Valentina Cherevatenko: "What I didn't get to say" - Letter to Anna Politkovskaya [RAW in WAR]

posted 27 Mar 2017, 03:49 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 27 Mar 2017, 03:58 ]
11 March 2017

Source: RAW in WAR

By Valentina Cherevatenko

Valentina Cherevatenko, head of the Women of the Don NGO based in Novocherkassk, Russia, is laureate of the 2016 Anna Politkovskaya Award. Announced on 7 October 2016, the award was presented at a ceremony in London on 11 March 2017 

Dear Anna,

It turned out that, while we were working in the same region, we happened to meet more than once at various events, airports, cities, and villages of the North Caucasus. Our paths converged and diverged, and each time we told each other that we had to get together and talk—not on the run—but we never did get to do that. In one of my old notebooks I still have your Moscow address and phone number, written in your hand.

We didn’t get to meet, and I didn’t get to say . . .

And now I won’t because my words at the time would have been addressed to you. But today I want to talk to another Anna, the one who went through years of suffering, struggle, and fear—but survived. You survived—if only in the memory of your family, friends, colleagues, and many, many people because the future depends on this belief: each time the death of a like-minded person, someone with whom you pursue one common cause—the cause of your life and of their life—carries away faith in the future, on the one hand; but on the other hand, it unties the hands of those for whom power and wealth are above everything, above peace, friendship, and love, no matter how it paints itself.

Do you remember, Anna, when we were working in the Caucasus (in Chechnya), we thought there couldn’t be anything more terrifying?

I’ll never forget the first Women of the Don peacekeeping mission. We arrived—six women and two men—a group of people who believed that a great deal (or at least something) depended on them. We were naïve to believe . . . We were representatives of a generation that knew war from books and films, from the stories of our grandfathers and grandmothers. There, in that past war, there were enemies who had come to our land. Whereas here, in Chechnya, in Grozny, we saw another war, where the same people were on both sides of the trenches. And it was not the people who had unleashed this war—on the one common land where Russians and Chechens had lived peacefully for so long.

We saw a genuine tragedy, burned apartments, demolished houses, streets . . . and graves, graves in the middle of courtyards. We got to know people, the simplest people, people of different nationalities who had become hostages of the tragedy.

People, people are the main thing, those for whose sake both you, Anna, and we constantly returned: from peace—to war.

I remember after a prisoner exchange I barely reached the place where we were staying that night. And other members of our team were there. They were listening to a woman telling them about a New Year’s eve. The night before 1995 began, when they bombed Grozny, bombed it without distinction for people’s nationality. Everyone. Everyone . . .

You know, Anna, at the time, mothers in every apartment were hiding their children. They crawled over the floor trying to find a place where there would be fewer fragments and less gunfire, where they could maintain hope and survive. I remember a little girl who hid with her mama and spoke words that burned my soul and that I will remember forever. “Don’t worry, Mama, don’t worry, I’m not afraid to die. . . .”

I know where you would be today, Anna—in Ukraine. You couldn’t have stayed in your Moscow apartment knowing that so nearby—an hour or hour-and-a-half flight—mothers were once again hiding their children, old men and young men who definitely had not been dreaming of taking up arms were dying again. And once again your words would be heard (to stick in the throat of those who had unleashed this fratricidal war!), and once again we would have met in airports—on the run. And we probably would have found time to talk anyway. And I would definitely have told you what we, the Women of the Don, are doing so that peace can come to Ukraine. And the meeting with you, Anna, would have raised our spirits and strengthened our conviction that our cause is very important. A cause to which you gave your life—to the last drop.

I bow low to you, Anna! The award in your name that was conferred on me is a tremendous honor. But that is not the end result; and I absolutely must say this to you. It is support on the path along which we still have a long, long way to go. We can’t stop, relax, or rest. Because once again they are shooting, killing, humiliating, and torturing people. This is war, and this is unnatural for humanity.

I also want to tell you what I didn’t get to say: no matter what happens, we will not leave this path.

I always feel you by my side, Anna!

Translated by Marian Schwartz