not the first journalist to die in Russia. Since 2000, a dozen journalists have been killed there.
Politkovskaya received many awards for her fearless reporting, including the Golden Pen Award in 2000 from the Russian Union of Journalists and the 2002 Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women in Media Foundation. She also won the 2003 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Prize for Journalism and Democracy and the 2004 Olof Palme Prize for her human-rights work.
Besides newspaper articles, Politkovskaya's investigative reporting led to several books, including 2001's A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya , and 2003's A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya . One of her more controversial books was 2004's Putin's Russia , an analysis of contemporary Russia, though it was not published in her native language.
Politkovskaya was killed on October 7, 2006, in Moscow, Russia; she was 48. She is survived by her son and daughter.
Los Angeles Times , October 8, 2006, p. A9; New York Times , October 13, 2006, p. A3; Times (London), October 9, 2006, p. 57; Washington Post , October 8, 2006, p. A20.