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NEW YORK: Dmitry Muratov, the Russian editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, on Monday (Jun 20) auctioned off his Nobel Peace Prize gold medal for US$103.5 million to benefit children displaced by the war in Ukraine.

The medal was sold to an as yet unidentified phone bidder at the sale in New York organised by Heritage Auctions.

The sale was a spirited one, with lots of applause and bidders egging one another on to increase the total. Muratov was seen recording videos of the bidding screen and those in the room.

When the final bid came in, at tens of millions of dollars more than the previous offer, many in the room expressed shock, including Muratov himself.

“I’m just like you in that regard,” he told AFP, speaking through a translator after the sale.

Muratov won the prize in 2021 alongside journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines, with the committee honouring them “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression”.

He was among a group of journalists who founded Novaya Gazeta in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union.

This year, it became the only major newspaper left voicing criticism of President Vladimir Putin and his tactics inside and outside the country.

In March, more than a month into Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Novaya Gazeta suspended operations in Russia, after Moscow adopted legislation providing for tough jail terms against anyone criticising the Kremlin’s bloody military campaign.

In April, Muratov was assaulted on a train when a person threw oil-based paint mixed with acetone on him, causing his eyes to burn.

Muratov’s medal was available to bidders both in person and online, with all proceeds going to UNICEF’s Humanitarian Response for Ukrainian Children Displaced by War.

When asked why he chose UNICEF as the recipient of the funds, Muratov said: “It’s critical to us that that organisation does not belong to any government. It can work above government. There are no borders for it.”