Dozens of Ukrainians, including journalists, lawmakers and students gathered on Khreshchatyk Street on Sept. 16 to commemorate those journalists who have been killed or have died under suspicious circumstances since Ukraine became independent in 1991.
The event called “Arm Yourself With Truth” organized by the National Union of Journalists and a number of media watchdog groups, marked 15 years to the day of the disappearance of Ukraine’s high-profile investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
A Ukrainian court has examined an appeal from a former police chief Oleksiy Pukach on Sept. 15 who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Gongadze. Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has been accused of ordering the murder, but he has never been prosecuted and denies any involvement.
Fifteen years on, those who ordered the murder of the journalist — who is now a symbol of free speech — remain free.
“We shouldn’t get used to murders, tortures and abductions of the journalists,” Zurab Alasaniya, who heads the state television channel, said during the rally.
Artem Skoropadsky, a former Kommersant newspaper journalist and now a Right Sector spokesman, believes that nothing has changed in terms of the investigation of the murders and mysterious deaths.
“The prosecutors didn’t report on all those cases when journalists were beaten or intimidated during the (ex-President Viktor) Yanukovych regime,” Skoropadsky told the Kyiv Post. “I haven’t heard about any successful investigation so far.”
Ukraine still ranks among the most dangerous countries for the press. Seven journalists were killed in 2014 and at least four in 2015, including journalists killed in Russia’s war against eastern Ukraine.
The citizens lit candles and held signs adorned with Gongadze’s silhouette and the names of more than 50 slain journalists were read aloud on Maidan Nezalezhnosti.
Iryna Chulivska, a media expert of the Institute for Mass Information, told the Kyiv Post that the special group of media activists, law enforcement representatives and prosecutors was launched on Sept. 16 to boost the investigation of the killings and assaults of Ukrainian media workers.
“Today we passed them some 273 cases regarding freedom of speech violations we recorded recently,” Chulivska said. “They promised us to deliver results on these cases on Sept. 23. If they failed, it would mean that the new leaders are not able to pass this test.”
Chulivska said they expected the president to show up during the group meeting, but he “preferred symbolic action to real meeting,” she said, as Petro Poroshenko went to put flowers to the National Union of Journalists early on Sept. 16.
“This crime has no limitations period,” Poroshenko wrote on his official Facebook page.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt wrote that the anniversary of Gongadze’s disappearance is “an appropriate time to reflect on the critical role of a free and independent media in Ukraine’s democratic development.”
“Mr. Gongadze was an intrepid investigative journalist who dedicated his professional life to informing the public, exposing corruption and injustice, and holding those in positions of public trust accountable to the people they serve. Ukrainska Pravda, the media outlet he founded, carries on that legacy today,” reads the statement.
Dunja Mijatović, the media-freedom representative for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that “Gongadze’s murder continues to have a dampening effect on the free expression and free media in Ukraine.”
“Gongadze paid the ultimate price for his courageous work,” Mijatović said. “The masterminds behind this vicious crime must be brought to justice.” Mijatović is also concerned about the lack of progress in the investigations of killings and numerous attacks against media workers since the start of the Russian war against Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Kyiv Post staff writer Olena Goncharova can be reached at email@example.com.