Oksana Baulina could have shut up and enjoyed the “good life”. She was the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine in Moscow.
She wore gold Ugg boots and drank champagne at catwalk parties. She rubbed shoulders with the wives and girlfriends of the Kremlin’s favorite oligarchs.
It was a far cry from his upbringing in a dark, industrial city in Siberia. Who could blame her if she had turned a blind eye to the politics of kleptocracy? She had everything, it seemed.
And then she gave it all up. This week, Oksana, 42, died for her principles: a dissident in exile, on a seedy sidewalk next to an access road to a car park at the back of kyiv’s devastated Retroville shopping mall.
She was killed by a 120mm mortar round, fired by her compatriots as she reported across the front line of Vladimir Putin’s sordid war. One of his fellow civilians also died. A policeman escorting him was seriously injured.
Yesterday the Daily Mail laid lilies where Oksana – our utterly admirable colleague and the personification of the importance of journalism – made the ultimate sacrifice. She is one of at least seven journalists known to have been killed in the month-long war.
Oksana Baulina, a Russian journalist, pictured, was killed by a 120mm mortar round, fired by her compatriots as she reported from across the front line of Vladimir Putin’s sordid war. One of his fellow civilians also died. A policeman escorting him was seriously injured.
Through the words of friends and former colleagues, we also piece together a remarkable life that ended with the regime she chose to oppose.
She had given up her former existence to work for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny who this week was jailed for nine years on trumped-up charges in a Russian court.
In 2019, she launched her YouTube channel – Navalny Live – for which she continued to work until February 2020. The following year she went into exile for her own safety and eventually settled in Kyiv. She had begun her rise to the top in the Moscow edition of the British magazine Time Out. When she was killed, she was working as an editorial assistant at the independent Russian website The Insider.
Sofia, a close friend of the heartbroken reporter, spoke to me yesterday. “Oksana was a bright, brilliant, beautiful and amazing person – emotional, courageous and totally uncompromising,” Sofia said.
“She had a strong sense of justice: that’s why she couldn’t stay away when someone she loved was in trouble. She was the only journalist I know who took a brave step and changed her career from the entertainment industry to the opposite – fighting the regime.
Yesterday the Daily Mail laid lilies where Oksana – our utterly admirable colleague and the personification of the importance of journalism – made the ultimate sacrifice. She is one of seven journalists known to have been killed in the month-long war (photo by Daily Mail writer Richard Pendlebury)
“She gave up a high salary and a life of luxury – in order to serve her ideals. She had to leave Russia in 2021 for security reasons, but she missed Moscow and dreamed of coming back to liberate Russia.
“She sometimes jokingly recalled her collection of Louboutins (designer shoes) which sits in a warehouse in Moscow – until better times.”
Sofia said Oksana’s task in Ukraine was to record interviews with Russian soldiers imprisoned in Lviv. She completed her task and we thought it was time for her to come home. But she also wanted to record more material – and that’s when she decided to go to kyiv. She was unstoppable – she wanted everyone to see the truth about the war. I wish we had never agreed to let her go, but I don’t think that would have worked out anyway.
Lawyer Olga Shakina recalled: “I met Oksana literally under the splashes of champagne. She had a wonderful, sparkling career in Moscow – big jobs in glossy magazines, parties, press tours in five-star hotels on tropical islands.
But then the Russian occupation of Crimea took place. Oksana refused to toe the line.
“As the others mumbled ‘the brilliance is out of politics’ and continued to spin in a whirlwind of magical parties and wondrous journeys, (Oksana walked away).”
Ksenia Krushinskaya, editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, has worked with Oskana on InStyle and Glamor publications. “Many write of the turning point in his career – of leaving the brilliance to politics and independent media – as something unexpected, out of the ordinary…that ‘something went wrong’.
She added: “But, in my opinion, for Oksana personally, when she left fashion and beauty to try to change the situation in the country, everything went well.”
Her ex-husband Kirill Kutalov said: ‘We last saw each other when she left. Now it turns out – forever.
“She wrote to me a few days ago, ‘I’m going to Ukraine.’ Lo and behold, I sent her a chat request, but she didn’t respond.
Oksana Baulina (pictured) was killed by Russian shelling while covering the destruction in kyiv due to Putin’s war
Jamie and I revisited Retroville today. What had been Ukraine’s newest, biggest and shiniest shopping center until it was destroyed by a Russian ballistic missile that killed eight people earlier this week is still a place of devastation and terror.
There is still the apocalyptic rumble of outgoing grad rockets and a huge column of smoke towers over the northwest horizon – the perpetual fire at Hostomel Airport.
This is the artillery front line. Maybe why the Russians hit him so hard. They claim that rockets were hidden inside the mall.
The Ukrainian soldiers let us pass the security perimeter to lay our flowers. One of them uses footage from his iPhone to lead us to where Oksana – who was covering the rescue operation the next day – was killed. The evidence is clear. On the sidewalk is a small pool clotted with his blood. Next to it is a bottle of water and another containing an antiseptic.
Nearby, a panel was ripped apart by shrapnel. The sign reads ‘See you later!’ and is a message to drivers leaving the Retroville parking lot rather than an existential warning.
“That’s where she died, on the road,” said the soldier. “That’s where his companion died,” he adds, pointing to an area of grass next to the sign, which is battered by tank tracks.
Beyond us, Sport Life, once Ukraine’s largest fitness club, is now an accordion heap.
Oksana’s body is on its way to Warsaw. One day he will reach his hometown of Moscow. His life is over. But his spirit lives on.