The Truth in Khimki (More on the Case of Mikhail Beketov)

Chtodelat News has already reported on the recent attacks on Russia social and labor activists. The most serious of these assaults was made on Mikhail Beketov, the editor-in-chief of Khimkinskaya Pravda. Beketov has bravely campaigned to save the Khimki Forest from destruction, and has exposed the corruption of the local administration. Now he lies in a coma at Moscow’s Sklifosovsky Institute, badly beaten, one leg amputated, on the verge of death.

Below, we present a translation of a recent article on the Beketov case from the independent liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Elena Kostyuchenko’s investigative report is not, however, run-of-the-mill journalism. Whether she intended it or not, her essay hearkens to the great nineteenth-century tradition of engaged writing represented by Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Vladimir Korolenko. “The Truth in Khimki” is not so much a reporting of facts as it is a portrait in miniature of a society in deep, continuing crisis and riven by violent, often lethal contradictions. Police who are less interested in solving crimes than in squelching “the opposition.” A population that (sometimes) knows the truth but, with few exceptions, is too frightened to speak out or act on what it knows. State officials who can’t be bothered to answer the charges made against the state and are quick to downplay the significance of the journalists making those charges. (Witness Putin’s public reaction to the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.) Neighbors who are so apathetic that they let a beaten man lie on the cold ground for two days before they call the police. Rightless migrants whose humanity is often more easily manifested than that of the fully endowed “citizens” who surround them. (Witness the Uzbek migrant worker who was the only person to come to the aid of a Tuvan journalist attacked by skinheads in the Petersburg subway, in December of last year.)

On a more pragmatic note, we should call attention to the fact that, at the end of the article, the newspaper’s editors provide information on how to donate money for Beketov’s medical care and donate blood for the transfusions he so badly needs. If you have the means or ability to help Beketov in this way, please do.

Novaya Gazeta
November 20, 2008
Elena Kostyuchenko
The Truth in Khimki
The police are afraid to investigate the attempted murder of journalist Mikhail Beketov
 

As this issue of the paper goes to press, Mikhail Beketov, the editor-in-chief of Khimkinskaya Pravda [The Khimki Truth], is alive. For the past four days, he has been the most serious case in the intensive care ward at the Sklifosovsky Institute. He has suffered a deep skull fracture as well as multiple fractures all over his body. His right leg has been amputated, and doctors are getting ready to amputate his crushed and frostbitten fingers. He is in a coma. His relatives say that Mikhail hears their voices. He tries to open his eyes; he shakes his head, straining to say something. The doctors advise his relatives not to get their hopes up—just muscle contractions, they say. The doctors have no idea why he is still alive.

The residents of Khimki also don’t understand why Beketov is alive; why the oxygen machine at the hospital hasn’t accidentally switched off over the four day he has been there. More and more often in conversation they call the attempt on Beketov a murder, and they quietly refer to his enemies—city mayor Strelchenko and his retinue—as “them.” Khimki has already buried Beketov in its mind. But he is still breathing.

On November 11, Mikhail stopped answering phone calls. On November 13, an unconscious Mikhail was transported from the courtyard of his house to the Khimki hospital. Soon the hospital got a call. The unknown caller promised to “finish off” Beketov. On Saturday evening, the journalist was transferred to the Sklifosovsky. Despite the fact that all the local media are keeping mum about Beketov, all of Khimki knows these details. The whole city read Beketov’s newspaper, Khimkinskaya Pravda. Everyone knows that “he had been warned.”

He really had been warned. A year and a half ago, his car was blown up. This past summer, respectable-looking men in suits slaughtered his puppy with baseball bats as his neighbors looked on. A week and a half before the attempt on his life, a local mafioso called Beketov to warn him: “A contract has been put out on you.” Allegedly, he even named the person who took out the contract—a high-ranking bureaucrat in the city administration.

Beketov really did give one of these bureaucrats a going over in the last issue of Khimkinskaya Pravda. But more serious looking is a report on a loan the Khimki administration took out at Vozrozhdenie Bank in order to plug holes in the city budget. Moreover, as Beketov informed his readers, the city did not conduct a tender among banks to get the best terms of credit. Plus, there are Beketov’s constant articles about the destruction of a thousand hectares in the Khimki Forest to make way for the Moscow-Petersburg highway and “supporting infrastructure”—that is, cottages and hypermarkets. The sums are enormous, and the interests of bureaucrats are at stake. There was not a single issue of Khimkinskaya Pravda that didn’t feature an investigative report.

The investigation of the attempt on the journalist’s life has been entrusted to the local Khimki police. The deputy head of the investigative group, Igor Ivanovich Tokarenko, tells me amazing things. A criminal case was opened on November 14—twenty-four hours after Mikhail was found in his courtyard. The case has been qualified under Article 111 of the Criminal Code—grievous bodily harm.

“But why not attempted murder?”

“If they’d wanted to, they’d have murdered him,” the investigator snaps back.

Tokarenko calls Beketov’s conflict with the city administration “unconfirmed rumors.”

“And where we will look for witnesses?” the investigator sighs.

I give him telephone numbers. He reluctantly writes them down.

Igor Ivanovich keeps pressing his line. “Right now I’m more interested in information about his family life. I think that quarrels with relatives might have been the cause. Or business. We are considering the possibility that it might have been connected to his professional activity. . . But I hope you don’t think that our administration put a hit out on him? That’s absurd!”

The investigator confidingly lowers his voice.

“If it was because of his professional activity, then it was Strelchenko’s enemies who did this. With this murder (they’ve already buried him?E.K.) they counted on discrediting the head of the administration so that he couldn’t be re-elected next year. The person who is now crying the loudest, that’s the guy who took out the hit. That is how I see things.”

Mikhail lived in the cottage settlement of Starbeevo. Two-storey brick houses, built close together. It is a very quiet neighborhood.

Naturally, the police made the rounds of the neighbors. True, they didn’t question them so much as they told them stories—again, about the discrediting of Mayor Strelchenko. “They started in as soon as they walked through the door,” say neighbors. “We thought we’d be questioned; instead, we got a lecture.” The investigators were so carried away with unmasking the opposition that they did not hear a few important things.

At around 11 p.m. on November 11, a female relative left the house of one of Beketov’s neighbors. She noticed a foreign-made vehicle—apparently, a Mitsubishi—parked in the middle of the road. It was dark-colored utility vehicle, and it wasn’t a new car. A thin man of medium height was pacing next to the foreign-made car and smoking. When he saw the young woman, he visibly became nervous, tossed his unsmoken cigarette, and quickly got in the car, but he didn’t leave the scene. “Strange” cars are a quite rare occurrence in this part of the village, and when the news came of the attempt on Beketov, the foreign-made car and the strange man were the first things that everyone remembered. But this was of no interest to investigators. They didn’t even write down the name and telephone number of the witness.

The greater part of the village is equipped with video cameras. The cameras also capture the view of the road in front of Beketov’s house. Everyone told investigators about this. But they didn’t confiscate the videotapes.

I go back to the police station. Igor Ivanovich is quite surprised by my stories about the witness and the closed-circuit cameras. He thanks me sourly: “You’ve assisted the investigation.”

I would like to focus separately on the testimony of one neighbor lady. Valentina, a maid, works in a house whose lot lies right next to Beketov’s lot. At around 2 p.m. on November 12, she was cleaning on the second floor of the cottage and saw Mikhail through the window. “He was lying on the ground. I could see his legs. But the trees blocked my view of his bloodied head. I thought the guy had been drinking and was taking it easy.”

“He drank?”

“No, never. But anything can happen.”

After finishing her cleaning, Valentina calmly went home. The sight of her neighbor lying on the November ground had not alarmed her.

The following day (November 13), at around 8 a.m., Valentina got a call from the owner of the house. This woman informed her that she had also seen the legs of their neighbor, who was lying on the ground. They discussed what to do and came to the conclusion that he was a “strange man.” Valentina glanced out the window: he was still lying there. Two hours later, after again having taken counsel with her boss, she decided to call the neighborhood beat cop.

She is quite calm as she tells me about this. She inquires: “How’s he doing there, our neighbor? Has he died?”

“The doctors say that if help had arrived earlier, they could have saved his fingers. And, perhaps, his leg.”

“But you do understand that it was none of my business?”

The way to the offices of the Khimki administration is as narrow as a hatchway into a besieged fortress. A turnstile and two smart security guards in suits greet me. When they find out that I want to see Vladimir Vladimirovich Strelchenko, they snap to attention: “He’s in his office.” But while I’m trying to get his secretary on the phone, Vladimir Vladimirovich disappears from the building. His deputy, Alexei Khomutov, who is authorized to comment on “the Beketov case,” turns out to be in a meeting.

Finally, Valentina Kobeleva, the administration’s media attaché, comes down to see me. “How can we comment on someone else’s misfortune? We had no conflict with him; a court case is not a conflict. [The mayor sued Beketov for suggesting that he was somehow involved in the explosion of Beketov’s car.] And his newspaper was tiny, nothing serious. If he gets over it and lives, then God be with him.”

The city administration gave its only commentary to Rossiiskaya Gazeta. However, for reasons that are unclear, this issue of the paper, which featured a detailed article about Beketov, didn’t make it to the kiosks of Khimki.

Dilya, her husband Khamit, and their children call Mikhail the “boss.” Dilya and her three children arrived in Russia from Tajikistan four months ago. She thought she would quickly find work and a place to live, but no one wanted to rent even the corner of a room to the Tajik woman and her children. Local gastarbeiters advised her to go to Beketov. Once upon a time builders had left a construction trailer on his lot.

“I rang the doorbell. He came out. He saw the children. And he said, ‘For the sake of the children, I’ll let you live here.’”

Mikhail didn’t ask his boarders for money.

The trailer is barricaded off from the rest of the lot by a high, unbroken fence. That is why Dilya didn’t notice anything either on the eleventh or twelfth. Nor did she hear anything: the kids, the television. And now she is incredibly glad that she didn’t see or hear [Beketov’s attackers]—who knows how it would have ended. On the thirteenth, the beat cop came and began banging on the fence. That is when Dilya, a medical school graduate, saw Mikhail.

“They inflicted the first blow, of course, to the head, in the region of his forehead. They broke his bones and beat his fingers when he was already unconscious—there is a God after all. There was more than one man doing the beating. It is possible they used sticks or baseball bats.”

The ambulance arrived. Dilya begged the paramedics to let her accompany Mikhail to the hospital, but the team doctor refused her request: “You’re no one to him.”

Dilya called her husband at work. Together, they rushed to the Khimki hospital. They had trouble getting into the intensive care ward. But hospital staff kicked them out without telling them anything. Nor would the staff on the hospital’s info line talk to the Tajiks: “Only relatives.” Now they get all their news about the “boss” from the TV and the newspapers.

“We pray for him every day. God must help him if there is any justice at all!” Dilya weeps. I didn’t see many tears in Khimki.

“Just let him come to, even if he’ll be an invalid, even if he won’t be able to walk,” Khamit says weightily. “We’ll feed him, launder his clothes, wash his floors. Just let him come back.”

From the editors. We appeal to the Russian Prosecutor’s Office and the Minister of the Interior to personally supervise the investigation of this crime.

Urgent! 

Mikhail Beketov’s friends have opened a bank account to collect donations for the journalist’s medical care.

Sberbank of Russia OAO
Donskoe Branch 7813/01647
Leninsky prospekt, d. 22. Tel: (+7-495) 954-50-14;  958-52-92
Settlement Account: 30301810938006003811
Sberbank of Russia OAO, Moscow
Bank Identification Number: 044525225
Correspondent Account: 30101810400000000225
Individual Tax Number: 7707083893
Account of Recipient: 42307.810.2.3811.2402687
Recipient: Glushchai Antonina Ivanovna

Mikhail Beketov also has constant need of O+ donor blood. Blood can be donated at the blood transfusion department of N.V. Sklifosovsky Institute (Moscow) from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (weekdays). For more information, call (+7-495) 621-9160.

5 Comments

Filed under activism, political repression, Russian society, urban movements (right to the city)

5 responses to “The Truth in Khimki (More on the Case of Mikhail Beketov)

  1. Peter de Keijzer

    As a member of the largest Dutch goverment party Christian Democratic Appeal I express our deep concern. We are very shocked about this appalling news about Mikhail Beketov. Within short an official letter from us will follow from our party´s department Sustainability Consideration appeal to the Russian Prosecutor’s Office and the Minister of the Interior to personally supervise the investigation of this crime. A copy of this letter will be delivered at the office of our minister of exterior and at the Russian embassy.

    At present out thoughts go to Mikhail Beketov.

    kind regards,

    Peter de Keijzer

    Christian Democratic Appeal
    department Sustainability Consideration

  2. Peter de Keijzer

    As a member of the largest Dutch goverment party Christian Democratic Appeal I express our deep concern. We are very shocked about this appalling news about Mikhail Beketov. Within short an official letter from us will follow from our party´s department Sustainability Consideration appeal to the Russian Prosecutor’s Office and the Minister of the Interior to personally supervise the investigation of this crime. A copy of this letter will be delivered at the office of our minister of exterior and at the Russian embassy.

    At present out thoughts go to Mikhail Beketov.

    kind regards,

    Peter de Keijzer

    Christian Democratic Appeal
    department Sustainability Consideration

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