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Ukrainian anti-corruption journalists come under intensive surveillance

Halya Coynash
The Skhemy journalist project who have frequently exposed corruption by public officials in Ukraine has reported unexplained surveillance of one of their journalists, Oleksandr Chornovalov. While this is not the first time Skhemy journalists have been targeted, the surveillance has never before been so brazen

A team of investigative journalists who have frequently exposed corruption by public officials in Ukraine has reported unexplained surveillance of one of their journalists.  According to Natalya Sedletska, Chief Editor of Skhemy: Corruption in Detail, this is not the first time they have noticed suspicious activities targeting their journalists, but the surveillance has never before been so brazen.  Since the motives and identity of the men following Oleksandr Chornovalov are unclear, they have lodged a report with the police and are making their concerns public.

Skhemy is a joint project by Radio Svoboda and Ukraine’s UTV-1, and the report of the surveillance has been published on the Radio Svoboda website. There have been at least three such incidents of late, the journalists say.

On the evening of October 17, Chornovalov noticed that he was being followed by two young men as he returned home by metro from the Skhemy office in the centre of Kyiv.  After he saw them behaving strangely in the train, when they pointed their telephone cameras at him several times, he decided to get out early at Pecherska Station.  The two also got out, at which point Chornovalov went up to them and asked why they were following him.  They didn’t say anything, and later, when he got out his telephone to photograph them, they began turning away and hiding behind a column on the platform.  He says that as soon as a train arrived, they jumped in, although this was a train going in the opposite direction.

The journalists have since checked the CCTV footage from near their own building, and it is clear that the two men followed Chornovalov when he left their office.

The following morning, he left the house with his child whom he was taking to school and was again followed, this time by one man.  The CCTV camera at his apartment block shows that the person was standing for a while near the entrance, and set off after Chornovalov as soon as he and his child came out.  He followed him right up to the metro station but did not enter it.

Chornovalov together with other colleagues have also noticed people hovering around the Radio Svoboda office.  When staff have tried to talk to or photograph them, they simply walk off, without giving any explanation.

Sedletska reports that in parallel to Chornovalov’s official report to the police, Skhemy are carrying out their own investigation into who could be behind this.

With the killing in July 2016 of renowned journalist and former prisoner of conscience Pavel Sheremet still unsolved, there is every reason for vigilance and concern from the journalists. 

On the other hand, since Chornovalov has been working for Skhemy since it was launched in 2014, such open surveillance must inevitably draw attention once again to the objects of the investigative journalists’ probes.

The most recent investigation concerned the elite property all over the world registered as belonging to the former wife of Artur Yemelyanov, a judge from the High Economic Court.  Yemelyanov has achieved such notoriety over recent years that his initial participation in the competition for Supreme Court judges was termed a ‘misunderstanding’ by a prominent civic activist, Taras Shevchenko. Yemelyanov’s career skyrocketed under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych and it was not only Shevchenko who saw him as having epitomized judicial corruption.  He has long been the focus of journalist investigations.  The Skhemy probe openly suggests that Yemelyanov’s divorce may have been fictitious, enabling the judge to not declare vast amounts of property abroad that no judge, nor judge’s wife could hope to own without other ‘sources of income’.

Skhemy has also investigated the suspicious number of luxury vehicles used, for example, by prosecutors, the Interior Ministry and by the Security Service [SBU]. The SBU probe was especially high-profile, and not just because of the vehicles priced, with many requiring years, if not a lifetime for civil servants to earn through official means.  In October 2015, two of the Skhemy journalists were assaulted outside the SBU offices in Kyiv.  The SBU later tried to get the showing of the investigation blocked,  and efforts to hold those responsible for the men’s assault to account have run up against constant resistance.


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