Tag Archives: Viktor Yanukovych

Ukraine: Right Sector pickets Prosecutor General Office


Ihor Mazur (left), a spokesperson for demonstrators, speaks to reporters on June 17 outside the Prosecutor General's office in Kyiv. Nearly 100 demonstrators came to demand that old-regime officials be removed from the prosecutorial government body.Ihor Mazur (left), a spokesperson for demonstrators, speaks to reporters on June 17 outside the Prosecutor General’s office in Kyiv. Nearly 100 demonstrators came to demand that old-regime officials be removed from the prosecutorial government body. © William Schreiber

On June 17, a demonstration at the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office – organized by Right Sector and what’s left of security and defense units of the EuroMaidan Revolution – stole the spotlight from the state attorney, who had to cancel a scheduled press conference on the government’s corruption-fighting efforts.

Absence of systemic change in the wake of the 100-day popular uprising that ousted the corrupt regime of fugitive ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, close to 100 activists affiliated with the history-changing movement came to the rally. A spokesman for the demonstrators said that the lack of reform over the past two months highlights the need to rid the prosecutorial body of old-regime officials.

“The prosecutor’s office is one of the most conservative state institutions today in Ukraine,” said Ihor Mazur, spokesman for the demonstrations. Mazur singled out the Kyiv Prosectuor’s office in particular, which he says has remained unchanged since the Yanukovych administration.

Although the group was aware of the anti-corruption briefing, the protesters said it did not directly relate to the content of the postponed announcement. A Justice Ministry spokesman said the briefing would likely be rescheduled.

The protests were coordinated with a similar action in front of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s legislature. There, demonstrators called for pre-term parliamentary elections.

Kyiv Post intern William Schreiber can be reached at william.schreiber@yale.edu.

Kyiv Post

Journalists gather for Mezhyhirya Fest investigative conference


The US Ambassador in Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, Kyiv Post editor Katya Gorchinskaya, DR Orientering editor Brita Kvist Hansen, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project coordinator and Kyiv Post staff writer Vlad Lavrov give the Ukraine’s first ever investigative journalism award to Lyubomyr Ferens of TVi.The US Ambassador in Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, Kyiv Post editor Katya Gorchinskaya, DR Orientering editor Brita Kvist Hansen, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project coordinator and Kyiv Post staff writer Vlad Lavrov give the Ukraine’s first ever investigative journalism award to Lyubomyr Ferens of TVi. © Anastasia Vlasova

Documents exposing the enormous web of corruption involving Viktor Yanukovych were in the spotlight at Mezhyhirya Fest, an international conference on investigative journalism held at the fugitive ex-president’s opulent country estate outside Kyiv.

The three-day festival at the sprawling 140-hectare estate, some 10 kilometers north of the capital, featured more than 30 events and brought together more than 300 leading Ukrainian and international experts and activists.

Debates and workshops on subjects ranging from social media use in an age of digital activism and legal aspects of investigative journalism were held at “Putin’s House,” the guest house in which Russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly stayed on his visits to Mezhyhirya. Putin is now harboring Yanukovych, who is wanted for mass murder and corruption charges, in Russia.

The venue represented a symbolic victory, said Anna Babinets of YanukovychLeaks, the team of Ukrainian journalists who first gained access to the compound following Yanukovych’s hasty flight from Ukraine on Feb. 22 as the EuroMaidan Revolution succeeded in ousting him from power.

“This festival is a step towards strengthening the victory of democracy in Ukraine, and the venue is a reminder of the fact that things have changed. It’s great to be able to hold the event here,” Babinets said.

The band Dakh Daughters provided the entertainment on June 6.The band Dakh Daughters provided the entertainment on June 6.

Attracting international media attention, the team discovered some 200 folders containing more than 25,000 records documenting the politician’s activities. The majority were retrieved from the estate’s swimming pool and the Dnipro River which skirts its perimeter, into which Yanukovych and his team presumably threw the stash in the hopes of preventing details of his illicit finances from ever emerging.

They were not so lucky. With the help of 17 scanners and more than 60 volunteers, including experts in the preservation of documents, the team dried out and scanned each sheet of paper before uploading the incriminating evidence onto “yanukovychleaks.org,” a website created for this purpose. On the first day the site attracted almost two million visitors, and now hosts 23,456 records in Ukrainian, Russian and English. A half-hour documentary about the team’s efforts premiered at the event.  Continue reading

The story of YanukovychLeaks documentary


The former president of Ukraine Victor Yanukovych fled his residence on Feb. 22. Volunteer divers found nearly 200 folders of documents at a lake at the residence.The former president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych fled his residence on Feb. 22. Volunteer divers found nearly 200 folders of documents at a lake at the residence. © president.gov.ua

When Viktor Yanukovych fled his residence on Feb. 22, he tried to destroy something precious before escaping. Some 120 folders of documents were dumped in the lake, containing precious evidence of corruption, his lavish lifestyle and excesses. But the drowning operation did not go as smoothly as he had hoped for.

Some documents were accidentally spotted flowing on the surface by journalists who came to the estate that day. They called in divers, and that’s how the rescue started. For more than a week, a groups of journalists and many volunteers dried, photographed and scanned those documents. This is how YanukovychLeaks project started. The documentary, created in support of Mezhyhirya Fest, a festival of investigative journalism and online activism, tells the story.

A new  documentary “Newsroom Mezhyhirya: The story of YanukovychLeaks” has been released.

On Feb. 22, volunteer divers found nearly 200 folders of documents at a lake at the residence of former president of Ukraine. They had been thrown in the lake to destroy them as people were escaping the compound.

Newsroom Mezhyhirya

Russian history textbook doctors the records on Crimean annexation


Pedestrians walk past an wall painting depicting a map of Crimean peninsula bearing the colours of Russia's national flag in Moscow, on March 31, 2014.Pedestrians walk past a wall painting depicting a map of Crimean peninsula bearing the colours of Russia’s national flag in Moscow, on March 31, 2014. © AFP PHOTO / VASILY MAXIMOV

The March 16 ’referendum’ on the Crimea’s status was condemned by Ukraine and the international community.  Russia invited a number of  far-right and neo-Stalinist parties to act as ’observers’.

Russia has already added information about its annexation of the Crimea to a school history textbook with the version presented just as doctored as the results of the ‘referendum’ used to claim overwhelming support for the move.

Lenta.ru reports that a new Russian textbook for the 9th grade is about to go on sale with a brief, but rather specific, presentation of the events around Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has ordered that other textbooks also be brought into line.

The textbook’s authors – Alexander Danilov, Ludmila Kosulina and Maxim Brandt – have followed Putin’s lead in stressing the role played by the Crimea and Sevastopol in Russian history. With respect to the events in 2014, the account is best quoted in full.

“At the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 the situation in Ukraine became exacerbated. In February 2014 the legitimate president of the country, Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown, and power went to the opposition. One of its first decisions was to revoke a law on the status of the Russian language and to prohibit its use on an equal basis with Ukrainian. The parliament of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea, which was part of Ukraine, refused to obey the Kyiv authorities,

On March 6 2014, the Crimean parliament passed a decision that the Republic would join the Russian Federation and set a referendum on this for March 16. According to the results of the referendum, 96.77% of Crimeans, and 95.6% of residents of Sevastopol were in favour of the Crimea and Sevastopol reuniting with Russia. On March 18 an agreement was signed on the Crimea and Sevastopol joining Russia as a subject of the Federation. Following ratification by both sides of the agreement on March 21, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law on the Crimea joining Russia and on the formation of two subjects of the Russian Federation – the Republic of the Crimea and as city of federal significance, Sevastopol. A Crimean federal district was created.”

The good thing about most school kids is that they don’t ask inconvenient questions, Their teachers may which was doubtless the reason for such immense haste in presenting a ‘correct version of events’, the kind students should learn – and repeat for good grades.

Silence about the EuroMaidan protests which made world headlines for more than 3 months was not unexpected. Nor the police gunning down of unarmed protesters which led to Maidan’s ultimatum for Yanukovych to go. This, in fact, is what he did, fleeing first to Kharkiv, then to Russia where he has been in hiding ever since. The version could have been much worse, as the Kremlin and Russian media have demonstrated, but for a school textbook greater accuracy would have been desirable.   Continue reading

Restoring press freedom in Ukraine with the Yanukovych Leaks


Yanukovych ResidenceYanukovych Residence- Katie Collins

For the last three years in Ukraine, 6 June has been known as journalist’s day. Journalists and activists have gathered outside the President Yanukovych’s residence, Mezhyhirya, to protest against media censorship. This year, though, is different.

On 22 February, Viktor Yanukovych fled after his presidency came to an end and his private estate in the countryside outside of Kiev was opened up. This year on 6 June, journalists and activists have come together once again, but this time inside the vast residence, where they have set up Mezhyhirya Festival to celebrate freedom of expression and the work of the Ukrainian journalists who fought hard to reveal the economic corruption that allowed Yanukovych to live in luxury.

In a state where the government and the civil service have been rife with corruption, it is the journalists who have been almost solely responsible for holding them to account. For years they did this facing persecution and with little success, but then when Yanukovych abandoned his compound and the journalists and activists entered and discovered incriminating documents floating in the lake.

THE YANUKOVYCH LEAKS PROJECT

“We were drying them on this very floor,” says journalist Denis Bigus referring to the corrugated steel hangar in which the Festival is taking place. Journalists and volunteers poured into Mezhyhirya to try and rescue the documents.

“From the first days [they] were working hard here with the documents, they were drying them, scanning them. At one time there were 120 journalists, divers, volunteers and Euromaidan activists in one place,” explains Tata Peklun, one of the journalists involved in organising the Yanukovych Leaks project.

The project saw nearly all of the 25,000 documents discovered at Mezhyhirya scanned, digitised and put online for Ukrainians to view and for other journalists to undertake their own investigations into what was going on within the lavish compound.

In order to recruit volunteers, the journalists ran a Facebook campaign asking for people to come along and bring any scanning equipment they had available. It was a massive success — a family printing company showed up bringing all the equipment they had; people who couldn’t come all day came by after work; restoration experts turned up with a huge fan to help make sure none of the information was lost.

“Of course we did not know the scale of Mezhyhirya,” says Peklun. “So for seven days we managed to go along the whole territory.” They used everything they had at their disposal including saunas to dry the documents out, and cameras and mobile phones to record the documents. There was some concern, she adds, as they had no idea how long they would be able to remain there and collect evidence; there was always a risk that prosecutors might turn up and cart the documents away.

They also had no internet access at the residence, so getting the files online was a huge challenge, but a local internet mogul made sure they were connected. As a result, the documents on the Yanukovych Leaks website have been viewed more than four million times. “We are working on adding some more functionalities,” says Peklun. But, she adds, “the main thing is that now each documents is scanned in a quality way.”

INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE

What then was in these documents that Yanukovych had been so keen to destroy before he fled? “The biggest majority were related to the area where we are now,” says journalist Natalie Sedletska, referring to the estate. As far as possible they have been split up into different categories from contracts with suppliers and bank bills to wage details and personnel information.

Some of the documents stand out as being particularly interesting: a handwritten bill for $12 million with no explanation of exactly what it relates to; financial reports about cash donations from 2006-2008, which were made by unknown people and brought to the residence; evidence that two people from local community who tried to break up Stop Censorship meetings were employees of estate.

Perhaps the most interesting document was found in the hut of Yanukovych’s personal bodyguard. Inside it were documents about Euromaidan, and notes about the tracks and movements of rebels and journalists around the city. One note about a journalist being attacked and beaten was accompanied by the remark that the “operation of cleaning up had been finished”. It also showed that to an extent some of the information being fed to Yanukovych came to him in a distorted form, but nevertheless he knew what was going on in the country.

The notebook also detailed many of the intricacies of Yanukovych’s private life that were unknown to Ukranians. The president gave the impression of being always busy, but in fact he spent much of his time receiving massages and cosmetic treatments. “What impressed most and what characterised our former president was this notebook of his former bodyguard,” says Peklun. “Yanukovych made an impression of a more powerful person, but not a person that enjoyed all these cosmetic procedures.”

The documents allowed the journalists to discover, if not exactly where the money was coming from, how the president was laundering it — using false charity foundations and real estate — and spending it (on elaborate chandeliers and his wife’s hobby of raising rare and expensive dogs, among other things). “This only proves that every sheet of paper from these files could become a specific piece of evidence in Yanukovych case. There is a case filed across Yanukovych for economic crimes and for stolen money and now we hope to bring this money back to Ukraine.”

This is reiterated by Carolyn Parisot from the FBI who has been working with the Ukrainians and with law enforcement across Europe in order to try and help with the investigation by analysing the evidence. “We want to identify the corruptly obtained assets in Ukraine,” she says. “Most importantly we want to return the assets to the citizens of Ukraine.”

INVESTIGATIONS AND PURSUING JUSTICE

What happens next, says Peklun, is “not just a question for journalists”. She does urge more journalists to get involved in the project — rightly pointing out that with 25,000 documents there are many stories to be discovered — but also urges them to work together with prosecutors. Parisot, too encourages journalists to continue working with law enforcement, who may have better access to financial and business records that will allow the investigations to be as thorough as possible.

Peklun would also like to see many more politicians associated with the corruption that took place during the Yanukovych regime be held to account in a similar way to the ex-president. “Maybe Yanukovych leaks is the project which will become the challenge to all politicians who believe their activities will never be punished. They believe the power they’ve got will be there power forever,” she says.

Commenting on the scale of the corruption, the first deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine Mykola Holomsha said: “The impression was that we had no organised crime in the economy, that there was no corruption that all civil servants were obeying the law.” Having examined the documents though, he adds that he has “never ever seen such a case of stealing — these are all agencies and ministries that all corrupt from the bottom up.”

There are ongoing investigations into many of the people involved in these organisations, but in accordance with the constitution, the prosecutor cannot name people before they are found guilty. Be assured though, he says, “The ministers and heads of different agencies are among them.”

“Without these materials… we wouldn’t have what we now have in Ukraine, we wouldn’t be here sitting in this place,” says Dmytro Gnap, another journalist who has played a huge part in unveiling corruption in Ukraine. “Maybe we would standing there by the fence. What happened in Ukraine what in the last months and in recent months and all our work prove that journalists have real powers. Journalists and investigators are the fourth power.”

Wired UK