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Lady Liberty

Battling Corruption, Online And In Office


Formerly an opposition journalist and among the most strident critics of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Maidan activist Tetyana Chornovol has taken up the reins of government herself as Anti-corruption Bureau Chief in the cabinet approved by Parliament in late February.

Chornovol spoke to Lady Liberty from the Maidan at the height of the demonstrations, in which she was an active participant. She concedes that her brand of activist journalism is not “pure journalism,” but says the value of her work is in the damning evidence she has uncovered on Yanukovych and other officials.

Chornovol is well known for her investigative reporting into the financial assets and lavish lifestyles of the Yanukovych family, and corruption among senior government officials. She has contributed to many publications, including the opposition online newspaper “Ukrainska Pravda.”

She gained international attention when her car was forced off the road near Kyiv and she was savagely beaten by unknown assailants on December 25, 2013. The attack came just hours after Chornovol had published an article accusing Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko of corruption.

“I tried to be in the middle of things as they happened, and my main goal was to fight Yanukovych. So my investigative reporting was mainly about him,” she said. “I investigated the biggest corruption schemes and I found threads that led to him, his family members, and his inner circle.”

Ukraine -- Opposition activist and journalist Tetyana Chornovol lies on a stretcher at a hospital in Kyiv, December 25, 2013

Ukraine -- Opposition activist and journalist Tetyana Chornovol lies on a stretcher at a hospital in Kyiv, December 25, 2013

In 2006, Chornovol was the first to report on Yanukovych’s luxurious Mezhyhirya estate. After Yanukovych fled Ukraine to Russia in late February, the estate was discovered to be home not only to a petting zoo and golf course, but also hundreds of documents delineating millions of euros in various cash payments, and "blacklists" of Yanukovych rivals and journalists, among them Chornovol.

RFE/RL Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow Natalie Sedletska is part of a team of journalists that, together with Chornovol, is sifting through the records, many of which were found floating in a reservoir near the grounds, apparently the result of a panicked attempt by Yanukovych’s staff to destroy them. The first 500 have been dried, photographed and posted on a special website, Yanukovychleaks.org , to make them available to the public.

Among the documents uncovered by the team was a notebook belonging to Yanukovych’s head of security containing hand-written notes on Chornovol’s comings and goings from the Maidan, her cellphone activity, and an entry with a date and time that closely corresponds to the time when she was run off the road and beaten. The entry says that Chornovol has switched off her phone and reads “operation started,” then, a few hours later “operation ended -- clean.”

If her attackers hoped to force Chornovol off the case, their efforts had the opposite effect. Her assault led to calls for the creation of a government position to address corruption, a position Chornovol now holds.

--Emily Thompson
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