The revelations of a probable involvement by highly placed officials in the disappearance and murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000 shook the power structure of President Leonid Kuchma in early 2001. Nonetheless the state machinery continues to throw up roadblocks in the pursuit of the truth. Both the General Prosecutor and the Ministry of the Interior, the threats of which Georgy Gongadze himself had denounced in the weeks prior to his disappearance, are against any serious investigation into the journalist’s disappearance and murder. Simultaneously violence and threats against the press are increasing despite the formal promises made by the authorities following on the threat of exclusion from the Council of Europe. One of the two murdered journalists, Igor Alexandrov, was investigating the links between local officials and the criminal world and had implicated the judicial authorities. As in the Gongadze case, the authorities are issuing contradictory and barely credible declarations about the supposed progress in the investigation while relatives of the victims run up against the obstruction and dilatory manoeuvring of the public prosecutor’s office. About twenty journalists were physically attacked, most of them violently and in often similar circumstances. There are ever more acts of intimidation.
The authorities alternate between announcements made for the benefit of their western partners and the Council of Europe, recognising the seriousness of the situation, and speeches of intimidation directed at the press. In August the Ministry of the Interior itself announced that "seventy two crimes against journalists" have been committed since 1 January 2001, "thirty of which have not been cleared up". On 2 May in a press release President Kuchma declared that "press freedom has a particular importance in Ukraine" and acknowledged that "considerable obstacles, inherited from the totalitarian past, still have to be overcome in this field". On the other hand, his Interior Minister, Yuri Smirnov, declared to representatives of the press that of the eighteen journalists murdered since independence, "only two died in the line of duty and that the others drank too much...". On 26 April the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted for a resolution exposing the seriousness of the violations by Ukraine of its commitments, most especially in the fields of press freedom and violence against journalists, and scheduled the study of possible sanctions against Ukraine for September. The Commission for monitoring the engagements by State Members of the Council of Europe had initially recommended that Ukraine be excluded in order to try and force the authorities to stop aggravating the situation. On 26 September, just prior to a new vote by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Ukrainian government issued an "edict on the defence of press freedom", setting out, among other things, a rise in the salaries of the state press, facilities in renting office space for the media, the creation of a social aid foundation for journalists and a scholarship for the children of murdered journalists. On 7 December a decree made it possible for journalists dealing with "sensitive subjects such as politics, corruption and criminality" to obtain permits for having, carrying and using weapons that shoot rubber bullets. As with a single voice independent journalists denounced it as a "useless and hypocritical" measure. Two new measures might in the end prove to be more decisive. Imposed by the Council of Europe, the reform of the penal code went into force in September. The depenalisation of libel has now been forced on courts and the public prosecutor’s office, both of whom were always quick to punish heavily any accusations by the press of political or industrial leaders. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe also recommended in September that an independent investigative commission be set up to look into the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze, a commission that would "include international experts". Thus the European Assembly is supporting the request made by the journalist’s mother and widow, as well as Reporters Without Borders, and noted the barriers thrown up by the judicial system for implementing the commitments made by the authorities. At year’s end the parliamentary investigative commission on Georgy Gongadze’s murder, founded by the Ukrainian deputies in 2000, took this request on board, acknowledging its powerlessness to help the investigation progress given the obstructionism by the Attorney General and the Ministry of the Interior.
New information on journalists killed before 2001
On 15 January 2001 Oleg Eltsov, free-lace journalist working for an on-line newspaper in Moscow and for opposition newspapers, made public the name of four policemen said to be tailing journalist Georgy Gongadze in the weeks leading up to his disappearance. A young journalist with a very critical eye on those in power, editor-in-chief of the on-line newspaper www.pravda.com.ua, Georgy Gongadze vanished on 16 September 2000. His headless body was found on 2 November in the vicinity of Kiev. His disappearance became an affair of state after tape-recordings that were said to be made in the office of the President himself were made public and implicated the state’s highest ranking officials. Extremely serious errors were committed throughout the entire investigation, the only goal of which seemed to be to protect those in power. In a letter addressed to Ukraine’s General Prosecutor on 14 July 2000, the journalist denounced his being followed by agents of the Ministry of the Interior and the unjustified interrogation of certain of his relatives by the police. The public prosecutor’s office systematically refused to investigate these facts. In January three of the officials accused in the article by journalist Oleg Eltsov were suspended, and the fourth was transferred. They were not questioned within the framework of the investigation. At the end of April, the Ministry of the Interior reported "new eye-witness accounts" of people saying that had seen Georgy Gongadze alive in the Czech Republic. A few days later FBI experts in Kiev definitively confirmed that the headless body found on 2 November 2000 near Kiev was that of journalist Georgy Gongadze. On 15 May the Minister of the Interior, Yuri Smirnov, announced that the two alleged murderers of Georgy Gongadze were two drug-addicts who had since died, "the two murderers have died, and no one ordered the murder because it was a spontaneous act. As Minister, I believe that the crime has been cleared up and that there was nothing political about it." On 15 May President Leonid Kuchma, in an interview given to the Russian channel, ORT, did not exclude the possibility that the crime had been politically motivated. On 17 May, the investigating judge in charge of the Gongadze case, Oleg Vassilenko, contradicted the Interior Minister’s statements and said that the journalist’s murder had not been cleared up. On 14 July the lawyer for Lessia Gongadze (Georgy’s mother) was roughed up by people working in the public prosecutor’s office. The attack was not necessarily linked to the Gongadze affair, the lawyer indicated, but to a series of affairs in which he was defending the interests of opposition personalities. On 10 September Lessia Gongadze lodged a complaint with the Attorney General’s office against Leonid Kuchma, his chief of staff, Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Yuri Kravchenko, Minister of the Interior at the time. On 15 September between three and five thousand opposition activists marched in the streets of Kiev in memory of Georgy Gongadze on the first anniversary of his disappearance. A commemorative plaque was unveiled on the building housing the offices of the Journalists’ Union; it carried the names of the 18 journalist murdered since Ukraine’s independence. On the same day the Attorney General’s office announced it was working on "three avenues": a sex affair, an affair linked to the journalist’s professional activities and a chance murder. On 16 September, along with Georgy Gongadze’s mother, Lessia, and widow, Miroslava, Reporters Without Borders called for the creation of an independent investigative commission on the disappearance and murder of the journalist, including international experts and representatives of the organisations in charge of monitoring Ukraine’s international obligations (Council of Europe, OSCE, the United Nations Human Rights Commission). On 25 September an American private-detective agency, Krill Associates, hired by the Ukrainian pro-presidential party, Trudovaya Ukraina (TU), concluded that "no convincing evidence showed that President Kuchma had ordered the murder (...), or that he had anything to do with the [it]". Deputy Olexander Elianchkevich asked the head of the secret services (SBU), Vologymyr Radchenko, for clarifications on the conditions of this "investigation" and who the investigators were.
On 17 September the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, examining a document on the Ukraine’s respect of its obligations, recommended to the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe to call on the Ukrainian authorities to instigate a new investigation into the disappearance and death of Georgy Gongadze and "to create an independent investigative commission to this end, composed in particular of international investigators and to ask the governments of the Member States of the Council of Europe to offer the assistance of their investigators". Reporters Without Borders calls on the governments of the Member States of the Council of Europe to offer the assistance of their investigators. On 17 October Lessia Gongadze, lodged a complaint against the General Prosecutor, Mykhajlo Potebenko, and his deputy, Olexiy Baganets, for "non-assistance to a person in danger" for having left unanswered the 14 July 2000 letter in which Georgy Gongadze denounced his being tailed by agents of the Ministry of the Interior and the interrogation of his relatives by the police. Suspecting that a complaint lodged against the General Prosecutor would have very little chance of being taken seriously, Mrs. Gongadze’s lawyer, Andreiy Feydur, announced his intention to refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights and to denounce the attitude of the General Prosecutor’s office throughout the affair. Following the appointment of deputy Olexander Lavrynovych, chairman of the parliamentary investigative commission on the disappearance of Georgy Gongadze, as secretary of state to the Ministry of Justice, on 18 October the commission elected a new chairman, Olexander Jire. Jire declared that the "commission must determine the guilty parties and give its first results by the end of the year". He announced that the commission’s work would be rendered public. On 25 October the parliamentary investigative commission heard Olena Prytula, Georgy Gongadze’s collaborator on Ukraina pravda.com.ua, and Laverntij Malazonija, who on 5 November went to the place where the headless body had been found to identify it, as well as Oleg Nipadymka, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Segodnia, that had published the news of the body’s discovery. The commission asked President Kuchma to define his intentions following on the Council of Europe’s recommendations to create a new independent investigative commission with the participation of European investigators.
On 14 December Olexander Jire, chairman of the parliamentary commission on Gongadze’s murder, announced that one of the alleged murderers was alive. In the spring, Olexiy Baganest, deputy General Prosecutor, had indicated that the two alleged murderers had died. On 21 December Olexander Jire proposed that the parliament vote sometime in the first of half of 2002 for the creation of an independent investigative commission, under the aegis of the Council of Europe, to include international experts. He said, "it isn’t possible to undertake an independent investigation on our own as long as the Attorney General’s office places obstacles in our way." On 8 December Minister of Foreign Affairs Anatoliy Zlenko, on the occasion of a visit from the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antanas Valionis, present president of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, said that "the Ukrainian authorities are interested in possibly setting up an international investigative commission but that there were legal problems that had to be settled". On the same day the Vice-President of the Ukrainian parliament, Nictor Medvedchuk, indicated that the creation of such a commission would not be contrary to Ukrainian law.
On 19 January 2001 the Mykolayiv police closed their investigation into the murder of journalist Volodymyr Smyrnov. On 29 December Vologymyr Smyrnov, founder and editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Vichirniy Mykolayiv, was attacked by three individuals and mortally wounded near Mydolayiv station (in the south of the country). He died the same day in hospital. Two of the assailants were arrested, but the third got away.
At the end of 2001 the Crimean public prosecutor’s office ordered a new investigation into the death of Vladislav Riabchikov, a journalist for Krymskaha Pravda. On 27 April 2000 the journalist had been crushed by a car that drove into a crowed while he was waiting at a bus stop. His colleagues indicated that he might have been murdered for having written a series of articles on the misappropriation of aid money to the Crimean Tatars.
Two journalists killed
On 3 July 2001 Oleg Breus, publisher of the newspaper, 21 Vek (21st Century) in Lugansk, was shot dead at the entrance of his building. The police favour the theory that it was due to a squaring of accounts tied to the publisher’s business. He was also 33 per cent share holder in the town’s central market. But the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Yuriy Yurov, thinks the murder had more to do with 21 Vek’s critical articles of the new leaders in the Lugansk town hall.
On the morning of 3 July, Igor Alexandrov, general manager of television channel TOR in Slaviansk (eastern Donetsk region), was attacked by two unidentified assailants at the entrance to the station. His assailants hit him in the head violently with baseball bats. Hospitalised with a serious concussion, Igo Alexandrov succumbed to his wounds in the morning of 7 July. On 9 July nearly 15,000 people gathered for his funeral in Slaviansk. In 1998 the journalist had been sentenced to two years in jail firm and banned from pursuing his professional activities for five years following a complaint filed by deputy Olexander Leshchynsky, whom he had qualified as "the king of Donbass vodka" (an industrial area in the eastern Ukraine). In 2000 the affair had been closed following a withdrawal of the case by the deputy. Nonetheless Igor Alexandrov wanted the Ukrainian court to nullify the first verdict, in recognition of the faulty responsibility of the prosecutor’s office and as reparation for moral damages. He also claimed to have referred his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, which now denies the very existence of the complaint; it is apparently not in their data bank. Shortly after his death, a parliamentary investigative commission was implemented under the direction of deputy Olexander Chekhovtsov. On 17 July Deputy Minister of the Interior, Volodymyr Melnikov, offered a reward of 100,000 hryvnias (21,400 euros) to anyone moving the investigation forward. On 23 July Olexiy Baganets, Ukraine’s deputy General Prosecutor, announced that the "usual" trails (vandalism, sex case) were excluded. The investigation was under the personal supervision of Ebgeni Marchuk, Secretary of the Security and Defence Council, who suggested punishing the journalist’s murderers as severely as they would the murderers of policemen, diplomats or political leaders. In mid-August President Kuchma openly criticised the ineffectiveness and slowness of the investigation. On 14 August the General Prosecutor, Mykhajlo Potebenko, made the first findings of the investigation public, accrediting the thesis of a local level settling of accounts and excluding all national political motivation. On 10 September deputy General Prosecutor, Sergiy Vinokurov, and Minister of the Interior, Yuri Smirnov, declared that one of the murderers had been arrested, that another was being sought and that the man behind the murder had been identified. The journalist had been killed "by accident" instead of a lawyer, the murderers’ intended target. President Kuchma declared that the murder "had no connection to the deceased’s professional activities". On 14 September deputy General Prosecutor, Sergiy Vinokurov, announced that one of the alleged murderers had confessed. The journalist’s son, Alexiy Alexandrov, denounced the multiple flaws in the investigation and indicated that he knew of an anonymous letter showing that his father possessed information (CD-Roms, tapes and photos) about the links between certain local leaders and the criminal world. Just prior to his death Igor Alexandrov had asked for armed protection in a letter addressed to the General Prosecutor. Nothing came of it. In the following weeks Alexiy Alexandrov said that his family was followed and underwent psychological harassment. He accused the lawyer in charge of the case, Olexiy Glotov, saying that on 4 July, when Igor Alexandrov was still in intensive care, it was most likely Mr. Glotov who took two floppy disks, two video cassettes and three audio tape from the journalist’s home without adding them to the case file. Summoned to the local prosecutor’s office, Alexiy Alexandrov was accused of violating the investigation’s secrecy. On 26 September, he observed that all information about his father case had disappeared from his computer, including the telephone numbers and addresses of his contacts. On 28 September four deputies on the parliamentary investigative commission, who had come to visit the Alexandrov family in Slaviansk, gave up trying when an unidentified voice told them by telephone that "all the Alexandrovs had gone abroad". On 23 October Anatoly Khmelevy, had of the parliamentary investigative commission, declared that "the thesis of murder by accident is absurd" and that "the investigation had not been done in a professional manner". On 15 December the General Prosecutor’s office announced the name of a suspect but refused to say what the motive was. A new lawyer hired by Reporters Without Borders managed to get the journalist’s son recognised as the party claiming damages, a status that had been denied him until them. The lawyer also filed an appeal with the Supreme Tribunal following the announcement by the Donetsk court of the postponement of the first hearing of the trial until 11 September 2002, i.e. nine months after the end of the preliminary investigation. Ukrainian law authorises only a twenty-day delay between the preliminary investigation and the first hearing.
Two journalists jailed
On 31 January 2001 the Supreme Tribunal of Crimea upheld the 18 December 2000 verdict finding Sergiy Potamoanov, journalist at the Kerch radio station, Fenix, in the Crimea, guilty and sentencing him to three years in prison. He was found guilty of buying and possessing a weapon, "hooliganism" and larceny through abuse of authority. The journalist denies the charges and says it is "revenge by the police and the local prosecutor’s office". In November and December 2000 Sergiy Potamanov had aired a series of programmes about the corruption and the abuses of authority by the local police. Following one of these special reports, a policeman had been dismissed. The journalist’s wife insists on the fact that the weapon found in their house was planted there. On 11 July Sergiy Potamanov asked for political prisoner status, requested a visit by representatives of Reporters Without Borders and on 10 September began a hunger strike in Simpheropol prison (Crimea). The journalist’s lawyer referred to the European Court of Human Rights to protest the conditions of the committal proceedings and the lack of effective recourse. The journalist’s wife denounced the violence she said he underwent on 18 September at the hands of the prison guards, who, according to her, threatened him with more punishment if he "didn’t stop complaining". On 26 September the prison administration denied the journalist was on a hunger strike. In October, following a visit to the prison by representatives of the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a Reporters Without Borders partner organisation, and an appeal to the Supreme Tribunal, the journalist’s prison conditions were said to improve. Sergiy Potamanov was released in early January 2002.
On 9 March 2001 the correspondent for the Lviv daily, Postup, Dmytro Schurchalo, was arrested by the police at Kiev station where he was covering an anti-Kuchma demonstration. While he was interviewing demonstrators, the security forces arrested and beat him. At a hasty hearing, a court from one of the districts in Kiev sentenced the journalist to two weeks in jail for "disturbing the peace". The journalist was put in Darnytsa prison in Kiev and released on 14 March.
Eighteen journalists attacked
On 30 January 2001 Ianina Sokolovskaya, correspondent for the Russian daily, Izvestia, was attacked in the stairwell of her building. A man held a knife to her throat, wounding her slightly. Ianina Sokolovskaya had recently published an interview on an Internet site with former Vice Prime Minister, Yuliya Tymoshenko, recently dismissed for corruption. In the interview Mrs. Tymoshenko accused the Ukrainian authorities and Leonid Kuchma of maintaining links with the underworld. An investigation was opened. On 5 February an unemployed man was arrested in Kiev. The man, 28, already known to the police, confessed his attack on the journalist. He said he had wanted to rob her.
On 26 February Grygoriy Tkachenko, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Nache Chas (Our Times) in the southern town of Khersson, was violently beaten by two unidentified men. Having been invited by a director of an opposition organisation, the journalist was met upon his arrival at the meeting place by men armed with an iron bar and a police night-stick. Grygoriy Tkachenko managed to escape and make it to a local police station. He was hospitalised, and an investigation was opened.
In March Yuriy Yurov, editor-in-chief of the daily, 21 Vek, in Lugansk and Sergiy Yemelianchenko, correspondent in Lugansk for the television channel 1+1, were respectively beaten and threatened with death by two local leaders.
On 25 April Andriy Massalskiy, journalist for the weekly, Chas (The Times), was attacked and beaten by unidentified persons near his home in Kiev. The journalist was hospitalised. On 27 April the Kiev police declared that his assailants had been arrested, and that their motive was just a sordid crime. As far as the journalist is concerned, the attack could be linked to his professional activities.
On 28 April Igor Markov, a journalist for the Dniepropetrovsk daily, Litsa, (located in the south of the country) was beat up in the stairwell of his building. After asking him where a certain apartment was, an unidentified man hit him in the temple, then kicked him in the head once he was down. He was not robbed. At the end of February 2001 he said that the driver of a car parked in front of his place warned him, "You write too much." Igor Markov had recently published a series of articles critical of the mayor of Dniepropetrovsk. The "Prichernomorie" company, which had been the subject of the article, had filed a complaint against the journalist. Moreover, Litsa openly supports the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" movement by the opposition parties.
On 4 June Anatoliy Kleva, former correspondent in Kharkiv of the Kiev newspaper, Vlada i Polityka, correspondent for the Russian newspaper Izvestia and co-ordinator of the network of correspondents for the Russian newspaper, Sekretnye Materialy, was violently attacked by an unidentified assailant while returning home with his wife, who was also struck. The journalist was hospitalised in serious condition. Prior to that he had indicated he had been threatened on several occasions by "the red managers" of Kharkiv, former Soviet leaders at the head of state-owned companies. A little while before the attack he had been dismissed from Vlada i Polityka upon the demand, according to him, of one of the heads of a powerful local company.
On 12 July Oleg Velichko, manager of the regional television channel, Avers, was seriously wounded by unidentified assailants in Lutsk. He was hospitalised with a concussion. The local police do not exclude the possibility that the attack might be linked to his professional activities. The previous manager of Avers had also been attacked two years before.
On 27 August Alexiy Movsesian, cameraman for the Lugansk regional television channel, Efir-1, was violently attacked by unidentified persons. He was hospitalised in critical condition in the intensive care unit of Lugansk hospital. He went into a coma and only emerged from it two weeks later. He is now suffering serious after-effects. Efir-1’s management are convinced that a link exists between this attack and Alexi Movsesian’s professional activities. The journalist had indeed filed for civil damages with a colleague in legal proceedings that pitted the television station against Lugansk town-hall, following an attack by a deputy named Volodymyr on 24 April 2001. On 29 August a student was arrested. Another suspect was arrested two days later. The police called the attack just "ordinary hooliganism".
On 9 September Sergiy Rylkov, journalist for the weekly Stolichnya Novosti, was violently attacked by an unidentified person in the stairwell of his building. He was hospitalised with a concussion. According to Volodymyr Katsman, editor-in-chief of Stolichnye Novosti, it is more than likely that the attack was linked to the journalist’s investigations. On 6 September Volodymyr Katsman had been burgled, and his computers stolen.
On 19 September Sergiy Mikheyev, journalist for the television channel 1+1, was attacked by the watchmen of the Ukrainian railroad company, who said that "the presence of a camera in the train is against the company rules". They threw the camera to the floor and beat the journalist in the head. The two men were arrested.
On 20 September Anton Stepiuk, former journalist for the Russian daily, Kommersant, was admitted to the intensive care unit in a Kiev hospital after having been stabbed twice. The motive for this attack is not yet known.
On 22 September 2001 Olexander Iurov, deputy editor-in-chief of the independent weekly, 21 Vek (21st Century), was hit by a car in Lugansk. The driver then sped off. Olexander Iurov told how the car had suddenly accelerated and swerved in its path to hit him. The police favour the thesis of a simple accident. Olexander Iurov said that "if this incident were the only one of its kind, we could talk about accident". On 3 July the paper’s editor-in-chief had been shot to death.
On 3 October Anatoliy Ulistsky, photographer for the newspaper, Poltavsky Visnyk in the eastern town of Poltava, was attacked and beaten by unidentified persons. He didn’t rule out the possibility of "political revenge".
On 9 October Nikolay Tichakov, journalist for the newspaper, Azovskiy Rabochiy in the southern town of Azov, was attacked by three unidentified assailants, who stole his two cameras, working notes and books. The police refute any link with the journalist’s professional activities. Nikolay Tichakov’s colleagues, however, stress that locally elected officials had recently aimed sharp criticism at the journalist’s reports.
On 22 November Yuri Mativoss, correspondent for the newspaper, Vechernia Gazeta in the central town of Kirovograd, was attacked by unidentified persons at the entrance to his stairwell. He lost consciousness. The attackers fled when other people appeared. The journalist is close to Yuliya Tymoshenko’s party, the former deputy Prime Minister, forced to quit after being accused by highly placed officials of having ties with the underworld.
On 19 December Valentyn Terletskyj, journalist for the region press agency, Nove Slovo, and the television channel, Khortitsa, in the southern town of Zaporijia, was attacked at a tramway stop. He was beaten, and his money, address book and cell phone were stolen. He was hospitalised. The television channel for which he works belongs to a businessman opposed to the town’s mayor. The journalist’s colleagues do not, however, exclude the possibility that it was a simple mugging.
Six journalists threatened
On 9 February 2001 Ludmila Kokhanets, journalist for the parliamentary weekly, Goloss Ukrainy, was attacked by an unidentified assailant in the stairwell of her building. A man tried to strangle her and said, "Nothing should be of any interest to you in this affair." The journalist was particularly following developments in the Gongadze affair. The assailant released his victim with, "Draw your own conclusion, otherwise I’ll be back."
On 20 February Sergiy Cholokh, editor-in-chief of the radio station, Kontinent, announced he ’d been threatened with death. "Someone told me by phone that if I didn’t stop my activities, the same thing would happened to me as to Gongadze." Sergiy Cholokh thinks that this intimidation was linked to the support he had received from the European Union and Reporters Without Borders.
Late in the night of 8 July Valentina Valichenko, investigative journalist for Cherkasy, was at home when an unidentified person arrived "on behalf of the police" and started kicking at her door to get her to open. Valentina Vasilchenko is convinced that this violence is linked to her articles accusing the police of corruption. In August 2000 the journalist was violently attacked after an article appeared on the same subject, and the crime is still unsolved.
On 31 August Elena Rojen and Lilia Bujurova, journalists for a local Crimean television station, were threatened by the Crimean deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Tuterov, unhappy about the topics they had aired on television. The two journalists were summoned to the local SBU to explain themselves.
On 5 September Mikhail Chychliannikov, correspondent in Saky for the Crimean regional newspaper, Krymskaja Pravda, reported the threats aimed at him by the Saky mayor, Mr. Chevstov, to the police and the SBU, following the publication of an article on 17 July. The journalist made recordings of telephone conversations public in which the mayor threatened him with "punishment" and to "leave him without a job" and "strangle his whole family". On 11 October the mayor was prosecuted by the court for "death threats". He denied knowing the journalist.
Pressure and obstacles
On 12 January 2001 Yuriy Lutsenko, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Grani, said in a press conference that a car, the number of which he gave, was clearly following him. The journalist says he is sure his being followed has been ordered by high police officials.
On 15 January Oleg Eltsov, an independent journalist having investigated the Gongadze affair, declared that he was being followed by vehicles belonging to the police.
On 23 January radio station Vechirnia Svoboda in the eastern town of Donetsk, was kept from broadcasting. According to the editorial staff this ban was linked to the announcement made by the station of an interview with Yuliya Tymoshenko, the former deputy Prime Minister, who was going to talk about the relationships between President Kuchma and certain oligarchs. The radio station claimed it received threats in the days afterwards.
On 7 February the deputy Olexander Volkov filed a suit against the radio station, Svoboda (the Ukrainian service of American radio Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe) for a series of broadcasts about him aired on 24, 25 and 26 January. A suit was also filed against radio station, Dovira, which broadcasts Svoboda’s programmes. Olexander Volkov said that he was not asking for damages, just apologies from the radio station.
On 7 February the printing press, Kyivska Kartonna Fabryka, refused to print the daily, Kommersant-Ukrainia, because of a front-page photograph of a scarecrow representing President Kuchma that demonstrators had set on fire during an opposition rally. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper felt that the decision not to publish was not an act of censorship but more the fear by the printing press’s management to publish such an image.
On 9 February the Russian newspaper, Izvestia, was censored by the authorities that had three articles removed from the issue: "Leonid Kuchma’s Power Is Hanging By a Thread" by journalist Gajaz Alimov, "The Barricades in Kiev’s Town Centre" by Yanina Sokolovska and "Why the Newspaper Kommersant Was Not Seen in Kiev" by Andrey Vassiliyev, relating the 7 February incident mentioned above.
On 10 February an oligarch close to President Kuchma, Olexander Volkov, filed a suit against the newspaper, Ukraina Moloda, contesting the article where he was accused by another oligarch, Vadim Rabinovich, of being involved in the 2000 murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze. Olexander Volkov demanded a retraction.
On 17 February unidentified persons threw two Molotov cocktails through the windows of the building housing the opposition newspaper, Tovarichtch, a weekly published by the socialist party. Only material damages were reported. On 5 march the police arrested a suspect, an unemployed man who wanted to avenge himself on the paper’s watchman, who had turned in his companions when they were burgling a company located across from the paper. The journalists were sceptical about this version of the facts.
On 1 March the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Informationniy Bulleten (Kremenchuk), Tamara Prossianyk, was victim of a suspicious car accident. As she was returning to Dniepropetrovsk from Kiev, a mini-van slammed violently into her car. Tamara Prossianyk received serious facial injuries, and her driver a concussion. Informationniy Bulleten has been ferociously opposed to the Leonid Kuchma regime for over two years. With no printing press wanting to handle it, the paper has been printed in secret since 12 July 2000.
In March Ivan Bezsmertniy, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Tretkyi Sektor, declared he had been threatened on several occasions following his articles on the alleged embezzlement by a deputy, Ivan Andrushenko.
As of March the political programmes of the Lviv regional television station were withdrawn from the schedule. This decision was said to come from a request by the regional administration and Evgeni Machuk, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council.
On 9 April 2001 Ivan Bezsmertniy, editor-in chief of the newspaper, Trekiy Sektor, was fined 20,000 hryvnias (4,276 euros) and his paper 15,000 hryvnias (3,207 euros) in a libel suit brought by deputy Ivan Andrushenko. The paper’s accounts were blocked and its property placed in custody. In an article published on 14 October 2000 and entitled "A High Road Deputy", the journalist had written that the deputy had been the person behind the murder of a businessman with whom he had been in conflict in a racketeering deal in the central Vinnitsa region. The deputy had indeed received a suspended jail sentence for this murder. Without challenging the reality of the facts, the deputy filed a suit and called for damages for having been compared in the article to a famous bandit from Uzbekistan. The newspaper appealed the decision.
On 10 April Alla Morgulenko, journalist for the regional television station in the western Ukrainian town of Lviv, said that she was put under a lot of pressure by the channel’s managers following the airing of a programme about a wire-tapping scandal. Management asked her to quit her job. Until 1999 and the last presidential election, the programme presented by Alla Morgulenko was aired on the nation-wide networks UT-1 and UT-2. Following criticism that was said to come from President Kuchma, the programme was withdrawn and only aired on the regional channel.
On 12 April the National Audiovisual Council withdrew the licence of Radio Kontinent and gave its wavelength to another station, Radio Onix. The act was justified on the one hand by the failure to pay a tax debt of 10,000 hryvnias (2,138 euros), an amount demanded for the increased broadcasting time in 1997, and on the other, by the re-broadcast - considered illegal - of certain foreign radio programmes (BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America). The assignment of a new licence and a new wave-length would lead to particularly heavy costs and new investment for the station and would threaten its very existence. Radio Kontinent’s manager, Sergiy Cholokh, filed a suit against the National Audiovisual Council’s decision. In January 2001 Radio Kontinent had already been threatened with losing its wave-length (100.9 FM). Sergiy Cholokh said that the station had benefited by a decision made in 1997 to extend its licence until 2007. The Audiovisual Council’s chairman, Mr. Kholod, considered this document "riddled with irregularities". On 1 February a call for bids was launched by the Audiovisual Board to allocate the Radio Kontinent wave-length. In May Radio Kontinent underwent another tax audit. On 7 June Radio Kontinent announced that it would continue broadcasting on wave-length 100.9 until the arbitration tribunal in Kiev. On 13 December the National Audiovisual Council confirmed the transfer of Radio Kontinent’s wave-length to Radio Onix in Kharkov. On 25 December Radio Onix began broadcasting on the wave-length although the Kiev appeals court authorised Radio Kontinent to continue broadcasting so long as the appeal filed by the station against the National Audiovisual council’s decision had not been concluded.
On 31 May a murder attempt against the manager of the private television channel, Odessa Plus, Mylhilo Kolomej, was foiled. A time-bomb, set to go off in the night, was attached to the front door of his flat. The journalist explained, "a few hours before I received an anonymous call asking me to leave the channel and to register it under the name of another owner (...). Someone was trying to control the channel." Odessa Plus is known for its criticism of the local authorities. An investigation was opened by the Odessa police.
On 7 June the court in the Minsky district of Kiev sentenced Oleg Liashko to two years in prison, suspended, and banned him from continuing his professional activity as editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Svoboda, for articles written in 1997. Oleg Liashko had first been acquitted in 1999 by the court of Kiev’s Pechersky district, but the Kiev public prosecutor had appealed. On 18 October the Kiev appeals court nullified the sentence because of the coming into force in September of the provisions of the new penal code decriminalising slander.
On 11 June the regional television station, Efir-1, in the eastern town of Lugansk was placed in receivership. The station’s editor-in-chief, Volodymyr Tanassienko, decried it as revenge taken by the elected officials of the regional majority against Efir-1, with the station having given its support to the recently defeated mayor of Lugansk.
On 15 June the editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian service, Radio Svoboda (Radio Freedom), Roman Kupchynsky, revealed that the Ukrainian security forces (SBU) banned him from returning to the country. Two officers of the SBU warned him that the next time he wanted to enter Ukraine, he would be persona non grata. The journalist said that this ban was linked to a series of interviews he had just made with Mykola Melnychenko, the former officer in the presidential guard who had revealed the existence of recordings made in the President Kuchma’s office, implicating high-ranking officials in the disappearance of journalist Georgy Gongadze in September 2000.
On 26 June investigative journalist Oleg Eltsov was summoned for questioning to the offices of the SBU. Following the publication of an article on the Ukraina Kriminalna ("Criminal Ukraine") Internet site about the life-style of the former head of the secret services, Leonid Derkatch, and his son, a Ukrainian oligarch. The journalist was accused of "violating state secrets". Oleg Eltsov’s flat was searched during his interrogation.
On 27 June local television station, Simon, and the channel’s journalist, Zurab Alasanija, were fined by the Kharkiv court to pay 800,000 hryvnias (171,000 euros) for damages to Mr. Guennadiy Kernes, an elected town official, for having broadcast news about the criminal affairs in which the official had been involved in the 1990s.
On 6 July the newspaper Vedomosti in the central town of Kirovograd and journalist Olena Semko were respectively fined by Kirovograd’s court 20,000 hryvnias (4,276 euros) and 5,000 hryvnias (1,069 euros) in damages following a libel suit brought by a deputy, Anna Antoniyeva. In an article about the level of debt of a company, Artemida, run by Anna Antoniyeva, journalist Olena Semko used an ironic tone. On 18 October this ruling was overturned by the appeals court. The amount demanded would have led to the paper’s closing.
On 25 September access to the Internet site of the opposition newspaper, Antenna, in Cherkasy was blocked. The day before the newspaper had been visited by leaders of the local police who offered "computer protection" for the newspaper’s Internet site. In 2000 Valentina Vasilchenko had published a series of investigations implicating the police in corruption
On 8 November the offices of the newspaper, Panorama Sevastopolia in Sebastopol (Crimea) were burgled. The computer containing the text of the next issue and a video cassette containing a report on local officials were stolen. Luchia Puzikova, the paper’s editor-in-chief, said that the editorial board was preparing "a few articles criticising local life" and that "it might not please everyone". The planned issue appeared nonetheless with just a few hours’ delay.
On 1 November the broadcasting wave-length of the regional television channel, Efir-1 in the eastern town of Lugansk was given to another station without either a legal decision or the advice of the National Audiovisual Council, responsible for allocating broadcasting licences. On 15 November ten journalists of the channel began a hunger strike in protest of the channel’s being put in receivership in June. The trial, set for 21 November, following the suit filed by the channel against the local authorities, was postponed just as a fact-finding mission from the Institute of Mass Information, Reporters Without Borders’s partner organisation in Ukraine, was present that day. Olga Kuznetsova, editor-in-chief of Efir-1 television, one of the four journalists on hunger strike in Lugansk for 27 days, was admitted to intensive care. Three of her colleagues, Tatiana Kojanovskaya, the channel’s managing director, Olena Popova, head of the advertising department, and Victor Ganziy, driver, continued their hunger strike right up to the beginning of January 2002. The hunger strikers were calling for Efir-1 to have its broadcasting wave-length - arbitrarily given to another station - restored, for the suit filed by Efir-1’s management contesting the station’s being placed in receivership be processed and for the administrative obstacles banning the station from using its bank account to pay its debts be lifted. The IMI intervened with Lugansk’s public prosecutor’s office and the town council. The mayor’s office and the police pretended to "discover" the journalists’ hunger strike. The tug-of-war between Efir-1 and the town hall had lasted for six months. The town of Lugansk was clearly making the channel pay for the support it gave to the former mayor, Mr. Yagoferov. On 5 June the Lugansk town hall had decided to place the station in receivership and to create another channel with the same name and the same wave-length. In April Olga Kuznetsova told Reporters Without Borders that she had been threatened by phone while covering the forced resignation of the town’s former mayor. On 12 December ombudsman Nina Karpchova noted "the violation of the right of station Efir-1’s journalists to continue practising their profession and the right of the inhabitants of Lugansk to be informed".
On 28 November Victor Kozoriz, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Mirgorodskaya Pravda in the eastern town of Mirgorod, was ejected from a meeting organised at the town hall. Considered as one of the papers most critical of the local authorities, the newspaper often encounters difficulties in being printed.
On 4 December the offices of the newspaper, Antenna, in Cherkasy were burgled. Only the computer co-ordinating the editorial board’s work was stolen and nothing else of value. Victor Vorotnik, the paper’s editor-in-chief, said that he had received an anonymous phone call on 30 November, threatening the paper "to settle accounts", following the publication of an article on 28 November. The town’s public prosecutor’s office refused to register the paper’s complaint. No investigation was carried out after the attack in 2000 on one of the paper’s journalists, Valentina Vasilchenko.
On 13 December the print-run of the newspaper, Ridne Prybujia, in the southern town of Mikolayiv was suspended, following the publication by the paper of an open letter by the leaders of a local company, Machproekt, criticising the regional authorities. Galyna Porfiriyeva, the paper’s editor-in-chief, had previously been summoned by the regional council, asking her not to publish the letter. After her refusal, the printing press used the paper’s debts as an excuse and suspended the print-run. The regional council has also refused the paper’s request for subsidies.
President Leonid Kuchma has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders