In memory of Pavel Sheremet A look back at one of the most famous journalists in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, murdered in Kiev earlier today
On the morning of July 20, the journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed when a bomb exploded in his car in downtown Kiev. Sheremet became famous in the 1990s as a correspondent for the Minsk bureau of the TV news station ORT (which later became Channel One, Russia's biggest television network today). By the end of the decade, Sheremet was the host of the show “Vremya,” the biggest news program in Belarus. Beginning in 2000, he started making documentary films, and in 2008 he left Channel One, saying he could no longer take the censorship. For the past five years, Sheremet lived in Ukraine, working for the newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda, and he was also activate on his website Belarusian Partisan. In a special report, Meduza correspondent Katerina Gordeeva remembers Pavel Sheremet.
The main thing about Pasha was his broad smile. And his belly laughs. Sheremet could laugh so hard, so contagiously and carefree, in a way it seems is possible only for children and those rare adults with a clear conscience.
“How ya doing, Pash?” we all asked Sheremet just after he left Channel One in 2008. “Like a downed pilot, but I'm absolutely happy,” he said smiling. “I don't have to watch my mouth anymore out of fear of losing my paychecks.”
Pavel Sheremet's biography is undoubtedly the story of a whole generation of Russian journalists who lost their jobs because of their convictions and circumstances outside their control. Unlike many others, after every painful layoff, Pasha was able to reinvent himself and get involved in new projects with redoubled energy. He managed to do his job like only a person infinitely committed to their profession can.
And Pavel Sheremet taught his profession to young people throughout Russia, and he persuaded former colleagues and rivals to teach, too, overcoming any skepticism with his own unshakable conviction that some day all these journalistic skills will be needed and in demand: in Russia and in Kazakhstan, in Belarus and in Ukraine.
Following him at the podium was no easy task. Pavel Sheremet the Lecturer was twice as large, loud, and convincing as Pavel Sheremet the Journalist. It seemed like students could listen for hours to him alone. He'd often finish his lectures by telling the audience that “a real journalist is the kind who gets under everyone's skin and is liked by no one.” When he said it, he always seemed to be talking about himself.
Nobody in journalism—no one anywhere, for that matter—was indifferent about Sheremet. Some people worshipped him; some people hated him; some thought everything Sheremet did was for his own self-interest; and others understood that he was sincere even in his worst mistakes.
Sheremet came to journalism from the world of economics. (His university work was focused on offshore companies, and his first job after school was at the foreign-exchange department of a bank.) Before switching careers, he spent some time working as a financial consultant for Belarusian journalists. Then he got involved in journalism himself, as the chief editor of a newspaper and then as a special correspondent for the television network ORT. His explosive report about the virtual absence of a guarded border between Belarus and Lithuania cost him his freedom (three months in prison) and deportation from Belarus.
But neither of these things broke Sheremet. He'd talk about his time in prison calmly and without any anguish; he loved and pitied the homeland he was forced to leave. Until his final day, Sheremet (who lost his Belarusian citizenship in 2010, but who for formal reasons also had Russian citizenship) wrote about the goings on in Belarus on his website Belarusian Partisan. He even liked to call people on the phone this way, saying, “Hello, this is Belarusian partisan Pavko Sheremet. I've got a question.” It always seemed like this man had so much energy and such big plans that he could manage anything.
Whatever he was working on, people wanted to take part. Because, whether he was a famous journalist at the country's biggest TV network or an unemployed journalist freelancing to keep food on his plate, Pavel Sheremet was the same person. He talked to you the same way, and he had the same broad smile and ineradicable belief that good will overcome evil, in the final showdown.
Twice denied the chance to work in his profession—both in Belarus and in Russia—Pasha often used to say that he felt good, free, and safe in Kiev, where he first came to work on just a fly-in fly-out assignment. Later he moved there permanently and even learned to speak Ukrainian.
“The country [Ukraine] has changed and will continue to change,” he wrote in one of his last posts on Facebook. It seemed that Sheremet had become captivated yet again and had set off in full sail for a bright, new future, believing in the young Ukrainian political party “Democratic Alliance,” working for a Ukrainian newspaper and in local radio and television, and even opening another school of journalism.
The last time Pasha appeared in public in Russia was when he attended the funeral of his friend, the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. Sheremet led the memorial service. That same day, the television station Dozhd aired the last thing Sheremet would make for TV in Russia: a documentary film dedicated to Nemtsov's 50th birthday. There was nothing surprising about the fact that these two men were friends; they were, after all, very much alike.
After Nemtsov's murder, Pasha often said that the final thread connecting him to Russia and Moscow had snapped. He even said that he wouldn't come back, though he ended up returning, anyway. He explained, “I can't accustom myself to the idea that I don't care.”
Pavel Sheremet loved his friends, he loved vodka, and he told wonderfully obscene jokes. And he believed quite childishly that the world can be changed for the better, if only you speak the truth.
This text was translated from Russian by Kevin Rothrock.