Russian investigative journalist dies after falling from balcony

A Russian investigative journalist who confirmed the deaths of Russian mercenaries in Syria has died after falling from his fifth-floor balcony in the city of Yekaterinburg.

Maksim Borodin, 32, was a reporter for the Yekaterinburg’s Novy Den website, gaining national attention for his reports on the Russian private military company Wagner, and local repute for his investigations into prisons and corrupt officials in his native Sverdlovsk region.

He told journalists in 2017 that he had been hit on the head with a metal pipe shortly after giving an interview on the controversial historical romantic drama, Matilda.

“His work was very dangerous,” Vyacheslav Bashkov, a local civil rights activist, told the Guardian by telephone on Monday. “He was one of the best.”

Police have not opened a criminal case into Borodin’s death, indicating they are treating it as a suicide or accident. But the editor-in-chief of Novy Den said its journalists would need access to Borodin’s apartment to assess if there had been foul play.

Polina Rumyantseva told the Guardian reporters from the paper had been in the apartment and did not see any signs of a struggle. It appeared to investigators, she said, that Borodin had gone on the balcony to smoke and had fallen.

“If there’s even a hint of something criminal, we will make it public,” Rumyantseva told Radio Svoboda.

Borodin’s death on Sunday has raised questions in Russia, where 38 journalists have been murdered since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most of those cases remain unsolved.

“[The] death of journalist Maxim Borodin in #Russia is of serious concern. I call on the authorities for a swift and thorough investigation,” Harlem Désir, the representative on freedom of the media for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, posted on Twitter. His office said it would be releasing a statement on the case on Monday.

Bashkov, who said he’d worked with Borodin for more than a decade, said Borodin had called him two nights before his death at 5am saying there were men in camouflage and masks outside his building.

After trying to find a lawyer, Bashkov said Borodin called him back to say that the men had left and he must have been mistaken.