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'Silence And Fear Won't Save Us'

VOA Ukrainian Service Broadcaster Myroslava Gongadze.
VOA Ukrainian Service Broadcaster Myroslava Gongadze.

Myroslava Gongadze has experienced firsthand the ruthlessness of those who would silence the free press. Her husband, Georgiy Gongadze, an investigative journalist and founder of the website Ukrayinska Pravda in the early years of Ukraine’s independence, was abducted and killed in 2000, allegedly on the orders of the country’s top officials. Now a journalist with the Ukrainian service of the Voice of America (VOA), Gongadze is a fierce defender of press freedom and an advocate for the protection of journalists. Gongadze spoke with Lady Liberty contributor Rachel Mabie about her work and hopes for the future of her country.

Lady Liberty: How has your husband’s killing shaped your work as a journalist?

Myroslava Gongadze: When my husband was murdered it was very, very hard to bring attention to it. It was hard to bring attention to it in Ukraine, and even harder to get attention from international media, but that was my goal. I wanted his case to be on the front page of the news because I felt it was important to start talking about the murders of journalists.

At first we thought we could find my husband. Along with a couple of friends and journalist colleagues, I organized a campaign for him, and we were very outspoken. We organized press conferences and events almost every day from the start.

I cannot tell you how it shaped my work at VOA. It shaped my life. Since then, my view of the world, my view of journalism, and my view of international news has changed. I’ve been devoted to the issue of crimes against journalists and the issue of journalists who are trying to fight corruption in their home countries.

Lady Liberty: You once said you would return to Ukraine permanently if those responsible for your husband’s murder were brought to justice. Given the current state of affairs, do you think it’s likely you’ll return someday?

MG: Yes, I said that, and I’m still saying that. I feel very connected to my homeland. There are two issues that I care about: my kids and my country. I want Ukraine to become free, independent, without corruption, and with the rule of law. Unfortunately, at this time they are just starting to move to that direction. At this point in time, my husband’s murder is not solved yet completely. The perpetrators of the crime are behind bars right now, but the instigators of the crime--the people who are responsible, who created Ukraine like we know it right now, as a corrupt society between East and West--they are still enjoying their freedom and privileges.

The system is not yet clean, but we are working on it. And I do hope, eventually, to find justice in my husband’s case, and that Ukraine will become a normal, democratic, and just society.

Lady Liberty: You co-hosted a series of debates for First National TV in the run-up to the October 2014 parliamentary elections. What do you make of the results and what do they mean for Ukraine’s future?

MG: I was honored to be asked to do this. I felt I could contribute by helping [voters] find answers. I was happy to participate in the building of a new society, a new political system at this critical time. I’m actually happy the Ukrainian authorities conducted this election in a crisis situation--when Ukraine has a war in the east, a situation of Russian aggression, yet Ukrainians were able to organize and conduct a free election.

Basically, 50 percent of the parliament was renewed, so many new people came to parliament, including a lot of former Ukrainian journalists and civil society activists. I’m happy that we see these new, young faces in parliament, and hopefully we will be able to crack the system and start fighting for the things that they really need to deal with.

Lady Liberty: As a respected, successful woman journalist, what do you say to other Ukrainian women in the field?

MG: Oh boy. I feel for them. I’ve been there. The main thing we all have to do--men, women, everyone--is to find courage. Silence and fear won’t save us. We have to be vigilant and strong enough to change something if we don’t like our surroundings, and I know we can do it. As women, we are more tolerant to others. We don’t like to fight, we like to build, and I think women journalists can really change the environment, not only of our profession, but in decision making processes generally. We have to. It is our job to bring this courage and harmony, because this world is so focused on ego, and I would say manly ego. We have to talk to each other and find solutions, not build walls.