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When a major corruption scandal erupted in Ukraine last weekend, journalists faced an excruciating dilemma between professional duty and patriotism. Indeed, the first thought that came to mind was, “Should I write about this for foreigners?” Will it make them stop supporting us? »
The seriousness of the cases that were breaking out in the public sphere was beyond doubt. Indeed, they touched the heart of the war economy. In one case, investigators were examining whether the deputy minister for infrastructure took advantage of a deal to supply power generators at an inflated price, while the defense ministry was questioned over an overpriced contract to provide services catering and catering to the troops.
Huge stories, but a sign of our life or death in Ukraine, even my colleague Yuriy Nikolov, who got the scoop on the inflated military contract, admitted that he had done everything he could not to publish their investigation. He relayed his findings to officials in the hope that they could fix the problem, before eventually feeling compelled to publish them on the ZN.UA website.
Getting a scoop that shocks your country, forces your government to investigate and reform military procurement, and triggers the resignation of senior officials is usually something that makes other journalists jealous. But I completely understand how Nikolov feels about wanting to hold back when your nation is at war. Russia (and other critics of Ukraine abroad) is, after all, looking to jump at any opportunity to undermine trust in our authorities.
A journalist is supposed to stay a little aloof from the situation he is covering. It helps to remain unbiased and stick to facts, not emotions. But what if staying unbiased is impossible because you have to cover up the invasion of your own country? Naturally, you must continue to hold your government to account, but you are also painfully aware that the enemy seeks to exploit any opportunity to erode trust in leadership and undermine national security.
This is exactly what Ukrainian journalists have to deal with every day. During the first six months of the invasion, Ukrainian journalists and watchdogs decided to pause their public criticism of the Ukrainian government and focus on documenting Russian war crimes.
But it backfired on us.
“This break has led to a rapid loss of responsibility for many Ukrainian officials,” wrote Mykhailo Tkach, one of Ukraine’s top investigative journalists, in a column for Ukrainska Pravda.
His investigations into Ukrainian officials leaving the country during the war for lavish vacations in Europe led President Volodymyr Zelensky to impose a ban on officials traveling abroad during the war for non-work related matters. It also caused the dismissal of the powerful deputy attorney general.
The Ukrainian government was forced to react to the corruption and almost immediately carry out a major overhaul. Would this happen if Ukrainian journalists decided to sit on their conclusions until victory? I doubt.
Is it still painful to have to write about the failures of your own government officials as overwhelming enemy forces attempt to erase your nation from the planet, taking every opportunity they can to shake the faith of your international partners? Of course it is.
But in this case, there was definitely room for optimism. Things are changing in Ukraine. The government had to react very quickly, under intense pressure from civil society and the independent press. Memes and social media posts immediately emerged mocking the government’s promise to buy eggs at massively inflated prices. Eventually, the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure was fired and the Deputy Minister of Defense resigned.
This rapid response was welcomed by the European Commission and showed how far we really are from Russia, where the authorities do not track officials accused of corruption, but journalists who report it.
As Tkach said, many believe that the war with the enemy within will begin immediately after the victory over the enemy without.
However, we can’t really wait that long. It is important to understand that the sooner we win the battle against the enemy within – high level corruption – the sooner we will win the war against Russia.
“Destroying corruption means getting additional funds for the country’s defense capability. And that means more military and civilian lives saved,” Tkach said.