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Yanukovych guards confront journalist

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Feb. 11, 2010, 9:32 p.m. | Op-ed — by Serhiy Leshchenko

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Serhiy Leshchenko

Serhiy Leshchenko is deputy chief editor of Ukrainska Pravda.

I was walking along Lypska Street [on Feb. 10] and spotted a six-meter luxury Maybach car outside the building that hosts the Party of Regions headquarters. Out of the car came Vasyl Khmelnytsky, the guy who describes himself as a “simple Ukrainian bloke.” This oligarch, who owns half of Kyiv, speedily walked up to the porch and disappeared behind the door. Khmelnytsky is not just a deputy from the Party of Regions. Khmelnytsky controls a third of the faction of (Speaker Volodymyr) Lytvyn, which has 20 deputies. It’s understandable why Khmelnytsky was summoned to the Region’s management. That same day their leader, Victor Yanukovych, called for the current government coalition to voluntarily disintegrate, so he can create his own coalition and take power [as president-elect] in this country into his own hands.

However, none of the three participants of the current coalition are willing to quit on their own – especially Lytvyn, who could lose his seat in parliament in a pre-term election. It’s obvious that the Donetsk group wants to pressure Lytvyn through Khmelnytsky.

My attempt to document the fact of Khmelnytsky being summoned to Yanukovych’s office was only natural and caused by professional necessity. But as soon as I took a couple of photos, the guards from the Regions headquarters ran up to me.

“Stop!” a camouflaged fighter ordered. “Taking photos is not allowed.” I asked him why that could possibly be. “This is private property. Have you got permission?” he asked.

I was very surprised because I took photos of Khmelnytsky. Since when have the deputies become someone’s private property and are forbidden to be filmed or photographed? They like to refer to themselves as “the servants of the people!”

The guard explained to me that the private property is the Party of Regions residence. This was difficult to argue against: until recently, this mansion belonged to the state, specifically to the State Management of Affairs [an institution that manages properties on behalf of the president, the Cabinet and other state organs.] But another Regions deputy, Hryhoriy Smityukh, conducted a questionable privatization of this real estate, and it ceased to be state property.

But I decided against attempting to explain this to the camouflaged young man because he attempted to detain me and delete the photographs. Instead, I had to explain that I would not delete them, and he called for backup. The chief of security arrived, and a showdown started right in the street. I explained to them that the pavement around Yanukovych’s office is not private property, but they again demanded permission to take photographs.

When I started to inform my newsroom about my detention, the guards decided against provoking a scandal and told me I was free to go. Actually, I am quite grateful to them for not breaking my camera or glasses.

I request that this article is treated as an official appeal to the head of the Verkhovna Rada committee on press freedom Hanna Herman regarding an attempt to prevent my journalistic activity.

I would like Herman, who sits in the same office on Lypska, to figure out what can be photographed in the Party of Regions, and what cannot – and issue appropriate instructions to journalists. Because tomorrow, the face of Yanukovych might also be pronounced private property and we’ll be banned from photographing it.

Serhiy Leshchenko is a journalist with pravda.com.ua, an influential online newspaper. This column originally appeared on http://blogs.pravda.com.ua/authors/leschenko/4b72ce6d88743/ and is reprinted with permission.
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