How Russian journalists played Russian roulette in Syria


October 27, 2015

Vladimir Snegirev (Facebook)
International Analyst at “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” and “Vechernaya Moskva” correspondent

Translated by Kristina Rus

Today suddenly received a blast from the past. Sasha Kotz, the war correspondent of “Komsomolskaya Pravda” sent a photo, writing “Remember”?

I looked at it. And remembered.

It was in the spring of 2012. I convinced Kotz and Steshin to go from Damascus to Homs, where fighting had been the heaviest. The press was not allowed there in any shape or form. But I was itching to go. I suggested the easiest, but tried and tested option. Forget about the military. Don’t take a cab. Forget about local guides. But simply early in the morning come to a bus station, buy tickets for the shuttle bus and go like the locals. An adventurous option, of course, but trusted. Spies, journalists and terrorists don’t move on regular buses through military territory.

And so we did it. First I called a local in Homs who knows Russian, he promised to meet us where the bus drops off passengers. Well, and to fill us in on the situation.

Off we went. Along the way there was only one adventure, when a military patrol suddenly stopped our bus and subjected to a search, but then we were lucky. I can’t remember now, what miracle had happened. But after that the luck ran out. The driver for some unknown reason dropped us off not where a Syrian was waiting for us, but in another place – exactly the most dangerous. On the territory controlled by the militants. Dropped us off, hit the gas and took off. And so we are standing there.

Very close we hear the roar: tanks, machine guns. The smoke is spreading. And – not a soul. Only pick-up trucks with machine guns pass by. And who is in these trucks – go figure. There is no cell service. Help is nowhere to come from. And you can not walk out on the highway to hitchhike. We climbed a slope, settled under a canopy of trees, waiting. 

Honestly, it was surreal. It was like a Russian roulette: luck – no luck. I don’t know what my young colleagues thought about me then, what words came to their mind. Probably not very decent. But they did not show it, playing it tough. What else was there to do.

We were in limbo for probably an hour. And then suddenly a car stops near us, all riddled with bullet holes in the doors, and windshield. Out pops up a man in civilian clothes but with a weapon:

-Who are you?

-Russian journalists, – I answer, well knowing that the roulette wheel continues to spin. After all, if this specimen is from the opposition, he will shoot you on the spot. Or capture.

We see that he is startled.

-Russians? And how did you get here?

Turned out he was from the state security service. Quickly loaded us into the car and with some small adventures brought to his office. It was in the city center, right next to the main battles. Which is what we were looking for.

While we were interrogated, checking documents, making calls, we were able to learn at least something about the situation in Homs. That is, it was worth the risk.

It all ended when at night we were deported under escort back to Damascus. Brought us straight to the Information Ministry, where they handed us to the officials strongly advising us not to leave the city anymore.

And today Sasha Kotz sent a picture from Homs: the same place where we had landed. Sasha says that now it is calm there, and the shooting is somewhere in the North. 

No, we have a good job. Exciting. Never boring, for sure.

Dmitry Steshin
Alexander Kotz

Vladimir Snegirev

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