On Thursday 6th October 2016, RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR) celebrated Valentina Cherevatenko, a courageous Russian human rights and peace activist.
Ahead of the 10th anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder on Friday 7th October 2016, RAW in WAR honoured Valentina Cherevatenko, a brave Russian human rights activist dedicated to supporting civilians whose lives continue to be affected by violence in the North Caucasus, Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine. Through her organisation, “Women of the Don”, Valentina works with those, who suffer the psychological damage induced by conflict and violence in the region, despite the risk to herself and her organization.
Valentina is currently facing criminal charges for failing to register her organisation as a “foreign agent” and she is accused of knowingly receiving foreign funding. It is the first time that criminal charges have been brought under the law on “foreign agents” against an NGO in Russia and there is a serious concern from human rights groups that these charges are simply to silence Valentina for the peace building and reconciliation work she does on behalf of the survivors of armed conflict. If convicted, Valentina is facing up to two-year imprisonment. On accepting the Special Anna Politkovskaya Award, Valentina Cherevatenko said:
“Everything to do with Anna Politkovskaya, her name and her work, is terribly important for me. Being awarded the Anna Politkovskaya prize is a great honour, too. It puts many years of my peace building work and “Women of the Don”’s work, as a whole, on the par with what Anna did, what she fought for and what she died for. There is nothing more important than preserving peace. It doesn’t really matter where on the planet, in what country, be it Chechnya, Syria or Ukraine, bombs go off and old men, women and children die. Young people die, the country’s future, called to arms by unscrupulous politicians. Where the ruling elite cannot find an agreement, ordinary people can and should get involved. They need to look into each other’s eyes and agree to resolve all problems, all differences without wars or violence. They have to be taught this. This task falls to people engaged in peace building and to human rights activists. We must never stop. We must believe in ourselves, in the future, in getting results. I often tell a parable to future peace activists. It goes like this: Paul, the Apostle, is walking along a road, a long and dusty road, and all of a sudden he sees a little bird on the ground, right in front of him. “What are you doing here, all alone, on this dusty road?” – asks Paul.. “I am holding up the sky, can’t you see?” – answers the bird. “You, so tiny, holding up the sky that is so big, how can you possibly manage this?” “I am doing what I can!” – replies the bird. So my team and I, we too, are doing what we can in order not to allow the light of peace carried by Anna, to go out.”
The RAW in WAR Nominations Committee admires Valentina Cherevatenko for her tireless work and determination to build bridges for peace and reconciliation between people and communities in war-torn North Caucasus, Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine – despite the danger she is facing.
On both Valentina Cherevatenko and Jineth Bedoya Lima receiving the 2016 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Baron Judd of Portsea, a member of the 2016 Award Nominations Committee, said:
“Anna must never be forgotten. She was a beacon of integrity and of total commitment to truth whatever the consequences for her. Her courage was all the greater because I am certain she knew very well what was likely to happen to her. Valentina and Jineth follow in that tradition. They are both fine and challenging examples to us all. Like many others, they deserve our full and unswerving loyalty and support. Freedom and democracy can only be as good as the information and analysis which is provided by the media. Today’s generation of journalists and human rights defenders need constantly to measure themselves against the lives and standards of Anna, Valentina, Jineth and their like.”
The awards will be presented to the Valentina and Jineth in March 2017 in London at RAW in WAR’s ‘Refusing to be Silenced’ event, part of the 2017 Women of the World (WOW) Festival at the London’s Southbank Centre. RAW in WAR marks the anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder 10 years ago by giving the award in her name annually to a woman, who, like Anna, speaks truth to power.
Letter to Anna
It so happened that while working in the same region of the North Caucasus we often met at different events, bumped into each other in its airports, towns and villages. Our paths crossed and parted and each time we would say that we should get together and talk, properly, not in a rush. But we never got to do that. I still have your Moscow address and telephone number in one of my old notebooks, written by you, in your handwriting.
Whenever I had a chance to have a proper chat and I never got to say this to you…
And now I can’t tell you what I would have said, because my words then would have been addressed to you as you were then. Today I would speak to a different Anna – the one who has lived through years of suffering, struggle, fear – and survived. Survived, if only in the memories of her relatives, friends, colleagues and many, many others because the future depends on their belief/faith/hope. Each time a like-minded person dies, someone who works for the same cause as you do – the cause you both have dedicated your lives to, it takes away your faith in the future, on the one hand, and, on the other, unties the hands of those who value power and money over everything else, over peace, friendship and love, however much they may try to conceal it.
Do you remember, Anna, the time we worked in the Caucasus (Chechnya) and thought that nothing could be more terrifying?
I shall never forget the first peace building mission by my organisation, the Women of the Don. There we were, six women and two men, a small group of people who believed that a lot (well, a little bit, at least) depended on them. We were naive to believe that… We were part of a generation that had learnt about wars from books and films and our grandparents’ stories. In that past war there had been enemies who had occupied our land. Here, in Chechnya, in Grozny, we saw a different war, where people on both sides of the trenches were the same. They were not the people who’d started the war in a land, common to both Russians and Chechens who had shared it peacefully for a long time.
What we encountered was a real tragedy, apartments burnt down, houses destroyed, streets in ruins… and graves, graves right in the middle of courtyards. We met people, ordinary people of different nationalities, who had become hostages to that tragedy.
The people, the people who were the most important thing for you and me, those for whose sake both you, Anna, and I kept coming back, moving between peace and war.
I remember how after one prisoner exchange I had barely managed to get to the house we were staying the night at, all of us together. I found the rest of our team there. They were listening to a woman telling them about her New Year’s Eve: the first night of 1995 when Grozny was bombed, when everyone was bombed, indiscriminately, without any distinction between people of different nationalities …
Of course, you know, Anna, the way mothers in every apartment/house tried to protect their children. Crawling over the floor to find a space with fewer shell splinters, smaller flames, somewhere they hoped they would survive. I remember one girl who was hiding with her mother, utter the words that scorched my soul and have forever imprinted themselves on my mind. “Don’t worry, mummy, don’t worry, I am not afraid of dying…”
I know where you would be today, Anna, you would be in Ukraine. You wouldn’t have stayed in your Moscow flat, knowing that somewhere very close, just an hour and-a-half’s flight away – mothers have to find protection for their children, once again. And old people are dying, and so are young lads, who had dreamed far other dreams than being called to arms. Your words would have rung again (sticking right in the throat of those who’d started this fratricidal war!) and we would have met again in airports, in passing, in a rush. But we would have found time to talk, nevertheless. I would have told you about our work today, the work the Women of the Don are engaged in to bring peace to Ukraine. Meeting you would have lifted our spirits, would have strengthened our belief that what we are doing is very important. The same for which you gave your life- the whole of your life, to the last drop.
I bow deeply to you, Anna. Receiving the award named after you is a great honour for me. It is not an end result, though, and I must tell you this. It is a support, helping me along the path that we need to continue walking, on and on. There is no time to stop, relax, or take a break. Because they are shooting, killing, humiliating and torturing people, AGAIN. It is once again war, and it destroys human kind.
I want to tell you the words I did not get to say to you:: whatever happens, we are not leaving this path. I always feel your presence, Anna, you are right here, by my side.