The Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov who auctioned off his gold medal to raise money for child refugees on Monday, has told UN News that the record-breaking sale of $103.5 million proved that “sometimes humanity can come together, and show solidarity”.
The editor in chief of the independent Russian news service, Novaya Gazeta – which was shuttered by the Kremlin in March following sweeping new restrictions on journalists in the wake of the Ukraine invasion – said that he and his colleagues chose the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF as the best non-governmental organization for the job of ensuring that the funds would reach all Ukrainian children in need.
‘This is what we need’
“UNICEF is absolutely non-toxic”, Mr. Muratov told the Russian service of UN News, in an exclusive interview on Tuesday, following the auction. “They have excellent professionals, they have programmes, they report on how and what they do - this is what we need.
“We wrote them a letter, got a response from them, I have it. It was important for me, that UNICEF noted that the money would go to all countries that border Ukraine, where refugees are located - without exception.”
He said he hoped Ukrainian children who were now in Russia, would also benefit: “There are more than one and a half million refugees in Russia, maybe a little less. Therefore, [we chose] UNICEF, which has such opportunities, and which understands very well that it has not a political, but a humanitarian mission.”
The Russian Nobel Laureate, who was awarded the gold medal in October 2021, along with journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines - for services to free speech and fearless reporting in the face of harassment and death threats – said that never in his “wildest dreams” had he expected the award to fetch such a large sum.
His most optimistic hope was that it might reach $5 million.
Mr. Muratov said that the auctioneers at UNICEF’s request, had done background checks on the various bidders, including the eventual winning bid, to ensure that the source of the money was not an oligarch, or from any illegal criminal operation such as human or drugs traffickers.
“They checked via the banking system, the financial system, and all that I can say 100 percent, which I was also informed of, notified and shown, is that this is absolutely transparent, and transparent money”, he told UN News.
He would not however, reveal the identity of the winning bidder – indicating that he did not know the name, and that anonymity had been guaranteed: “If I knew, I would not disclosed it, because this is a pure conflict of interest: people agreed to the rules that we proposed, and then we would have taken and violated the rules. That doesn't work.”
'It's my country's fault'
Explaining the numerous reasons why his publication could not imagine allowing a Russian bidder to enter the running, or why he thought his paper should not hand the money directly to the Ukrainian Government, he said that would be a non-starter given the state of the war.
If at first [Ukrainians] had anger, now they are furious – their country is being torn apart, from the face of the earth…When you see all this every second, you constantly have an alarm sound, you live between an apartment and a bomb shelter…It's my country's fault.”