World

Anna Duritskaya, witness to Boris Nemtsov's murder, gets death threats

Authorities in Ukraine say the sole witness in the killing in Moscow of prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov has received death threats since returning to her family home in Ukraine.​

New details on Nemtsov's report on Russian involvement in Ukraine fighting emerge

Boris Nemtsov was walking with a female companion along a Moscow bridge when he was shot four times in the back on Feb. 27. (Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press)

Authorities in Ukraine say the sole witness in the killing in Moscow of prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov has received death threats since returning to her family home in Ukraine.​

The General Prosecutor's office in Kyiv said in a statement Friday that Anna Duritskaya, the 23-year old model who was walking with Nemtsov at the time of his killing, is being provided with protection. The statement offered no information on who might have issued the threats.

Duritskaya was detained by Russian police for several days of questioning before she was permitted to leave the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the slaying of his top critic a "disgrace" to Russia, although scant progress has been made in the investigation into the shooting last week in Moscow.

In an exclusive published Friday, Reuters reported that the day before Nemtsov was slain in the street, he and his close aide Olga Shorina were discussing a sensitive investigation he was preparing into Moscow's backing for separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.

Fearing their office was bugged by state intelligence, Nemtsov resorted to scribbling.

In this 2012 photo, Duritskaya poses for a photo for a modelling portfolio in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Daria Buznikova/Associated Press)
"Some paratroopers from Ivanovo have got in touch with me. 17 killed, they didn't give them their money, but for now they are frightened to talk," said the note, shown to Reuters by Shorina.

"He did not want to say anything, just in case. He did not want to utter it out loud, which is why he wrote it down for me," she said.

It was not possible to independently confirm the authenticity of the handwritten note.

Planned to print 1M copies of damning report

Since last summer, reports have been circulating inside the country that many serving Russian troops have died in combat in eastern Ukraine, where the separatist war has killed more than 6,000 people.

Despite what Ukraine and its Western allies say is overwhelming evidence, Moscow adamantly denies sending arms or troops to the region, saying any Russians fighting in Ukraine are volunteers.

That is why Nemtsov's last report was so sensitive — perhaps sensitive enough, according to some of his friends, to provide at least part of the motive for killing him, though they say they doubt it was the main reason.

Nemtsov was part of a liberal opposition which is supported only by a minority of Russians. He was almost never given air-time on state-run television and radio.

The publication of his report was therefore not likely to resonate with the wider public, which polls show backs Putin's policy on Ukraine. But Shorina said he had been planning to publish one million copies, to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Contact with paratroopers

Shorina and other Nemtsov associates said most of the material he had gathered on Ukraine was from open sources, and that he had not been intending to reveal any explosive new information.

However, she said in the course of research he had been contacted by relatives of a group of Russian soldiers who, according to Nemtsov, had been in action in eastern Ukraine. He was trying to persuade them to make their accounts public.

These were the servicemen who according to Nemtsov's note were based in Ivanovo, a city about 300 kilometres northeast of Moscow which is home to units of the Russian military's 98th paratroop division.

"He was maintaining contact with them," Shorina said. "How he was maintaining contact with them, I don't know, he did not put me in touch with anyone."

With files from Reuters

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