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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pavel the Newspaperman: He's Tough, He's 12

It's an unusual fellow who, by sheer force of personality, can bend to his will a politician as experienced as former prime minister Yegor Gaidar. But Pavel Stroilov, 12 years old and a full-time correspondent for the weekly newspaper Ekspress Khronika, is nothing if not unusual.


Clutching his pen between three fingers and his thumb, his over-sized press card dangling like a crooked sandwich board from his red sweater, Pavel scribbled notes and waited attentively for Gaidar to pause for breath. When the moment came, both Pavel and another journalist launched questions simultaneously.


"Yegor Timofeyevich!" both addressed Gaidar at his press conference Monday. Gaidar turned to the older journalist, but Pavel's child's voice continued to ring out confidently.


"Could you please tell me ..." Pavel said, plowing right over his startled older colleague. Gaidar smiled and raised a finger to Pavel, as if to say, "Be with you in a minute." "... what your demands are for Yeltsin and Yavlinsky ..." Gaidar opened his mouth, kept his finger raised, grinned, "... in order to receive the support of your party, Russia's Democratic Choice ..." Still grinning, finger no longer aloft, Gaidar sat helplessly, "... and could you please list those demands exactly?"


Pavel got his answer. With the press conference over, he charged with other journalists to the front of the room for more. Gaidar tried twice to brush him off, then simply turned and left by a back door. For good measure, Pavel tried the door handle. Locked.


In the six months that he has been working for Ekspress Khronika -- a 15,000-circulation weekly devoted to human rights -- Pavel has become a fixture at Moscow press conferences. There he competes against the country's premier journalists; not surprisingly, he has become a controversial figure. Many admire his enthusiasm, his persistence and his surprisingly brave and penetrating questions.


Others aren't so sure. A Russian television crew felt Pavel was blocking its view when he tried to question Gaidar after the formal press conference. The cameraman raced out from behind his tripod, grabbed Pavel by the scruff of the neck and threw him into a nearby chair. Pavel rose angrily, only to be forced back down. Yegor Gaidar period responding to a question from Ekspress Khronika comma open quote what demands did Gaidar have for Yeltsin and Yavlinsky ..."


The scuffle with the TV crew was already behind him. "I try not to get in their way, but work is work," he said philosophically.


Pavel's mother, Natalya Khmelik, 40, is also a correspondent for Ekspress Khronika. "One of my friends helped Pasha make his own small newspaper on a computer, and I understood that he had a talent for it and liked it," she said. "So when he turned 12, I suggested he try it. Of course, he was a bit surprised at first, but then he said, 'We'll see. Let's try it.'"


It seemed a particularly good solution for Pavel, who is clearly intelligent. He did not fit in well at the local elementary school. "He has a lot of energy, and often he used it for, shall we say, 'non-peaceful purposes' when he was bored," Khmelik said.


Now Pavel is in a self-study program. He works Mondays through Thursdays at Ekspress Khronika, where he splits a regular correspondent's salary, which he won't disclose, with his older brother, Yura, 15, who works on the paper's computer systems.


On Fridays, Pavel and his mother gather with other families who have children his age in the self-study program, and the parents test their children. If Pavel's grades fall, he will have to quit his job, Khmelik said.


"According to Russian law, it's illegal for someone of Pasha's age to work. When you see these boys washing car windows, selling newspapers, that's technically illegal," Khmelik said. But she doubted it would ever be an issue: "No one has time for that now."


Khmelik edits her son's stories. "We usually sit at the computer screen, and what I don't like I explain. I say, 'Do you understand why I don't like that?' and he'll say, 'I understand.' I'll say, 'Do you agree with me?' and he'll say, 'I agree.' And then he rewrites it," she said.


The editor in chief of Ekspress Khronika, former Soviet dissident Alexander Podrabinek, could not be reached for this story.


For his part, Pavel enjoys his work. "If I didn't like it, I would quit," he says simply. He will admit to no fear of asking questions, no fear of adults, no fear of traveling the length and breadth of Moscow by metro, by trolleybus and on foot. (Khmelik, of course, worries: "Such a life," she said. "Such a city.")


Pavel proudly displays his articles and ticks off the famous people he has met: Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, and now Gaidar. "Zyuganov for some reason really loves me," Pavel confided.


Work and studies don't leave him much free time, however. Asked what he reads for fun, Pavel said, "Well, I just read the report of the Expert Institute of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. It was interesting."


His mother brushes aside suggestions that Pavel is missing out on his childhood.


"He likes those economic matters, maybe because they're interesting to me, and we discuss things together. But he has also read science fiction these last two weeks. At work he's serious, but I wouldn't say he's always serious."