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Schemes Reporter Defies Growing Pressure On Investigative Journalism In Ukraine


 Ukraine -- Schemes reporter Valeriya Yegoshyna.
Ukraine -- Schemes reporter Valeriya Yegoshyna.

Valeriya Yegoshyna, an award-winning member of the hard-hitting investigative Schemes team of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, is helping to root out and expose corruption in Ukraine.

Her reporting has exposed high-level malfeasance and abuse of power among Ukraine’s local and regional authorities, oligarchs, and politicians, and even the prime minister and president.

“Our team calls out those who are suspected of stealing money, property, and resources from our country, and those who abuse power for personal gain,” Yegoshyna tells RFE/RL Pressroom.

An investigation led by Yegoshyna about a historic building in the Podil district of Kyiv that was privatized by a shadowy company and then left in a dilapidated state prompted a court to return ownership of the nineteenth century building to the city. The digital project and documentary, titled Vanishing Heritage, won Yegoshyna the country’s 2018 Vasyl Sergienko Award for the Best Investigation Online.

Her team’s investigation into the luxury cars belonging to employees of the Economic Department of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), whose official salaries could not support such purchases, put public pressure on parliament to begin reforming the SBU.

The video report won Yegoshyna the 2018 National Investigative Journalism Award at the Mezhyhirya Festival in June 2018, as well as a place on the shortlist for the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award.

Yegoshyna says reporting on the SBU in Ukraine is especially challenging because of the organization’s secretive nature, but also because it has hardly been reformed at all since it was the KGB during Soviet times.

The SBU attempted to prevent the story’s release by threatening Yegoshyna with criminal charges under a law to prevent terrorism. Schemes team lawyers attested to the legality of the investigation, and the SBU were unable to stop the report from airing.

Yegoshyna’s investigation into the delayed delivery of U.S. high-speed boats promised to the Ukrainian Navy after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 exposed President Petro Poroshenko’s ties to a shipyard in Kyiv called Kuznya na Rybalskomu that builds similar vessels. Poroshenko denied holding up the delivery of the U.S. boats to encourage the Ukrainian Navy to purchase ships from Kuznya na Rybalskomu instead, and called the Schemes team “betrayal backers.” After the report aired, however, bureaucratic barriers were suddenly lifted to allow for the ships to be delivered in 2019.

Yegoshyna says the report spurred “more action in six months than we saw over the past few years.”

Ukraine -- Schemes reporter Valeriya Yegoshyna interviewing Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.
Ukraine -- Schemes reporter Valeriya Yegoshyna interviewing Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.

In some cases, investigative reporting done by Yegoshyna and the Schemes team has laid the groundwork for criminal charges to be brought against the subjects of their stories.

But having such a significant impact has not come without consequences.

“Behind all the research, the data, verifications, editing, and production that go into an investigative report, there is huge pressure against investigative journalists in Ukraine, including threats, intimidation, and obstruction of access to information,” said Yegoshyna.

Schemes reporters have been subject to physical assault, online threats, and slander and harassment by government officials and Ukrainian oligarchs. The Prosecutor-General’s office sought to gain access to the mobile-phone data of Schemes author and host Natalia Sedletska in August 2018, but was stopped in September by order of the European Court of Human Rights.

Being a woman journalist can also lead to “unexpected consequences,” adds Yegoshyna, noting the occasion she was forced to undergo invasive security checks in order to attend a Kyiv court hearing where the president testified via video link.

RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service Director Maryana Drach says Yegoshyna is known for her “persistence and diligence” and, despite obstacles, remains “committed to investigative journalism.”

—Claudia Shute

Schemes: Corruption In Details is a weekly television program exploring the underside of Ukrainian politics, produced by RFE/RL’s Ukraine Service in partnership with Ukraine’s First Public TV channel (UT-1). Its creators are among the journalists that founded YanukovychLeaks, a reporting project that uncovered massive corruption under the government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

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