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RFE/RL Ukrainian Service Journalists Win Fritt Ord And ZEIT Foundation Honors

Natalie Sedletska, Editor of Schemes, the investigative journalism program of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.

Journalists with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Ukrainian Service are the recipients of Free Media Awards 2020 conferred by the Fritt Ord Foundation and the ZEIT Foundation Ebelin and Gerd Bucerius for their contributions to independent journalism in Europe.

Awards were given to Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev for reporting on prisoners and life in Ukraine’s Donbas region, which Russia occupied in 2014; and the editorial team of the Ukrainian Service's investigative journalism program, Schemes.

“The information which the award winners manage to publish, as a result of their tough achievements in hostile environments, is vitally important and crucial for the democratic movements in Eastern Europe,” said Dr. Knut Olav Åmås, executive director at the Fritt Ord Foundation, announcing the award on August 18.

Prof. Dr. Michael Göring, CEO of the ZEIT Foundation, commended the recipients for “fearlessly uncover[ing] corruption and the abuse of power,” and by so doing “defend[ing] the freedom of the press that is vital for a functioning civil society.”

Stanislav Aseyev wrote powerful first-hand accounts of Russia’s occupation of his native Donetsk before being detained by Russia-backed separatists in July 2017 and held incommunicado for 2 1/2 years for “treason.”

Ukraine – Stanislav Aseyev, RFE/RL Ukrainian Service. Kyiv, February28, 2020
Ukraine – Stanislav Aseyev, RFE/RL Ukrainian Service. Kyiv, February28, 2020

He was released in a prisoner exchange in December, 2019. His reports were published by the Ukrainian Service's Donbas.Realities unit and have been collected in two volumes, Letters from Donbas and In Isolation.

Schemes, described by the award sponsors as “a mainstay of investigative journalism,” is a high-profile, joint project of the Ukrainian Service and Ukraine's public broadcaster Pershiy Kanal that is dedicated to shining light on corruption and abuse of public office in Ukraine. The team's members have suffered threats, physical assault, online abuse, an arson attack on a vehicle, and possible illegal surveillance in connection with their investigative work.

The winners were selected by a distinguished six-member jury.

The awards, five annually and which carry a financial prize, this year recognized “the growing repression of Eastern European journalists."

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Free Media Award ceremony is postponed until 2021.