It is fifteen years to the day that Russian investigative journalist Dmitry Kholodov, chasing a corruption story, was killed in his office. It was the first in a series of murders of journalists in Russia.
Dmitry Kholodov was only 27 when he lost his life. After just two years in journalism he had already made a name for himself with Moskovsky Komsomolets, one of Russia’s oldest and most popular newspapers. He was a harsh critic who investigated illegal deals in Russia's armed forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
On October 17, 1994, Dmitry received a call which directed him to a briefcase in a safety deposit box at Moscow’s Kazansky train station. The source claimed the briefcase contained exclusive compromising material.
The briefcase was booby-trapped with an explosive device powerful enough to derail a train. It went off as soon as Dmitry turned the key.
Ekaterina Deeva, the newspaper’s deputy editor-in-chief, was with Dmitry as he lay dying. She says the bomb was a warning to all journalists.
“Dmitry covered cases like the illegal selling of arms, pointing the finger at both high-ranking officials and smuggling soldiers. So his death pleased both those who ordered the crime and those who actually killed him,” she recalls.
The newspaper accused then-Defense Minister Pavel Grachev of ordering the crime, which Grachev denied, but he had publicly called Kholodov an “inside enemy” and put him on a blacklist of journalists.
The main suspects in the bombing – servicemen from Russia’s Spetsnaz – were charged but eventually acquitted.
“The investigation dragged on forever as high-ranking officials were involved. Prosecutors were swapped; some of the documents we presented simply went missing. The military tribunal proved to be a closed organization which has nothing to do with civil law,” says Pavel Gusev, editor-in-chief of Moskovsky Komsomolets.
The death of Dmitry Kholodov was the first in a series of high-profile journalist murders. Around half a year later, Vladislav Listyev, the head of Russia's Channel One, was shot. Journalism had become one of the most dangerous professions in Russia.
Paul Klebnikov, a Forbes journalist who investigated Listyev’s murder, was killed in 2004.
Then the killing of Anna Politkovskaya, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin, shocked the world in 2006.
To date none of these cases have been solved.
Aleksandr Politkovsky, Anna’s ex-husband, says these killings changed the face of Russian journalism.
“When I show my reports from the nineties, my students cannot believe this stuff could have been aired on TV. Back then, we were all a little crazy. It was a risk, but it was romantic as well,” he says. “Nowadays, journalists are the service sector. They all want a big name – like Anna Politkovskaya – and a lot of money, but nobody is willing to risk their lives.”
Fifteen years after his death, Dmitry Kholodov is an icon at Moskovsky Komsomolets. The man, who was a symbol of honest, selfless journalism in Russia, may be considered a rare species nowadays.