05/27/2014, 00.00
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Andrei Mironov, an "unusual" Russian who loved his homeland and only drank tea

by Nina Achmatova
The journalist and human rights activist was killed whilst reporting what he called the "less dangerous, but more troubling" conflict of his career, that in the Ukraine. A great authority on Russia and its politics, he helped the world, including AsiaNews, to understand better what was happening in the lands of the former Soviet Union. No one in mainstream Russian media has shed or will shed a tear over his death.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Andrei Mironov, 60, a native of Irkutsk, was a journalist, human rights activist, and a former political prisoner during the Soviet Union. He was killed on Sunday by mortar fire near a checkpoint in the village of Andriivka, near Slaviansk, a town in East Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists that is currently the subject of a military operation by the Ukrainian army.

Mironov died doing his job: helping foreign journalists understand and report from former Soviet lands, and, whenever possible, denounce injustice. He was involved in wars far worse than the one in the Ukraine: Afghanistan, Nagorno Karabakh, Chechnya.

A trained biologist, he was polyglot and human rights activist. For the past few weeks, he worked as the interpreter for an Italian photojournalist, Andrea Rocchelli, 30, who was also killed in Andriivka.

As separatists and the regular army continue to blame each other for their deaths, not a single line can be found about it in Russian media.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry waited three days before it organised the repatriation of Mironov's body and this only under pressure from his relatives and colleagues.

Andrei's only relative in Moscow, his brother, has never been contacted by Russian authorities. In his homeland, there was no public outrage over his death.

Andrei was a friend of AsiaNews and this is how we shall remember him.

Andrei was an unusual Russian. He drank only tea and refused vodka. In winter, he wore only a traditional Afghan headgear of which he was proud, but which made him stand out as some "foreign body". He was aware that he was "different", but that never bothered him.

When, after various anti-government demonstrations, which he never failed to attend in the past three years, the police took him in for the usual questioning, he always said it was because of his hat. "I think they confuse me for a terrorist," he would say with his usual irony.

He read every joke with seriousness and every serious issue with a smile. He knew that he was being targeted for his work denouncing injustices at home and abroad.

His links with the opposition press, like Novaya Gazeta, with foreign media, and with NGOs like Memorial did not please the authorities.

He had worked on human rights since 1991, since his early release from prison after getting a four-year sentence for subversive anti-Soviet propaganda. He learnt Italian in a labour camp in Mordovia.

"Mikhail Gorbachev had me imprisoned (in 1985) and Pope John Paul II had me freed me," he used to say, attributing his release from prison to an apparent intervention by the Polish pontiff on his and other political prisoners' behalf.

He did not believe in religion but he had a strong sense of justice and truth, a boundless humanity, as big as his faith in goodness.

He was also a friend of AsiaNews to which he consistently reported stories and people.

In the summer of 2010, he dragged us to the trial of Yulia Privedennaya, an aspiring young poet, who, according to the Russian authorities, had turned a commune where she helped children and the elderly into an armed rebel group.

He had a passion for the stories of ordinary people; the kind mainstream media did not pay attention to.

He was there first, to raise awareness among foreign journalists, trying in his way, exuberant at times, to make others understand the value of a story, when it was just beginning.

He had realised the 'revolutionary' potential of the anti-corruption and environmentalist battles of people like Alexei Navalny or Evgehnia Chirikova before they ever became leaders of the street opposition to Vladimir Putin, in 2011 and 2012.

His great sense of "compassion" and his subversive purity brought to memory Prince Myshkin, the protagonist of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot.

"He was a lone activist, who in every period of his life had his own personal agenda," wrote Svetlana Gannushkina, who reportedly was a contender for the Nobel Prize for peace, and who knew him.

His model was Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. "The door to his house was always open," Andrei would say; a tear in his eye as he remembered the late scientist turned dissident.

He loved his homeland and its culture. He continued to marvel at the fact that a couple of Italian friends had named their black cat Behemot, like the one in the famous novel by Bulgakov.

He liked to meet people at Bulgakov House, home of the famous writer hated by the USSR, on Bolshaya Sadovaya St, right across from where he lived.

Despite his skills, honed through years of work in the field and with some of the leading foreign correspondents, Andrei refused to put his name to an article.

When asked why, he answered humbly, "If I write it who will read it? It would be better that someone better known sign it so that it goes farther."

Ironically, Andrei, before his death, signed his first article for Novaya Gazeta. Published online on 19 May, five days before he was killed in what he called a "less dangerous, but more troubling" conflict.

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