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Mezhyhirya Festival celebrates investigative journalism

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Mezhyhirya Festival, an international investigative journalism conference, took place at fugitive ex-President Viktor Yanukovych's opulent country estate outside Kyiv on June 6-7.

Over the weekend over 200 journalists, bloggers, safety trainers and digital gurus from Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, Bosnia, Lithuania, United Kingdom, U.S. and other countries got a chance to debate and learn from each other during panels, workshops and informal discussions.

Mezhyhirya Fest was founded in 2014 by journalists of the Kyiv Post and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, together with the Proxy Prize, an award for the best investigation that is presented annually at the festival. The Media Development Foundation helps run the festival.

This year the main prize was won by Dmytro Gnap of the Slidstvo.info journalistic investigations for his video investigation of the top Ukrainian official who illegally acquired a war participant status. The full list of winners is available at the festival’s Facebook page.

On the first day of the conference the war reporting was in focus. The Economist’s Tim Judah and Josh Arnold-Forster, a special adviser to the British defense secretary John Reid in 2005-2006, opened the festival with the keynotes on the hybrid wars, Russian propaganda and modern challenges to the existing world order. Journalists from former Yugoslavia shared their experience of conflict and post-conflict coverage, ethical issues of reporting the war crimes.

Ukrainian journalists Denis Kazanskyi and Ekaterina Sergatskova, who cover war in Donbas, shared what challenges they experience while reporting.

Belarussian-Ukrainian music band Brutto performed in the end of the first day of the festival. The band was formed in 2014 by opposition-minded Belarussian Sergey Mikhalok, former front man of the popular band Lyapis Trubetskoy. In the evening of June 6 the participants of the Donbas Media Forum, held on the same weekend in Kyiv, joined the festival.

On the second day Mezhyhirya Fest provided trainings and workshops with experts, taking place in a luxurious guest house nicknamed Putin’s House. The day opened with a panel discussion between investigative journalists Denys Bigus and Yuriy Kireev, a newly-appointed head of National Anti-Corruption Bureau Artem Sytnyk, and Italian Giovanni Kessler, chief of the European Anti-Fraud Office.

Cyber security specialists of Share Foundation, based in Serbia, held a digital security workshop in order to teach the festival participants to protect themselves online, especially while using Internet on mobile phones. A graphic designer from the Share Foundation taught basic knowledge in data visualization, analyzing Kyiv Post pages.

Another workshop was conducted by Centurion Safety, a security company from the United Kingdom. It was an extract of the company’s four-day training “Security for journalists working in the war zone and hostile environment.” Charismatic speaker Keith Rigby shared a piece of advice – for instance, how to pass a blockpost in a war zone, and how to deal with kidnapping. The training included indoor theoretical part and an outdoor exercise.

Mezhyhirya Fest ended with an excursion to the Yanukovych palace, an enormously large and luxury five-floor house nicknamed “Honka.”

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