Two leading Russian journalists have apparently become victims of the events in North Ossetia. Novaya gazeta correspondent Anna Politkovskaya became seriously ill following a flight on the evening of September 1 from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don. From there, she had planned to travel together with Leonid Roshal to Beslan, where hundreds of hostages are being held in school. (During the October 2002 Moscow theater siege, Politkovskaya participated along with Leonid Roshal in negotiations to free the hostages who were being held by Chechen rebels.)
After arriving in Rostov-on-Don, Politkovskaya tried to board a plane to Beslan with Roshal, but she and other journalist were not allowed on board. She then began to feel ill and lost consciousness, after which she was taken to the intensive care unit of Rostov’s Central Clinical Hospital. According to Novaya gazeta chief editor Dmitri Muratov, who traveled to Rostov-on-Don to help his ailing employee, doctors at the hospital had a difficult time reviving Politkovskaya. She was diagnosed as having been poisoned and her condition was described as serious but stable. She felt somewhat better by the evening of September 2 and was able to fly back to Moscow, where she was checked into a hospital. Muratov told Newsru.com that Politkovskaya had told him she had eaten nothing the day before she became ill and had only drunk tea during the flight from Moscow to Rostov. Results of tests taken to determine what substance poisoned her will be ready in three days, Muratov said (Newsru.com, September 2). Novaya gazeta deputy editor Yuri Shchekochikhin died in July 2003 after exhibiting symptoms that a number of observers believe were the result of poisoning (see EDM, July 6).
Meanwhile, another award-winning journalist specializing in Chechnya ran into trouble on September 2 while attempting to cover the hostage crisis in North Ossetia. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Russian Service correspondent Andrei Babitsky was detained while trying to board a flight to the southern Russian city of Mineralnye Vody by police who accused him of carrying explosives. He was released after a search found no explosives, but after returning to the gate to catch his flight he was approached by two young men who tried to pick a fight with him, which resulted in all three being arrested. Babitsky was taken to the airport police station and then to a medical clinic, where he was subjected to blood tests for alcohol intoxication. He was released after his lawyer arrived at the airport, but was ordered to appear before a local magistrate on September 3. A journalist who planned to accompany Babitsky on his flight to Mineralnye Vody, Agence France-Presse correspondent Yana Dlugy, was also stopped on suspicion of carrying explosives and missed the flight as a result. Back in January 2000, Babitsky was abducted by Russian security personnel in Chechnya and held for 40 days after Russian officials complained about his reporting on the war (RFE/RL, September 2).