Maria Golovnina

Maria Golovnina

4th June 1980 - 23rd February 2015

On Thursday 4th June, 2015 at 6pm a service of thanksgiving for the life of Maria Golovnina was held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street.
Download Order of Service (pdf)

Video of Service: YouTube


The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the bidding:

The sudden and unexpected death of Maria Golovnina has been devastating for all who knew her, because she was a woman who was so full of life; so extraordinarily gifted; so courageous; and with so much still to live for. The circumstances of her death inevitably leave us with questions about why it happened, and whether more could, and should, have been done.

These questions are important and real. And yet at this service, our task is a different one. Because we are here this evening to focus on Maria herself, to honour her memory; to celebrate her life; and to give thanks for all that she has meant to us, and for all that she was.

We remain standing for an opening prayer by the priest and poet, John Donne. Let us pray:

Bring us, O Lord, at our last awakening
Into the house and gate of heaven,
To enter into that gate and dwell in that house
Where shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;

No noise nor silence, but one equal music;
No fears nor hopes, but one equal possession:
No ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity

In the habitations of your glory and dominion,
World without end.



Michael Georgy

Whenever a war erupts or a natural disaster strikes, Reuters editors have to make a snap decision: Who is going to cover it? There is the great writer, the determined reporter who can build the contacts to get to the bottom of the story, the organizer to get everyone in the right place at the right time, the fearless bulldozer who pushes through the obstacles, the perfect team player who helps to keep the others going through the setbacks.

Maria Golovnina was all of those people.

That’s why Maria was often the obvious choice to send, why she was in the thick of so many stories, why she became close to so many of us who are here today and many more who cannot be.

I got to know and admire Maria during the month we spent together in Libya four years ago.

In Tripoli, we were confined as roommates to a sinister hotel overrun with government minders. One day we managed to evade Gaddafi’s secret police. Together we interviewed Libyans who had been too scared to speak out for decades. We had a great story and we both knew it. I looked up at Maria and saw that mesmerizing smile – mischevious and beaming with pride. Mission accomplished. This was what she was about.

I got to know a tough and brilliant journalist who would never stop until the job was done. After another day that had begun at 6 a.m. I crashed out at midnight, exhausted. Waking up at 3 a.m. I found Maria still tapping away at her keyboard. What was she doing? Getting the stories ready for the expected NATO bombing. “We have to win the timings,” she explained.

Maria was always someone special – one of the greatest of the great Reuters talents.

Maria was born in Russia and raised in Japan. She could write more clearly and elegantly in English, her third language, than most who have it as their first language. Brought up in a journalistic household, it was only natural that she would become a correspondent herself. Reuters was lucky to hire Maria for its trainee scheme in Tokyo.

Everywhere she went, Maria made her mark, from covering the intensity of the Moscow theatre siege to fantastic stories of the ‘stans of central Asia: stories which would have gone untold if Maria had not been there to write them – always with the fine detail that others would miss and with a wonderful sense of the absurd.

At each stop, not least here in London, came a new circle of friends, drawn to someone with a warmth and humour even more precious than her professional talent.

Maria was not in London for long before she was off again on the big story – appointed as bureau chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan, one of the most demanding assignments for a Reuters journalist.

One of Maria’s talented Pakistan correspondents, Katharine Houreld, recalls her spirit:

“Maria arrived in Pakistan like a small, smiling dervish, scattering jokes, ideas and anecdotes everywhere she went. Her kind heart had room for anyone or anything that was suffering. But she was no pushover – she relished verbal jousting with Pakistani officials over stories they felt were critical of the state. She could instantly see what a story needed and suggest it in such a gentle manner you felt the inspiration was all your own.”

Maria was innovative, even when it came to saving lives. Almaty-based photographer Shamil Zhumatov recalled how she displayed her usual mix of loyalty and courage and a little help from Playboy magazine to rescue him from protestors in Bishkek in 2010 who mistook him for a government soldier because of his flak jacket. Maria was pushed away as the protestors beat Shamil unconscious. They did not know what Reuters was. “It’s like Playboy,” Maria yelled. He was freed.

Maria could also be tougher than anyone, but she had a fragile side too, though she did her very best to hide it.

One morning at breakfast in Libya, Maria seemed very down as we chewed over the hotel’s stale croissants. What was wrong, I asked.

“I wasn’t mentioned in the editors’ log,” she despaired, referring to the note that news editors put out every evening about the highlights of coverage that day. “The desk must be unhappy.”

I rolled my eyes. “For BLANK’S sake they can’t mention you every day. You are out of your mind. Get a grip,” I said. She would later tell me the exact same thing.

While everyone else saw her brilliance, she never seemed quite as able to see just how exceptional she was.

Our friendship was cemented after discovering we shared a life-long struggle with depression.

Sometimes it could be the source of boundless energy. At other times, it would send us on a downward spiral. We coached each other by gchat through tough times, often recalling the shared insanity of Tripoli in the dying days of Gaddafi to lift the mood. The fact that Maria was so accomplished despite all she went through personally made her so much more extraordinary and brave.

It was wonderful news when she said she had fallen big time for a handsome guy named Digby, who dropped everything to accompany her to Pakistan. But too often Maria the journalist spent so much time exploring the hardships of others that she forgot about Maria the person. Our last contact came just days before she was taken away from us.

This terrible loss, when Maria still had so much to give, was a reminder to all of us to cherish every single moment shared with colleagues, at Reuters and beyond. Nothing builds stronger friendships and more powerful memories than those precious times when we work together to tell the world’s stories to those who cannot be there themselves.

Maria Golovnina, for me, for all of us, that warm and mischievous smile, that smile of triumph, will shine forever.

Oliver Bullough


Natsuko Waki read 1 Corinthians 13

13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Peter Graff & Katharine Houreld read Excerpts from Maria’s stories


CHENDEK, Russia – With its eyes bandaged and legs bound, the stag groaned in pain as its huge curved antlers were severed with a hand-saw.

The powerful beast surged forward to break away as blood spurted from the stumps, but Siberian herdsmen pinned it down until their work was finished.

The gory de-horning of the Maral deer is an annual ritual in this isolated part of Siberia and dates from the 17th century. It is essential for the export of antler horn – a prized commodity on Asian markets and money-spinner for the under-developed region.

Some deer die from shock during the de-horning but in this case the stag’s stumps were treated with salt and the animal was released back into the lush mountains to grow new antlers – which one day will be culled again.


KYRLYK, Russia – Ertechi Klesheva’s weather-worn face showed little emotion as she conjured up the gods of Siberian mountains and rivers who she says flock to her hut on command.

She set ablaze a branch of juniper, sprinkled milk into her deified fireplace and mumbled prayers in the ancient language of Turkish nomads, who have for centuries lived in Russia’s desolate Altai mountains dividing Siberia and Central Asia.

Ertechi is one of a handful of shamans, their traditions rooted in Siberia, who have survived 400 years of Russian expansion and are now undergoing a post-communist revival.

In the dim light of her wooden hut in Altai’s forgotten Djan-Yusok mountains, she knelt and bowed to the spirit of Altai’s sanctified Mount Belukha – Russia’s second highest peak.

“The gods of fire, rivers, lakes and holy Mount Belukha, which gave birth to the universe, have come to me to protect the health and well-being of the people of Altai and their livestock,” Ertechi whispered, tiny bells tinkling on the shoulders of her dusty dark red robes.

“We shamans used to be a lot more powerful before communism,” said Ertechi, switching to Russian for a visitor. “When the Bolsheviks started arresting shamans, some even managed to fly away from the prisons.”

“Our beliefs lived on and now everyone in Russia is free to do whatever they wish, no matter what their ethnic group is,” Ertechi said. “It was the will of our gods that we preserve our tradition so that there may be no war and no thunder.”




PANJI POYON, Tajikistan – Tajik soldiers squint through the sun and dust at the slowly approaching silhouette of an Afghan truck rumbling across a river bridge.

“Documents! What’s your cargo?” barks one as the heavily loaded truck pulls over at a control point on the river Panj which separates Tajikistan from Afghanistan.

In a trailer nearby, a customs official leafs through papers as Afghan drivers wait outside in the shadow of their trucks. A swallow swoops in and settles in a nest above his head.



ABOARD THE WHITBY ROSE – His eyes fixed on the North Sea horizon, British skipper Howard Locker steers his boat far out to sea where he hopes to stumble on enough fish to save the day.

But things are not looking good for Locker – one of the last remaining trawler men in the north-eastern town of Whitby where EU fishing quotas, climate change and decades of overfishing have crushed the local fishing industry.

“The market has collapsed,” said Locker, who has been fishing out of the harbour for more than 40 years. “When I was 16, I couldn’t believe I’d be scraping a living like this.”

“We are the last of the great hunters. A lifetime at sea. For what?” Locker added, as gusts of icy wind lashed his face.

For now, he is worried about his son who wants to make a career out of fishing. There is no future in it, Locker said.

“He said he wanted to go fishing. I could’ve killed him. Honestly. And he loves it,” Locker said with joking frustration as he looked at his son from the window of the skipper’s cabin.

“I have a little grandson, two-year-old. If he ever thinks of buying a (fishing) rod, I am going to hit him with it. I am.”


SHEWAN SHARIF, Pakistan – Yielding to the hypnotic beat of drums and the intoxicating scent of incense, the woman danced herself into a state of trance, laughing and shaking uncontrollably alongside hundreds of others at Pakistan’s most revered Sufi shrine.

Swathed in red, the Sufi colour of passion, she shouted invocations to the shrine’s patron saint in an ecstatic ritual repeated daily in the dusty town of Sehwan Sharif on the banks of the river Indus.

With its hypnotic rituals, ancient mysticism and a touch of intoxicated madness, Sufism is a non-violent form of Islam which has been practised in Pakistan for centuries – a powerful antidote to extremism in places such as the province of Sindh.

It is scenes like this, where men and women dance together in a fervent celebration of their faith, that make Sufis an increasingly obvious target in the conservative Muslim country where sectarian violence is on the rise.

At a crossroads of historic trade routes, religions and cultures, Sindh has always been a poor but religiously tolerant place, shielded by its embrace of Sufism from Islamist militancy sweeping other parts of Pakistan.

But this year peace came to an end with a string of attacks across the province, including against Sufi places of worship, as militants seek new safe havens and new ways of destabilising the country.

“They are trying to kill us,” said Syed Sarwar Ali Shah Bukhari, whose father, a Sufi cleric, was killed in a bomb attack on the family’s ancestral shrine in February.

Bukhari, 36, is now the oldest living descendant of a prominent Sufi “saint” whose tomb his family has tended for generations in a tradition handed down from father to son.

“It was never like this before,” Bukhari, wearing a black turban and silver embroidered slippers, said nervously outside the Dargah Ghulam Shah Gazi shrine, its vast dome shining bright above the bleak mud-brick homes of his native Maari village.

In Qambar, a ramshackle town in the shadow of rocky hills separating Sindh from the lawless province of Baluchistan, Sufis said only a miracle could save them after their spiritual leader Syed Ghulam Hussain Shah narrowly survived an attack this year.

The seminary is packed with turbaned students of all ages, with older, bearded peers poring over religious texts and singing Arabic verses in dimly lit, rose water scented rooms.

The memory of death hangs heavily amid its stone walls. This is where Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto came for spiritual guidance just days before she was killed in 2007.

“The enemies of Islam are killing people. Satanic forces are behind all this,” said Shah as he recalled the day Bhutto sat in front of him, asking questions and crying.

“May God keep us all safe.”

Digby Lidstone read To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Meg Clothier & Natalia Antelava read Giraffe by Nikolai Gumilev

Today, I can see, you look especially sad,
And your arms are especially slight, circling your knees.
But listen, far, far away, out there by Lake Chad,
There roams a singular giraffe.

There’s grace in its build, and comfort too,
Its beautiful hide, patterned with magic
Unrivalled, save by the splinters of moon
Yawing where the lake spreads its waters.

In the distance, it’s like a ship’s coloured sails,
Moving effortlessly, with a bird’s soaring joy.
I know that the earth will witness great miracles,
When, come sunset, it steals to a marble cave.

I know all about mysterious lands, their hilarious songs
Of a black girl, of a young chief’s passion.
But you’ve been breathing this heavy fog for too long,
And now there’s nothing you would believe in, only the rain.

But how then shall I tell you about the tropical garden,
The slender palms, the mind-blowing smell of the grass.
Are you crying? Listen … far away by Lake Chad
There roams a singular giraffe.


The choir & organist of St Bride’s performed the following anthems and songs:

Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis – Vaughan Williams

Lacrimosa from Requiem – Mozart

Akatombo (Red Dragonfly) – Miki/Yamada arr. Chilcott

Sacred love – Sviridov

Katyusha – Blanter / Isakovsky arr. Davies / Morley

Papagena from Die Zauberflöte – Mozart

Toccata – Widor


Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer

Tell out, my soul


congregation sitting for service


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