Sasha survived, but the commentators, usually ready to debate to the death, were shocked: they all wanted to know what happened to the wounded major. These young Russians, who missed the traumas of Chechnya and grew up in a largely prosperous decade of cell phones and iPods and petrodollars, are suddenly faced with a nationalistic war, and, like the generations before them, they are drawn in by its pathos. It’s as if these images hit a cultural switch: the politics dissolve as the drama of war looms large. For all their country’s recent wealth, it is still actively haunted by World War II. Now the press is filled with first-person “I was in the trenches” press accounts, even close-range video interviews with wounded journalists lying on gurneys—the kind of stuff one rarely sees in the West. This fascination with the warrior-journalist is especially notable in Russia, ranked the world’s third-most dangerous country for reporters (after Iraq and Afghanistan), where journalists aren’t encouraged to go poking around in dangerous places. War, however, is sacred, and the Russian blogosphere is singing mournful hosannas. Krig42’s entries, for example, occasionally verge on the melodramatic but his commenters cheer him on for his “objectivity,” “accuracy,” and, most of all, “heroism.”

For his part Krig42—he never acknowledges that he is, in fact, Dmitry Steshin—keeps a stiff, heroic upper lip. Having slogged across the border to Armenia, he writes: “I’ll just rest a bit and head to Tskhinvali.”

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Julia Ioffe is a freelance writer based in New York City.