The struggle for a democratic Ukraine goes on, 20 years after my father’s abduction

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The anti-corruption journalist Georgiy Gongadze was murdered two decades ago. Young Ukrainians must not give up his mission.

Curiously my father, Georgiy Gongadze, an icon of Ukrainian journalism, was born not in Ukraine but in Tbilisi, the capital of Soviet Georgia, in 1969. In the early 1990s he became a youth activist, travelling through the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. He ended up in Lviv, in western Ukraine, where he met my mother, Myroslava, a young woman who, like him, was testing the new-found freedoms of the era to practice independent journalism.

The couple began to make their names as broadcast journalists who reported on the relationships between Ukraine’s political class and its oligarchs, the new class of shady biznessmeni who had accumulated obscene wealth in the fire-sale privatisations that sold off swathes of Soviet industry after the USSR’s collapse.

His fearless journalism earned him powerful enemies, however, and 20 years ago this month my father was brutally murdered, his death linked to the very highest echelons of politics. The scandal shocked the country and helped galvanise the fight against corruption in Ukraine. Today, on 16 September, as we mark the anniversary of his disappearance, his name remains a rallying call for democrats in the country who are continuing his mission.

***

Newly independent Ukraine felt like a promising place, but within a few years a culture of dirty deals, corruption and illiberalism had emerged. Oligarchs had begun to infiltrate the government under the then president Leonid Kuchma. Those in power did not take kindly to the scrutiny of the handful of independent journalists operating at that time.

Giorgiy Gongadze speaks to the then president of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma before a TV interview. (Photo courtesy of the Gongadze family)

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A few video recordings of Gongadze’s TV interviews, including one with Kuchma, survive. They show a dogged, expressive young interviewer with a deep voice and a hairline just starting to recede. In one, he confronts the surly president for failing to adequately investigate a high-profile assassination attempt. He challenges Kuchma about keeping on an interior minister who could not find the perpetrators of the crime, telling the president that, “you are covering up for incompetence”.

Even while only a tiny proportion of Ukraine’s population had access to a computer, let alone internet access, Gongadze saw the possibilities the web allowed for a free and independent media that did not depend on patronage from oligarchs or the government. In 2000 he created the news website Ukrainskaya Pravda (the title means “Ukrainian Truth,” an ironic wink to the old Central Committee mouthpiece of the same name).

Somewhere between all of this I was born, one half of a pair of twins, in 1997.

***

By mid-2000, my mother recalls, the couple began suspecting that their Kyiv flat was being watched. My father would return to it nervously, reporting being followed by shady-looking figures. He complained to the prosecutor’s office, alleging he was being monitored and demanding an explanation. They ignored him.

Georgiy Gongadze went missing on the evening of 16 September 2000. One of the last things he ever did was give …read more

Source:: New Statesman

      

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