Natalia Estemirova, was a close friend and colleague of Anna Politkovskaya, as well as a courageous human rights defender and freelance journalist, who worked in Chechnya for the human rights organization, Memorial.
Natalia was Anna’s most frequent companion during travel and investigations in Chechnya. They investigated a number of cases together – about which Anna wrote for Novaya Gazeta and Natalia wrote for Memorial’s website and for local newspapers.
Originally trained as a historian, after university Natalia taught history in Chechen schools. Then in 1991 she became one of the leaders of a teachers’ strike demanding better pay and better conditions. During the armed conflict between the Russian Republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia in 1992, Natalia helped bring refugees to safety and helped free hostages. During the first war in Chechnya, Natalia collected testimonies from civilians tortured by the Russian forces in unofficial detention facilities, the so-called “filtration camps”.
On 15 July 2009, Natalia was kidnapped in Grozny and found shot dead in neighbouring Ingushetia. To this date, her killers and the ones who ordered her murder, remain unfound. The Chechen Government has faced huge criticism over its perceived failure to properly investigate her death. Natalia was a brave and courageous woman, who despite the threats on her life, continued to tell the truth and expose human rights abuses on both Russian and Chechen sides.
As journalist CJ Chivers of the New York Times once eloquently wrote about Natalia:
“Grozny was a wasteland, physically, morally, psychologically. Ms. Estemirova was almost otherworldly. She inhabited a separate Chechnya, a region where dignity might prevail”.