It was near closing time on Friday at the upscale Bosco restaurant that looks out onto the illuminated red-brick walls of Moscow’s Kremlin. Boris Nemtsov and his young, dark-haired girlfriend were finishing dinner.
A political reformer who had fallen foul of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Nemtsov had been preoccupied for weeks with details of an opposition march planned for Sunday.
Dinner at Bosco – dishes include beef with rocket salad and balsamic sauce or duck liver with wild berries – had been interrupted by telephone calls, a waiter told a Russian newspaper. Nemtsov also broke off for an interview with a Ukrainian radio station eager for the details of the rally.
Hopes were high that the demonstration, to condemn Putin’s economic and foreign policies, would rekindle the flames of the street protests that in 2011-12 posed the first public challenge to Putin’s more than decade-long rule.
The pair were among the last to pay their bill in the restaurant with its high airy ceilings and large windows. At around 11 pm Nemtsov, 55, a tall athletic figure with a mop of curly brown greying hair, escorted his girlfriend of some three years, Anna Duritskaya, more than 30 years younger, out onto Red Square.
Opposite them, across the cobbles stood the marble tomb that still bears the body of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, whose communist economic order Nemtsov helped dismantle after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Nemtsov’s apartment was a half hour walk away at a leisurely pace. The couple turned left, passing to their right the candy-coloured onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral. Beyond that, soared the Kremlin’s Spassky Gate topped with glowing crimson five-pointed star, another reminder of the Soviet past.
Further down the slope, they walked onto the Great Moskvoretsky Bridge; but Nemtsov never made it across.
Less than three hours later, policemen were washing his blood from the masonry and onto the banks of the Moscow River. He had been shot four times in the back and head in one of the worst shootings Moscow has seen in years.