Letter to Anna: The Story of Journalist Politkovskaya’s Death
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On the afternoon of October 7, 2006, forty-eight-year-old Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was at the Ramstor Shopping Center on Frunze Embankment in Moscow. In addition to her usual groceries, she was buying special food for her daughter, Vera, who was expecting her first child. Anna and Vera had been talking with each other on their cell phones throughout the day. The baby would be called Anna, after her grandmother, but Politkovskaya would not live to see her.
As the shopping center’s hidden video camera later revealed, Politkovskaya was not alone. She was being followed by a man in jeans and a white turtleneck and a light-haired woman in black. They were part of a larger group of people who had been tailing her for several days. At 3:30 PM, Politkovskaya called her son, Ilya, to tell him she was on her way home. She never made it. At approximately 4 PM, she was fatally shot in the stairwell of her apartment building on Lesnaya Street. Her killer, disguising himself only with a baseball cap and apparently unconcerned by the posted warning of a security camera inside, knew the code needed to enter the building only moments before. Like many contract murderers in Moscow, he left the weapon, an Izh pistol with a silencer, at the scene of the crime.
As Eric Bergkraut’s moving and forceful film, Letter to Anna: The Story of Journalist Politkovskaya’s Death, makes clear, Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the Kremlin and its policy toward Chechnya, had long been aware that her life was in danger. Bergkraut, a prominent Swiss filmmaker, had interviewed Politkovskaya numerous times while working on Coca: The Dove from Chechnya, his 2005 documentary about the conflict in Chechnya. Letter to Anna uses footage from those interviews to great effect. When she first appears in the film, Anna stares into the camera and says: “Why am I still alive? If I speak seriously about this I would understand it as a miracle. It really is a miracle.”
Politkovskaya was a correspondent for one of Russia’s last independent papers, the biweekly Novaya Gazeta, where she published over five hundred articles, and the author of several books. An American citizen by birth (her father was a Soviet diplomat at the UN), she had received numerous awards and honors, including an OSCE prize for journalism and democracy and an Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. But all this did not protect her in Russia. She had survived one attempt to kill her and had received death threats.
Several other journalists who offended the Kremlin had lost their lives. These included two colleagues from Anna’s paper—Igor Domnikov, who was brutally beaten by a hired thug and later died (the killer is in prison, but his sponsor was never identified); and Yury Shchekochikhin, who died in July 2003 of a sudden, mysterious illness, apparently the result of poisoning. Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, who …