In memoriam: Oksana Baulina

March 24, 2022 — Russian journalist Oksana Baulina was killed in Kyiv by a Russian missile strike on March 23, while she was out filming damage to a shopping center. 

She was reporting for the Insider, an independent Russian news organization that has been branded a foreign agent by the Kremlin. Previously, she worked for opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, and she was a producer at Coda Story. 

Oksana, 42, was a producer on Generation Gulag, a documentary series about the lives of Soviet prisoners before they were sent to the Gulag.

Oksana visited Gulag survivor Olga Shirokaya at home to show Olga her episode from Generation Gulag.

I have a memory of Oksana during the making of this project, in a small, quiet moment in St. Petersburg while filming one of the Gulag survivors, Irina Verblovskaya. We were running behind schedule. I remember Oksana taking the time to carefully comb through Irina’s hair before we started rolling. “You should have interviewed me 10 years ago when I was more attractive,” said Irina, 86, chuckling as Oksana gently hovered over her, setting her hair in place and reassuring that she looked beautiful.

Wearing a leopard print skirt and North Korea T-shirt, Oksana looked every bit the fashion magazine editor turned opposition activist and journalist that day. Friends and colleagues who worked closely for many years with Oksana have remembered her incredible superhuman energy. How she was fun, passionate and brave. In that moment with Irina, I also saw how she was gentle and kind, and how much she respected repressed Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians.

It’s incredible that Irina and so many of the Gulag survivors Oksana interviewed have outlived her.

Oksana’s family on both her mother’s and father’s side had a history of political repression. “I knew these stories from my childhood,” she told me when we were producing the Gulag project. “There was never any national reckoning or repentance,” she said of Soviet-era crimes. “That’s exactly why it’s become possible for this unraveling and return to authoritarianism.”

For the Russian-language version of Generation Gulag, Oksana decided on a different series name: “The Repressions Don’t End.” She clearly saw the connection between Russia’s dark past and the present wave of authoritarianism rapidly turning into totalitarianism. She dedicated her life’s work to fighting against political oppression. 

Peter Pomerantsev, a Coda contributing editor, wrote that understanding the Gulag is vital for understanding the people who killed Oksana yesterday. I ask Coda readers to join us in honoring Oksana by watching and sharing her work.

By Katia Patin.