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“She chose an honest and dangerous path – an armored vest instead of high heels from a past life”: Friends remember Oksana Baulina

On March 23, The Insider journalist Oksana Baulina, our colleague and friend, was killed in Kyiv. She was hit by a missile as she was filming the Kyiv the Russian troops left after shelling the Podil district. Oksana had worked for glossy magazines for many years and then abruptly changed her career to fight for justice and the future of Russia. Oksana's friends, colleagues and loved ones share their memories of her.

  • Kirill Kutalov, ex-husband

  • Elizaveta Voskresenskaya, editor

  • Marina Fedorovskaya, journalist

  • Alexey Kovalev, Meduza

  • Oleg Kozlovsky, human rights activist, Amnesty International

  • Anna Makhova, Producer

  • Sergei Ross, lawyer, politician, businessman

  • Angelina Kazakova, former colleague

  • Tatyana Usmanova, former coordinator for Open Russia

  • Kateryna Antipova, friend, ex-husband's sister

  • Ruslan Ablyakimov, journalist

  • Elena Malakhovskaya, journalist

  • Svetlana Makhokhei, journalist, radio host

  • Ivan Nechepurenko, correspondent for The New York Times in Moscow

  • Alexei Shvarts, former coordinator of Alexei Navalny's headquarters in Kurgan

  • Nikita Safronov, chief editor of the AIDS.Center website

  • Olga Shakina, Pervy Otdel (“The First Department”)

  • Nina Avdeyenko, The Insider

  • Dada Lyndell, The Insider

  • A colleague, The Insider

  • Sofia Adamova, The Insider

Kirill Kutalov, ex-husband

We met in the noughties when I fixed her rearview mirror by taping it with duct tape, which for some reason I happened to have with me. She loved to drive, and her driving skills were very good. We used to drive to Crimea until 2014, and then, of course, stopped. Once we traveled from Milan to France to attend a Depeche Mode concert in Nice and then went south, hung out on the beach. I took a picture: Oksana looked tiny against the yellow sand and blue sky background, a semblance of the Ukrainian flag.

The important date for her was October 7, 2006, the day Politkovskaya was murdered.

In 2010, when the forests were burning and the smoke hung a solid veil, she went as a volunteer to the Vladimir region. At that time, she bought a large floor air purifier for her home. And when she was expecting a police search in her apartment in 2020 and was on her way to leave for Poland, she cut out a niche in the purifier's filter for the laptop, although I'm sure they would have found the laptop there anyway. But it was a naive gesture, so characteristic of her.

At all the rallies, she would slip into the thick of it squeezing through the packs of really huge people, while I would get pushed aside. I would stand behind their backs and think: where on earth are you going, you're about to get crushed over there.

In March 2017, she was detained at work during a broadcast from a rally, and she was tried and sentenced to imprisonment. She was tried on the day of her arrest and jailed. I collected a parcel for her, and when I read a list at the pharmacy, the pharmacist immediately said, «I get it, not a word more». And when she came out on April 2, it was her best media appearance – she looked like a free person should look: «the dungeons will collapse and freedom will gladly welcome you at the entrance» - this was written about moments like that.

The last time we saw each other was when she was leaving. Now it turns out she left for good. She wrote that she was homesick for Moscow. When Navalny came to Moscow, she wanted to come too, but they talked her out of it.

She wrote me a few days ago: I'm going to Ukraine. She sent me a screenshot of a pass with the AFU emblem. And that was all, I sent her a chat request, but she did not reply.

Elizaveta Voskresenskaya, editor

We met in 2003, she came to editorial office of Glamour. I even remember how she walked in, and Marina Fedorovskaya and I thought at once that she was the perfect editor for a magazine with that title. Every day she had her hair styled and wore trendy makeup and cool perfume. Further it turned out that this beauty worked like a press-iron - she did her work quickly and efficiently, with the concentration of an astronaut. Not only brains, she also had a lot of human kindness, humanity in general.

Later we left Glamour, I worked for Chanel and she worked for InStyle, and we shared some material between the publications, she was like a tiger fighting for actress quotes, and I respected her. «Such energy, it would be good to use it for something really nice». Apparently, Oksana thought so herself for a long time, and hence the change in her career, which surprised everyone, but not really.

It sometimes happens that you break up with a person professionally, and then you need something and have go through a painful reconnection. But with Oksana there was no such thing, she always remained close: you could write her years later, even in the dead of night, and just be like, hello, what about such and such. Or go out to eat, even though she was always busy with her professional career. Time with her was non-linear, and she was a strong person who could bring people so much warmth through the years.

Marina Fedorovskaya, journalist

Oksana and I met in peaceful times, during the launch of Glamour. The magazine was shaky - the editor-in-chief was insanely dangerous, so was the publisher, everyone demanded the impossible. Humiliation was the norm when communicating with the editors. Oksana was just as shaken up as the rest of us. In the end we all moved on to other publications and fell in love with each other after we had lived through this nightmare. Then there were many magazines and one great love - political human rights journalism, which Oksana was really happy to embrace and took it up with all her experience. I really missed Oksana for the last two years. We rarely called each other, but a couple of times we talked for hours. I vividly imagined how lonely it was for her there, in Poland, during the pandemic. How difficult it was to speak a foreign language, and almost impossible to return home. The only thing I understood about Oksanka was that she wanted to live. I have an understanding of the inner pattern that led her into the very thick of it, to fight evil, outright and creepy, but it is extremely hard to accept the fact that a wretched bomb killed our beautiful friend, our big star and a beloved friend who was so important and needed by everyone in the most difficult moments. Oksana, your voice, your lightness and fire, your humor and sense of justice, the whole of you will stay with us and in our hearts...

Alexey Kovalev, Meduza

When a person you have known for a long time dies so suddenly and tragically (unfortunately it's not the first time for me) and you are asked to remember something about them, some insignificant nonsense immediately comes to mind. When Oksana and I first met, it was 2006, we were both working for Time Out Moscow magazine at the time, she was in charge of the Fashion and Beauty column. She asked me to go on a bike tour for the Travel column instead of her, because she had some other plans. I thought: how could she have gone on a bicycle tour in such a stunning dress, always with a perfect manicure and in high heels? Later I realized that both physically and mentally Oksana was much more resilient than I. The only time she admitted she could not do it was when he father was dying in Novokuznetsk, and we were working on a big project, with the deadline approaching. For the rest of the time I knew her, Oksana worked with what seemed to be inhuman productivity. It did not matter what she was doing: organizing rallies or campaigns in defense of someone or against something, writing her own or editing someone else's texts, producing broadcasts, or generally making good people's lives better and bad people's lives worse. If she needed me to get on the Navalny LIVE show she was producing, she wouldn't get off my back until I agreed to come into the studio at exactly the right time, and then she would make me choose a pantone background and show her the check-pattern of the shirt I would wear on air.

So I do not doubt for a second that Oksana organized her trip to Kyiv with the same obsessive meticulousness. Morally she was a very uncompromising person, unlike me, so we often had arguments concerning it. Sometimes she would say harsh words to me about the lack of ideological purity at Meduza, where I worked at the time. But I never took offence because I knew deep down in my heart that had I been in her place, I would have thought twice whether to give up a cool career in a glossy magazine and all the comfort and prestige associated with it in order to immerse myself in a world of endless pickets, detentions, searches and, in the end, forced emigration. Oksana had no such doubts in any situation in which I saw her, not for a second. She always had to be there, where she was most needed, where she could not just do something effectively, but also help those who needed help, fight against every evil and injustice, often to her own detriment.

The next-to-last time we talked, during the war, her thoughts were focused on how to send a bullet-proof vest to her colleague, who was already in Kyiv at that moment. And, of course, she couldn't help traveling there herself at some point. To this day I cannot bring myself to write that Oksana was an incredible person. Well, I won't - her death will never undo it anyway, we'll make sure of that. And damn all of you who killed her. I hope to be a witness for the prosecution at your trial someday.

Oleg Kozlovsky, human rights activist, Amnesty International

I met Oksana during Navalny's mayoral campaign. I invited her to work with me at the School of Civic Leadership, and for about a year she was sort of my subordinate. Well, you know, sometimes it seemed that I was helping her, not the other way around. And after that, we just crossed paths and talked regularly. The last time was on Monday, I gave her the contact details of a man in Kyiv. It was strange to see her in a hot spot (she seemed to have no such experience) but at the same time it was logical: who else would rush there just because it was the right thing to do.

Anna Makhova, Producer

I was introduced to Oksana by our mutual friend Misha Fikhtengoltz. We were supposed to go to some monster bar (we liked to party in trashy places sometimes). So, Misha warned me and my friend Ksyusha before the meeting: girls, just behave decently please. Oksana is a very decent lady. And after a couple of hours Oksana and I were already dancing on the bar in some tacky joint, and then we went outside and took a ride on a tractor...

Then sometime later I was doing a Persimfans Orchestra gig at the Conservatory, and I invited Oksana and she came. And she came right after serving a 10-day prison sentence for organizing a broadcast of a rally. That is, she didn't even go home after the detention center, she came to the Conservatory, climbed onto the balcony, lay down on the floor and fell asleep - a beautiful girl.

And then after all this she told me that she went to her boss at work and said: Alexei, I want to discuss the dates of my vacation. And he was like: what vacation are you talking about, you've just rested for 10 days in jail! Anyway, she was wildly cheerful and brave. I love her.

My sincere condolences to all her family and friends. And we should not forget that Oksana sacrificed herself for our bright future.

Sergei Ross, lawyer, politician, businessman

She worked for us at the School of Civic Leadership several years ago, in another life it seems. «A glossy girl» who was as far from being a fashion magazine person as humanly possible. She was all about principles and struggle, outstanding to the max even among activists. Her keen sense of justice – it's a compliment, but it was also a disadvantage in this particular case. She rushed into a hot spot with no such experience under her belt. I thought then: why, what are you doing, but she wouldn't have listened anyway. I have only good memories of her. Let her rest in peace.

Angelina Kazakova, former colleague

I met Oksana in 2017, when I joined Navalny Live. She was telling me how to prepare for an administrative arrest. So mundane and simple. She didn't seem to be afraid of anything. I was very surprised when I found out she used to work at Glamour magazine. Of all the glamour magazines, it was the only one that was normal for a while - when she was working there.

I always liked her hard work, confidence in her beliefs, her cheerfulness. She and I had been corresponding for a long time. I rarely write to anyone, I like to talk in person. I thought I would see her again. I wanted to write her when I saw she was in Lvov, but didn't get around to do it. Dear Oksana, I'm so glad to have known you, you've become my personal hero. Rest in peace!

Tatyana Usmanova, former coordinator for Open Russia

I met Oksana in the fall of 2019. At a friend's birthday party there were girls with whom she had served her sentence in a special detention center, where they ended up because they had organized a web stream for Navalny Live. The last time I saw Oksana in Warsaw on March 10. The next day she was leaving for Ukraine. The week before that we met almost every day and discussed whether or not she should go. Let's put it another way. She had no doubts about whether or not to go. Those were the conversations that we had to have as a formality, even though we both knew she would go. She was very caring, so she suggested I stay in her apartment while she was on a business trip and wait for her return. I didn't want to stay in Warsaw, so I left. And we never saw each other again.

Kateryna Antipova, friend, ex-husband's sister

My brother introduced me to Oksana. It so happened that we were friends for many years, and a year and a half ago we had a stupid fight. We were not connected by profession, only by values. She told me about politics, journalism, and Navalny. We went to rallies together. She was a very close person. Oksana was very principled, very private actually, very focused. Oksana had a plan. And she had a goal. It was a rare quality, such faithfulness to herself. Unyielding. Before the war, it even seemed a bit excessive at times. But now it is clear that it's an extremely necessary and important trait. Oksana cooked delicious meals. Terrific. Once she cooked some exotic mussels in wine for the New Year. Right in their shells. You couldn't find them in any restaurant in Moscow back then. And we ate them at home. She told me she had made a resolution to find them, and she did. It's probably naive and silly to remember, but I really was in awe back then. It was an extraordinary New Year.

Ruslan Ablyakimov, journalist

You can volunteer for endless hours in a refugee camp, you can leaf through news about the war with Ukraine until you get calluses on your fingers... But only the death of a dear friend can make us realize how close we are to this tragedy.

I have known Oksana for a long time. We worked together, we were in a detention center in Moscow. This photo was taken at the airport in Warsaw and it was my first photo in Poland. Guys came to meet me, Oksana was among them. She always helped me out when I needed help. We went to each other's birthdays, celebrated the New Year together, and picked mushrooms in the forest.

Oksana was an amazing person, a great friend, and a true professional in her field. When she was leaving for Ukraine, she consulted with me on how to get to the border. I knew about her plans and was even a little jealous. Now it all seems like some horrible dream.

It is very painful and bitter. Rest in peace, my dear.

Elena Malakhovskaya, journalist

Oksana and I were never close. But when I needed help at the beginning of the war, who did I contact? Oksana (well, she was the second person I asked for help). And that's how she was. There are people close to you, but you wouldn't ask them for help because they can't help you. Oksana was a different kind of person. She seemed to be always in the loop and held all the threads in her hand. When I saw that last post of hers saying «Mom, I'm wearing body armor,» I could feel how glad she was to be there. In her place. In the epicenter. It must sound awful, I guess, but journalists can understand that.

Svetlana Makhokhei, journalist, radio host

We last saw each other six months ago, in Warsaw. I was there for a meeting with my former colleagues from Navalny Live. We talked a lot, recalling our work and life in Moscow, and comparing it to the life in Europe. Moscow was a winner in many ways. Oksana really missed it. I think she would have liked to go back to the beautiful Russia of the future. Journalists like her - honest, professional, thinking - were and, I hope, will be welcome there.

It was Oksana who remembered me when the people at Vot Tak TV were deciding whom they should send to accompany Navalny on the plane to Moscow. She really wanted to go herself, but because of problems with documents she could not. I will always be grateful to her for that opportunity. Oksana invited me to visit her and was even ready to give me the keys from her apartment just in case she wouldn't be home. Also, at one of her parties, she once uttered the phrase, «I cook like a boss!» After which we agreed to have a cooking duel one day.

It hurts very much to realize she's gone, and it's still hard to breathe. In the 21st century, friends shouldn't have to die in wars.

I bow to Oksana's courage. She was a true fighter.

Ivan Nechepurenko, correspondent for The New York Times in Moscow

Oksana and I met six years ago at a journalist party. Somehow we hit it off right away. We were drawn to each other. We were not friends, but our communication was always very focused. We discussed Moscow life and all sorts of exhibitions and everything that now seems distant and otherworldly. Over the years, as times got darker, abstract conversations became quite inappropriate, and after the ACF ban, things got quite tough. I remember when we met by chance on a bus driving down the Garden Ring. We were driving through a snow-covered, dark Moscow, looking out the window at the bright lights, and it was impossible to say anything. Oksana was leaving Russia, and it was hard to accept that everything we were living through at the time was actually inevitable. We never saw each other again. And it's a shame that Oksana will never see what the future of Russia will be like, and this future will surely come someday. I will always remember her as a very sincere, uncompromising, and beautiful person. Eternal memory to her.

Alexei Shvarts, former coordinator of Alexei Navalny's headquarters in Kurgan

I met Oksana this year, when she interviewed me. We talked a lot, and it felt like we already knew each other and had eaten a pound of salt together. Even though it was our first conversation. She turned off the recording and asked me if I had stopped waking up at 6 a.m. to get ready for police searches.

I said I hadn't.

She gave me a thoughtful look, and I could see she was counting in her mind: «Well, you've got about a month or so left to suffer, and then it will pass. I mean, we've been suffering for six months after our work, expecting to be searched...»

With Oksana's departure from this world humanity has lost a lot. She died fighting for the good side. She is a hero who, unfortunately, left us too early.

With respect and deep sorrow.

Nikita Safronov, chief editor of the AIDS.Center website

I met Oksana during the launch of an economic show on Radio Liberty, to which I was hired as a columnist and Oksana as the editor-in-chief. It was not that Oksana and I were the most experienced economic journalists - we were simply journalists who could make lightning-fast decisions on the air - we had learned this from our previous work. We could be running late, or could forget what some parts of the show were going to be about. But not once was there any serious trouble during a live broadcast. And it was she who made sure it stayed that way. Oksana was a great journalist.

Olga Shakina, Pervy Otdel (“The First Department”)

I met Oksana literally to splashes of champagne. She had a great and sparkling Moscow career – important positions in glossy magazines, parties, press tours in five-star hotels on tropical islands. In 2014, she became chief of CN Traveller, the Russian version of the world's most elite travel magazine. But only for a few months, because she immediately gave up her big salary, fat insurance, and luxurious life as soon as she was forced to accept for publication a promo piece about the delights of vacationing in Crimea.

In my memory, she was the only journalist in the entertainment industry who took such a step - while the others mumbled «glossy magazines should be outside politics» and kept spinning in a whirlwind of magical parties and wonderful trips - including a fashion show for Kadyrov's daughter in Grozny or a party for Karimov's daughter in Tashkent.

Oksana went on to work for Navalny Live, and then moved to Warsaw to work for Belsat and The Insider. When the war started she traveled to Lviv and Kyiv. She could never stay away, she was always principled and unbending to the point of being fierce. So much so, it was even infuriating.

If ten years ago, when we stood with glasses of sparkling wine in our hands at some dazzling launch ceremony in Moscow, I had any idea how it would end, I... really don't know how I would have reacted. And I don't know how to react now.

How many more good people have to die for this war to come to an end? Condolences to Oksana's family and friends. Hatred to the Russian authorities. No to war.

Nina Avdeyenko, The Insider

Oksana and I joined The Insider at the same time. And almost immediately she realized by mocking messages in the main chat that I needed a friend and support. And we hit it off. Of course, she felt lonely in Warsaw, and I was lonely in my mother's apartment. She just texted me, «Hey, you want to talk?» We talked for hours at night, she told me how she bought wine in a store with her clumsy Polish, told me about her cats, and I told her about mine. She taught me how to detect a wiretap and stay safe, what to do in case of a police search, where to hide the phone and whether to smash the laptop. I sat on a windowsill in a room with stripped-down walls for four hours in a row, just talking to Oksana. And she urged me to move to Warsaw as soon as possible. We were going to drink all the wine we could find, and then find some more and drink it too. And talk without an earpiece in our ears. She was smart, fearless, stubborn, she was the best. I'm not saying goodbye.

Dada Lyndell, The Insider

Lately, in addition to work-related matters, Oksana was advising me on the life in Warsaw, where I considered moving. A couple of weeks ago, I asked her if there were any decent Russian cosmetologists in the city, because I wanted to inject a couple milliliters of hyaluronic acid into my lips. I wondered what was crazier: wanting to finish my augmentation while staying in Moscow, with a war in Ukraine, or continuing to stay in Moscow with the prospect of being subjected to criminal prosecution for journalistic work. She said that she had a saying while working in the mayoral campaign: «war is war, but a manicure should be on schedule,» so it's not shameful or stupid to get lip injections. But staying in Russia with my track record was insane.

The last message she sent arrived a few hours before she died. We were discussing her helping me find a data specialist for my project, and she wrote, «Remind me tonight, please, because I'm a bit under fire.»

After the death of photographer Andrei Stenin in 2014 in the Donbass, a letter surfaced online written by a Ukrainian soldier who had been a prisoner of war in the DNR when the correspondent took his photographs. Written in Ukrainian, it ended with the words: «I think peace will come someday.» I've been rereading this letter for eight years now, almost every day during the recent weeks.

A colleague, The Insider

Oksana's a person who's hardly inconspicuous. She's bright, emotional, loud. And brave. She sometimes good-humoredly recalled with nostalgia her collection of stiletto heels left in a warehouse in Moscow - until better times. Times are different now, and she chose an honest, desperate and very dangerous path. An armored vest instead of high heels from a past life. Looking at her smile, good humor and optimism, it might have seemed like an easy choice, the only one possible for her. What it really was, we will never know. But we will never forget.

Sofia Adamova, The Insider

Oksana knew how to take care of us.

We are always running about, preoccupied with our own affairs, our fight, and Putin, we live in different countries, we rarely meet in person.

One of those editorial gatherings was in Budapest, where we met a few months ago. She impressed me with her ability to get things done – to attack a problem and solve it. Especially if it had to do with helping her friends.

Oksana organized an awesome trip for us, I will never forget it. We sang karaoke, ate, drank a lot and danced. Do you want unusual cocktails and a bar with a view of Budapest? - In a few minutes we were already soaring over the city.

And she was getting an incredible high from our joy. We followed her around like sheep on a string, marveling at everything around us. It was one of the last happy trips of my life. We all became much closer to each other.

Since then, I saw her as a great producer. And I told her so many, many, many times. And I should have repeated it more often. Oksana had a million friends, but she always made time for each of us. When the war started, she was one of the first to write: if you need to talk, I'm here for you.

She had an amazing gift - to give each person the feeling that he or she is the one who matters, here and now. She knew how to be there for everyone, to take care of everyone, and there were so many of us. Oksana was generous to us. I don't think we fully understood what a privilege it was to be inside the beam of her warmth. It's a shame we couldn't take care of her in a way that would have kept her alive now.

We wanted to meet the day she left for Ukraine. We were in the same city, but she was getting ready for war and in her mind, she was already there – she was terribly proud she got her accreditation. We didn't meet.

She planned to visit Lisbon and introduce me to all her friends, she had friends in all corners of the world.

And another thing: Oksana knew how to forgive us.

Please forgive us for our failure to keep you safe.

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