July 22, 2016 -- the day that journalist Pavel Sheremet came home.
Thousands lined up to see him in his hometown of Minsk, Belarus -- for the last time. Two days earlier, Sheremet was killed in a car bombing in Kiev. The New York Times reported: Another Russian journalist falls. On the surface, his story is not uncommon.
Let's start the story from the beginning.
1994: A young bank worker steps foot into the world of Belarusian state television. He quickly proves his talent in his weekly program Prospekt. In no time, he is President Aleksander Lukashenko's right-hand reporter. Until he isn't.
July 22, 1997 -- the day that Pavel Sheremet crossed the line.
Literally, he crossed the line. Recording himself crossing the border between Belarus and Lithuania, he exposed the government for lying about border security. Lukashenko took it personally. Sheremet was thrown in the KGB jail for "exceeding his professional rights as a journalist," and deprived of his Belarusian citizenship.
That same year, in Kiev: an affair blossoms between two virtually unknown journalists -- Georgiy Gongadze and Olena Prytula. In 2000, they have the idea to create an oppositionist website together called Ukrayinska Pravda (The Ukranian Truth). Gongadze was the editor-in-chief. Prytula was not only his vice editor -- but also his mistress.
A couple of months later, Georgiy Gongadze was found a headless corpse.
The world erupted. The website sky-rocketed in popularity with Prytula left as its lone successor.
The circumstances surrounding his death are now called the Cassette Scandal -- named for a collection of audiotapes released in which top level admin, Volodymyr Lytvyn, discusses a plan to silence Gongadze for his investigative reporting. The Former Interior Minister of Ukraine, Yuriy Kravchenko, bore witness to this. Two days before he could testify against Lytvyn, he was found dead with two gunshots in his head.
What does any of this have to do with the death of Pavel Sheremet? To quote Alexandre Dumas: Cherchez la femme.
Look for the woman.
The last person to ever see Gongadze alive was his partner and lover, Olena Prytula.
Sixteen years later, Pavel Sheremet dies in a car bombing after leaving his partner's house in her car. His partner's name?
It sounds like a bona fide crime noir -- but on that side of the world, it's a reality. This is the story of three journalists -- connected through strange circumstance, but at the end of the day, all victims of an oppressive regime of censorship.
Where do I play into this? Well, it's more than just the fact that I was born in Minsk, myself. When I moved here fourteen years ago with my family, we were escaping the fate that Sheremet and countless before him faced themselves.
In fact, when Sheremet was thrown in the KGB's jail, it was only a year after my own father had been there. And although Sheremet spent most of his career working for Russian television, his office was only down the hall from my father's own at Belarusian state television.
When we moved to Cleveland fourteen years ago, everything my father had ever done was suddenly reset. When he started over, he created a newspaper and named it Prospekt in memory of the talent and vigor of his friend Pavel Sheremet. Just last month, we celebrated its 500th issue.
As for Prytula, it's hard to know what to say. Whether she is a true black widow or a repeated victim of long-lasting tragedy -- even she is not safe. Some speculate that it was she that was meant to disappear a few days ago. Let's not forget that since 2000, an average of more than one investigative journalist a month is killed in Russia and Ukraine. Under intense government pressure, these deaths are left unsolved.
The FBI is currently investigating the assassination. The finale of this mysterious case remains open-ended.
7/23/2016. 6:03 p.m.