Oksana Baulina, fashion editor turned Kremlin scourge, killed in kyiv

Covering the war in Ukraine for Meduza, the Russian news site now banned by the Kremlin, I’ve been online virtually non-stop for over a month. In the few hours of sleep I manage to get, I dream of war or my sudden new life in exile after fleeing Russia to Latvia on foot just before a new law came into effect criminalizing my journalist work. I immersed myself in stories of individual tragedies and mass atrocities. I agreed not to speak to my family members in Russia anytime soon, thanks to their indoctrination by the vile and grotesque war propaganda spewed out of Russian televisions morning, noon and night.

So I thought I would be desensitized to bad news by now. But on Wednesday, a month after the start of the war, I received a message on Telegram from a strange number. “I’m a journalist from Kyiv,” the message read, asking if I knew of any ways to contact Russian journalist Oksana Baulina’s family. There are a few very specific reasons why someone would ask a stranger this, and my heart sank. Still, I called the number and shyly asked, “Why, what happened to Oksana?” She was dead, said my Ukrainian journalist colleague, killed by a Russian strike in kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, a few hours earlier.

I’m no stranger to tragedy and have buried good friends, but the news of Baulina’s death devastated me. Russia is losing one of its most passionate voices against injustice, a journalist and activist with a clear vision of the evil who was behind Russia’s vicious and unprovoked attack on Ukraine. “I love my country so much but I hate the state,” she quoted a famous Russian rock anthem in a February 10 Facebook post, shortly before the war began. Although she spent the last years of her life in exile, she continued to be part of Russia’s dwindling group of independent journalists unafraid of incurring the Kremlin’s wrath.

Covering the war in Ukraine for Meduza, the Russian news site now banned by the Kremlin, I’ve been online virtually non-stop for over a month. In the few hours of sleep I manage to get, I dream of war or my sudden new life in exile after fleeing Russia to Latvia on foot just before a new law came into effect criminalizing my journalist work. I immersed myself in stories of individual tragedies and mass atrocities. I agreed not to speak to my family members in Russia anytime soon, thanks to their indoctrination by the vile and grotesque war propaganda spewed out of Russian televisions morning, noon and night.

So I thought I would be desensitized to bad news by now. But on Wednesday, a month after the start of the war, I received a message on Telegram from a strange number. “I’m a journalist from Kyiv,” the message read, asking if I knew of any ways to contact Russian journalist Oksana Baulina’s family. There are a few very specific reasons why someone would ask a stranger this, and my heart sank. Still, I called the number and shyly asked, “Why, what happened to Oksana?” She was dead, said my Ukrainian journalist colleague, killed by a Russian strike in kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, a few hours earlier.

I’m no stranger to tragedy and have buried good friends, but the news of Baulina’s death devastated me. Russia is losing one of its most passionate voices against injustice, a journalist and activist with a clear vision of the evil who was behind Russia’s vicious and unprovoked attack on Ukraine. “I love my country so much but I hate the state,” she quoted a famous Russian rock anthem in a February 10 Facebook post, shortly before the war began. Although she spent the last years of her life in exile, she continued to be part of Russia’s dwindling group of independent journalists unafraid of incurring the Kremlin’s wrath.

A red-haired whirlwind of infinite energy, always impeccably manicured, styled and accessorized, she was always the one who started the dance parties in the offices of Time Out Moscow, where we met in 2006, long before she started covering Russian politics and became a scourge of the Kremlin. At the time, Baulina was in charge of the fashion office while I ran syndications with other Free time franchisees around the world.

Reading Baulina’s April 2008 review of the hottest pleated skirts of the season is a flash from many lifetimes ago. She made many U-turns between her career as a high profile fashion editor and her death on the battlefield of kyiv as a war reporter. But her ethical core – speaking out and opposing injustice and evil wherever she saw it – remained unchanged throughout her life.

As a feature editor at InStyle Russia and Charm, she insisted on covering tough topics — like cancer or domestic violence — that other glossy magazines avoided for fear of losing the lucrative advertising of luxury brands. Laser-focused on any task at hand and never missing a deadline, Baulina was a rule follower and kept her word. Gennady Ustiyan, Time Out MoscowThe former editor of, recalls in a Facebook post how he and Baulina went to Bucharest, Romania, for a city break. Baulina insisted on waiting at a red light to cross a deserted street in the middle of the night. Ustiyan quotes her: “If I don’t follow the rules, how can I demand the same from others? His sense of what is right was his common thread. She went further than most of us in her absolute rejection of moral compromises with the Russian government, which she considered her sworn enemy.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin began his third term amid nationwide protests over a rigged election in 2011, Baulina began to feel increasingly restless in the world of lifestyle magazines. “How can I see lace panties and lipstick again when my election was stolen?” she asked a friend, the lawyer Tatiana Solomina, as she recalls in an obituary.

In 2014, Baulina resigned from her position as editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Conde Nast Traveler when the magazine, against his protest, decided to publish an article on the Crimean peninsula shortly after its illegal annexation to Ukraine. Now Baulina has fully immersed herself in political activism: her true passion and where she directed all her superhuman energy and dedication. She went to every protest and joined – or started herself – any campaign she deemed worthy. In 2016, she joined opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, where she produced the organization’s YouTube shows. When she invited me to appear on the show, she not only harassed me until I agreed to come to the studio at the exact and specified time, but also made me choose a color background on a Pantone wheel and send him pictures of all my shirts. so she can pair one with the background, all to meet her precise quality standards. In March 2017, while she was coordinating live broadcasts of anti-corruption protests in Moscow and other Russian cities, police stormed the studio to arrest her. She spent seven days in a detention center for “resisting an officer’s order”.

In 2018, I asked Baulina to join Coda Story, an international crisis reporting platform based in Tbilisi, where I edited the Russian-language edition of the project. Her dedication and compassion shone through again when she produced a docuseries we called Generation Gulag, a collection of personal testimonies from survivors of the Soviet system of industrialized cruelty. In a behind-the-scenes video made by our colleague at the time, Katia Patin, Baulina is seen preparing for an interview with Irina Verblovskaya, the widow of a Soviet dissident who refused to testify against her husband and was sent to a Siberian labor camp. Baulina brush gently Verblovskaya’s hair. She wanted the 86-year-old to not only look perfect on camera, but to feel beautiful.

We broke up again in March 2019 when I joined Meduza but kept in touch regularly. In August 2020, a few months before the arrest of Navalny and his foundation declared “extremist” by the Russian authorities, Baulina emigrated to Poland, foreshadowing the mass exodus of independent journalists and Russian opposition activists since the beginning of Putin’s war, including my own escape. . At first lonely and nostalgic, she quickly found an outlet for her passion by joining Belsat, a Russian-language news channel based in Warsaw, then The Insider, a Russian investigative news site allied with Bellingcat and focused on exposing corruption and other misdeeds among Russia’s ruling elite. She was on assignment in Ukraine for the Insider when she died.

Our last conversations on Telegram have been short, rushed exchanges about the logistics of covering what the Russian government has made it illegal to call a war. One concerned the purchase of an additional body armor for one of his colleagues in Kyiv; another was about where she might crash in Kyiv. Two days after our last conversation, she was killed by shrapnel in the head near a shopping center in kyiv, where she was filming the devastation caused by a previous Russian bombardment. We still don’t know exactly what killed her. According to official Ukrainian data, it was a stray mortar shell fired at kyiv from a location near Hostomel, the disputed suburb northwest of the Ukrainian capital. A civilian bystander and a local policeman were also killed in the strike.

It didn’t even occur to me to ask Baulina if it was a good idea for a journalist like her – with no experience of conflict – to go straight to a war zone. But for Baulina, that was not even a problem: she had to be there on the ground and bear witness to the consequences of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine and its civilians – an indescribable evil committed by her own country, of which she saw the roots early on and spent the last decade of his life actively opposing. His latest story for The Insider is a short dispatch from the front lines. But his colleague Timur Olevsky told me there was still a wealth of material to be collected and published posthumously, including his interviews with captured Russian soldiers. She insisted that the Ukrainian guards untie the prisoners and gave them her phone to call home.

Baulina died at age 42. She is survived by her mother and her sister in Russia.

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