On graduating from Leningrad University, Irina Dementieva worked as a journalist with Russian publications. After the suppression of democracy in the Czech Republic (1968), the staff of the ‘Zhurnalist’ magazine, where she worked as an editor, was dismissed for their pro-democracy stance. Throughout her career as journalist, Irina has unceasingly promoted the ideals of a free press and free access of society to unbiased information. One of the focal points of her activism is humanitarian aid in Chechnya, where she has worked trying to bring home the truth about the war to the Russian people.
Irina Dementieva spent New Year's eve (1995) in the basement of the presidential palace in Grozny. The day before, a group of members of the Russian parliament had arrived in the city accompanied by journalists; Irina was one of them. They were to meet with the Chechen authorities in order to discuss the situation in the Republic. But the Russian assault of the palace began, and the visitors were blocked in the basement of the building. From the windows Irina saw burning tanks and dying soldiers. The Russian troops had been bombing Grozny for almost half a month. There were a lot of innocent civilians dead and wounded. Both the scale of destruction and the number of deaths were the worst that Russia had seen since World War II. It was reported that a hundred Russian tanks and armored vehicles had been burned to ashes. The war was being waged by politicians and generals who pretended they wanted to save Russia: in the same way that they had saved the Communist Bloc in Berlin (1953), Budapest (1956), and Prague (1968); just as they had saved the Soviet regime in Novocherkassk (1961) and Tbilisi (1989); the way they had saved the USSR in Baku (1990), in Vilnius, and Moscow (1991); and the way they had saved democracy in 1993 in Moscow and, before that, for nine long years in Afghanistan. In the course of all these bloody events, Russian troops were responsible for numerous civilian casualties. On the morning of 1 January 1995, while still under fire, Irina managed to escape from the presidential palace. Running across the square, she saw the entire sky behind her obscured by the smoke. The Russian troops were burning down Grozny, a city of 400,000 inhabitants. The next day, at a press conference in Moscow, Irina reported what she had witnessed in Grozny, and published the article ‘New Year in Grozny’ in the ‘Novosti’ newspaper.