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Ukrainian journalists expose Ukrainian corruption


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For a senior Ukrainian official, the downfall came from a fatal weakness: A marked interest in luxury cars.

In October, Ukrainian news outlet Bihus.info shared photos of Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, driving a new Chevrolet Tahoe SUV that had been donated for humanitarian aid. Two months later, news site Ukrainska Pravda reported that Tymoshenko was filmed several times driving a 2021 Porsche Taycan, worth around $100,000, through Kyiv earlier in the year.

Tymoshenko dismissed the insinuations, suggesting the Chevrolet was being used for official business and that he had only borrowed the Porsche. But as much of the country suffered economic devastation, the ostentatious modes of transportation chosen by a senior adviser to Zelensky made waves.

“The representatives of power in this country, a quarter of whose territory is already in ruins, can they live luxuriously? wrote Mykhailo Tkach, the Ukrainska Pravda journalist who published the Porsche story.

This week, Kyiv saw a series of resignations or dismissals, many of which appeared to be linked to allegations of corruption. Tymoshenko was among the most high-profile to leave office, but there were also Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov and Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko, as well as five frontline provincial governors.

Headlines are deeply uncomfortable for the Ukrainian government. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Zelensky has become an international icon, praised for his resilience and steady hand. But reports of corruption are likely to alarm many people in Western capitals, who have sent huge sums of money to Ukraine to offset the economic disaster of the war.

But it is important to remember who uncovered the Ukrainian corruption allegations: Ukrainian journalists and anti-corruption activists.

Top Ukrainian officials ousted in anti-corruption operation

That Ukraine has a corruption problem is not news. It has been dubbed the most corrupt country in Europe. In Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, the country was ranked 122nd out of 180 countries.

But while this reputation for corruption is known around the world – former President Donald Trump called Ukraine the “third most corrupt country” – perhaps less recognized is the number of Ukrainians who oppose Corruption. Indeed, for investigative journalists wishing to investigate corruption, Ukraine has provided rich material.

Bihus.info was founded by Denis Bigus, an investigative journalist who hosted the TV show “Notre argent”. Bigus first gained international fame for helping to create YanukovychLeaks, a website that uncovered the finances of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych – the pro-Moscow leader ousted in 2014 who left behind a mansion with a private zoo and a collection of luxury cars.

Bihus also worked at Ukrainska Pravda, an online news organization founded in 2000 that garnered wide attention for its investigative work. This outlet also led the reporting that led to Symonenko’s resignation this week, with Tkach reporting earlier this month that Ukraine’s deputy attorney general visited Marbella, Spain, over New Year’s Eve. An and had been seen driving a businessman’s controversial Mercedes.

Yuriy Nikolov, another well-known Ukrainian journalist for the Mirror of the Week publication, provided the revelations that forced Shapovalov out of office this week, reporting that a recent $350 million supply deal included food items base at highly inflated prices.

It’s just scratching the surface. Ukrainian journalists working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s investigative unit, “Skhemy”, or “schemes” in English, have also uncovered numerous allegations of official corruption in Ukraine, forcing the resignation of a journalist last year. a judge of the Supreme Court of Ukraine for holding a Russian passport.

And it’s not just journalists who uncover corruption. Ukrainian non-profit groups, such as the notorious Anti-Corruption Action Center, have conducted their own investigations and called for reforms. Meanwhile, after the overthrow of Yanukovych in 2014 and the subsequent discovery of large-scale corruption, Kyiv established the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.

This body has a mandate to investigate and prepare cases against those suspected of corruption – as this weekend showed when it oversaw an undercover operation which saw the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Vasily Lozinskiy arrested for allegedly accepting a $400,000 bribe on an equipment purchase.

Long before his war in Ukraine, Putin waged war on Russian journalists

The fight against corruption is a risky business. One of the founding editors of Ukrainska Pravda, Georgiy Gongadze, was murdered after investigating government corruption. At just 31 years old, his body was found in a forest, decapitated and covered in acid.

“Gongadze tried to be like a normal journalist, he didn’t try to be a hero,” Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian journalist who later edited Ukrainska Pravda, told the BBC in 2004. “But in Ukraine , it is a courageous activity to be a journalist.

Leshchenko now works in Zelensky’s office, but the dangers he described persist. Last year, Tkach of Ukrainska Pravda described harassment related to their reporting, while editors of Bihus.info reported that unknown people posed as their reporters. Journalists have complained that under Ukraine’s wartime media it has become even more difficult to report on corruption.

For Ukraine itself, there is a great reputational risk. Corruption investigations can tarnish the country’s international reputation, just as it needs global help the most. Meanwhile, with huge sums of money flowing into Ukraine, corruption may well be worse than ever. This could create uncomfortable questions for Zelensky’s government (the Ukrainian president himself was named in the Panama Papers, a set of leaked files from the offshore banking haven).

In many ways, the battle against corruption in Ukraine is intertwined with war – so much so that Bihus himself quit journalism to volunteer in the fight against Russia last year and now uses drones on the southern front.

Russia is one of the lowest ranked countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index, where it was 136 last year. And while there are many excellent Russian investigative journalists who uncover corruption, their exposures are often followed by shrugs and silence rather than resignations and firings.

The fight against corruption is a condition for joining the European Union, so if Ukraine is really able to tame the problem, it could mark a real geopolitical shift away from Russia. If that happens, it will be journalists and anti-corruption activists who will decide the fate of the country.

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