Living Without Fear: Elena Kostyuchenko in Profile


Article / I profile Elena Kostyuchenko, an investigative journalist at the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.



At the height of the Kremlin’s vehement denials about the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, Elena Kostyuchenko, a journalist for Russia’s independent investigative newspaper Novaya Gazeta, interviewed a badly injured Russian conscript from the burn unit in Donetsk’s Central Regional Hospital. It was March 2015, and the soldier, a 20-year-old tank operator from the Russian fifth tank brigade in Ulan-Ude, told Kostyuchenko that he had been enlisted by the Russian army to take part in a secret tank battalion in Ukraine the previous fall. A few months later, he caught fire during a tank battle against Ukrainian forces.


The interview, which proved Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine, was an international sensation. The Russian government made no response to the story, but Kostyuchenko’s editor worried for her safety. He ordered her to leave the country until the story blew over. Kostyuchenko went to Spain, but she didn’t enjoy it.


“I found that there’s a huge difference between emergency leave and vacation,” she told Miriam Elder, BuzzFeed News’s foreign and national security editor, who interviewed her for a Harriman Institute event. “I supposed that I would rest, eat some paella, walk along the seashore, but it wasn’t like that,” Kostyuchenko said. Instead, she spent her days writing emails to her boss, pleading with him to come back.


Kostyuchenko, the Harriman Institute’s 2018 Paul Klebnikov Russian Civil Society Fellow, is 30-years-old. She has been working for Novaya Gazeta since 2005. When she started there as a 16-year old intern she was the youngest journalist ever to join the newspaper. She has since earned a reputation as one of the paper’s boldest reporters, covering topics ranging from government corruption to real estate crimes; the 2011 massacre in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan; drug addiction; the invasion of Crimea; and the government-sponsored abductions of gay people in Chechnya.


Read the profile in the Fall 2018 issue of Harriman Magazine.