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 37 DAYS OF FREEDOM

Words kill. Sometimes a journalist knows that words can kill, knows that after he presses the “Publish” button the words will start living their own life as if you just pulled the trigger, and they fly like bullets and like death. Yes, articles shoot sometimes. It’s just a part of the job.

Sometimes another part of the job is irreversibility, when you see the threat, you speak of it, you warn of it and nothing, you can change nothing…

I didn’t have any emotions about him at first. I didn’t know this man. He managed to earn money in Moscow being a civil servant for a long time; he was a Russian Communist Party member and voted for Crimea annexation; he was involved in the war in Ukraine. I didn’t have any reason to like him because he fled here to seek asylum. But he became a witness in the case of Yanukovych’s high treason, and we needed him for that, my country needed him. Denys Voronenkov, as I learned, was also supported by Ilya Ponomarev, the only State Duma member who voted against Crimea annexation. I sincerely respect Ilya for that noble deed.

The witness was convincing. And I realized how dangerous it was. The article turned out to be a blast. I was forced to smother my own voice. I could not simply send the man to the war; although I was risking that he would get scared and cut the text… But I realized that for these words he would be killed… and I could not but tell him about it. It must have looked weird, but after I saw the text with his corrections, I didn’t just leave; instead, I told him the interview would be a sensation and he would be hunted for: “Do you realize they can kill you for what you’ve said about Putin and the Russian authorities? They will get scared to death! They will try to get you and your family.”

Voronenkov asked me recklessly: “What have I said here that no one knows or that wouldn’t be said within Russian opposition?”

I answered: “You have been a part of this system your entire life, you were one of them. You worked with them, served with them, climbed up the ladder; you know them personally, their families, their habits, their homes, their dirty deeds. They sang at your wedding, trusted you their secrets, asked of favors. Ponomarev and Navalny are their open opponents, they have always been alien for them, with no liabilities. But you are one of them, and you will be a traitor, and they will want to avenge themselves because they have no clue what else you can say or do.”

There was a risk for me as a journalist that he would soften the words or cut out some stuff about Putin. The text was right in front of him on the table, and he could reach out and cross many things out — something not concerning Yanukovych, Crimea, and the war in the Donbas…

Voronenkov said something like: “I have made up my mind. I’ve been depending on them for too long. Let them be scared. I don’t want to leave for Europe, they will find me there as they found Litvinenko. Yes, I do risk, but the risk is freedom.”

The interview was published in the morning of Feb. 14. In the evening Voronenkov was put on federal wanted list in Russia, and that was it… He called me three days later: “You were right! I didn’t expect this hysterical reaction. They are speaking only about me! All TV channels air stories about me, all newspapers and websites report about me, “Novaya Gazeta” even published a deceptive material. I couldn’t even think of such hatred! I will keep doing interviews.”

I could see that the man has just discovered, for the first time in his life, what freedom is like, and he loved tasting every word of it. I told him: “They will attempt killing you, please be cautious.”

We never met after the interview. But he called and texted me regularly, sent his new interviews, and kept thanking for that first text that had changed a lot for him. I read what people were saying and writing about him in Russia, how they were threatening him, and I realized it was not a game; the words were whishing at his temple… But Ukraine was his door to freedom, and he was parading this freedom… Only now I can say: he paid for his life, for his mistakes, and for his decisions exactly how much his life was worth. He was sincere when he spoke about freedom. I believe now everybody understands that.

At 11:21 a.m. on March 23 he sent me a message of his great new interview to Gordon website and Natalia Dvali. It included these passages:

“— In Ukraine, there are many Russian agents and corrupt officials, especially in the law enforcement agencies. Why are you so sure you will not drink some Kremlin tea with polonium, just like former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko did in London?

“— (Laughing) You are bloodthirsty! The death rate on the Earth is 100%, and all of us die sooner or later. It ’ s important how and why we lived. Sometimes “ how ” is more important than “ how long.” Why would you live in permanent fear? Let me quote a famous movie: “Will this help?”

“— But you do look to your sides when you cross the road, and not just trust your fate.

“— Do you want to ask me if I have guarantees of personal security? No, no one has them. In the Committee, there was this guy Lugovoy with me, a bastard who was chasing his friend Litvinenko and poured some polonium worth 30 million euro into his cup. Lugovoy is now guarded by the same sixth service of the Interior Security Department of FSB that is forging a criminal case against me.

“In Russia, they love repeating a suggestion “White lies.” As I got it, the mental degeneration is here: now a murder is ‘white.’ Russia is the state that destroys people this way. So should I live in constant fear now?”

It happened that I was the first journalist who made an interview with him in Ukraine, and I was the one he sent his last message and last interview to. Four minutes after it, at 11:25 a.m., Denys Voronenkov got out of the car and took five bullets…

After his first interview, he lived 37 days of freedom.

Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET

 
 
 
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