[main page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][guestbook][publications][hot issues]
By Susan Vollmer

Larisa Yudina


In a country that's suppose to be undergoing democratic reforms, Russia is missing out on one of the most important freedoms—freedom of the press. And those who dare to practice professional journalism face severe retaliation. In a ranking of countries by Reporters Sans Frontiers, Russia was the second most dangerous place to be a journalist after Colombia in South America.

One woman who could not be intimidated was Larisa Yudina. Larisa was born in Elista, Russia, a city located northwest of the Caspian Sea.

She attended college at Moscow State University, where she graduated with a journalism degree. After college, she worked as a correspondent for a newspaper titled Molodyozh Kalmykii. She then became a correspondent for Sovietskaya Kalmykia Segodnya (Soviet Kalmykia Today).

This was the oldest newspaper in Kalmykia and served the regional committee of the Communist Party. Larisa earned the respect of colleagues who elected her editor-in-chief of the newspaper in 1991.

That was the same year as the break up of the Soviet Union. Kalmykia had been a region settled in the early 17th century by nomadic Buddhist people known as Kalmucks. After the break up of the Soviet Union, it became a republic in 1992 and subsequently part of the Russian Federation.

The Chess City

A president was elected of the Kalmykia Republic in 1993 named Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. His personal devotion to chess was forced on the entire region. He made learning chess part of the required curriculum in schools. He is supposedly building a chess city, which has been modeled after the Olympic Villages in the west. He was the driving force in the Chess Olympiad being held in Kalmykia in 1998.

In addition to being president, he is also head of the International Chess Federation (Fide). It has previously been stated that Fide would have gone bankrupt had it not been for Ilyumzhinov.

The Opposition Newspaper

As editor of the "Soviet Kalmykia Today," Larisa worked at the only newspaper in that region which was not government controlled or subsidized. Wanting to uphold professional journalism standards, she knew the most important service she could offer was as a watchdog of the current administration.

Whenever possible, Larisa would show the correlation between the region's poverty and the president's growing coffers. When only in his 30s, Ilyumzhinov already owned seven Rolls Royces. This is in a country which primarily exists on raising sheep and federal funds from Moscow.

The Liberal Yabloko Party

In addition to her journalism side, Larisa had a political side. She served as co-chairperson in the local politics of the Yabloko party. This has been described as the most Western-style political party available in Russia. In the late 1990s, the Yabloko party provided funding to print some of the editions of her newspaper.

The more outspoken she became the more difficult life became for her and the newspaper. According to the Yabloko party, printers in the republic had been forbidden to print the newspaper. As a result, Larisa would have approximately 4,000 copies printed in the city of Volzhsky, near Volgograd. That was the amount that would fit in the trunk of a car.

The newspaper was evicted from its office space, and all of its property confiscated by the government. Every time, they leased new space, the landlord would be forced to evict them after a short time. In 1997, the staff and office moved six times.

In a story published in the internet edition of The (London) Times, a reporter wrote about Larisa, "Only real courage could keep a defenceless woman in her fifties fighting for the truth in this remote place."

Larisa's Last Article

In 1998, Larisa wrote a story about how psychiatric hospitals in Russia abuse their power. The leader of an advocacy group for invalids' rights had been placed in a mental hospital for five days because she lead a hunger strike. The women held a hunger strike because they were protesting not having enough money to feed their children.

Research was also being done at the same time by Larisa on a future article about the embezzlement of budgetary funds into offshore companies.

On 7 June 1998, Larisa met with a source who was suppose to provide needed information for the story on embezzlement. She did not return. Her body was found the next day. She had been repeatedly stabbed, and her body was left in a pond in Elista—the same city as her birthplace.

In Check

As of November 1999, there were four men who had already been charged with Larisa's murder, and three of them received sentences. Two of the men convicted had worked closely with the president and received 21 years each in prison. A third man received six years for harboring criminals. And the fourth man received leniency because he aided in the investigation and made a full confession.

To Larisa's husband, Gennadi Yudin, justice was never complete. He wanted the person who ordered the murder charged and prosecuted, not just the persons following orders. Unfortunately, the case is officially closed, and there appears little hope that the "king" will be placed in checkmate.

The Paper Goes On

Larisa's husband and two other journalists continue to publish the "Soviet Kalmykia Today." They receive foreign financial support, and it is printed twice a month. Other Russian newspapers outside the Kalmykia republic have provided assistance; however, at least one has received pressure from Ilyumzhinov because of the assistance.

Human Rights Violations

Basic human rights are increasingly being violated in the Russian Federation, according to a 1999 report by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. In addition to Larisa's death in 1998, other journalists were also murdered, imprisoned, beaten, harassed or censored. Republics of the Russian Federation operate without any regard to federal laws and with little enforcement from Moscow.

If the Russian people are ever able to experience true democratic reforms, they will need real freedom of the press—where the truth can be printed without the journalist being murdered.

Reprinted with permission.
Copyright Susan Vollmer.

See the original at http://www.fallenmartyrs.com/russia.htm


[main page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][guestbook][publications][hot issues]