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Allegations emerged that numerous female journalists working in Russia had been harassed, an indication that the global #MeToo movement appeared to be spreading to Russia.

Darya Komarova was a cub reporter in 2012 when she scored an interview with Stanislav Govorukhin, a top Russian film director who that year was working as the campaign chief for Vladimir Putin ahead of Russia’s presidential election.

Govorukhin had traveled to Cheboksary, the capital of the Chuvash Republic, some 670 kilometers east of Moscow, to stump for Putin and had agreed to meet with Komarova, a reporter with the biggest local newspaper, Progorod.

Komarova was elated, telling family and friends that she was about to meet a “famous person.” Making it all the sweeter was the fatter paycheck she had been promised by the newspaper for the interview.

Komarova met Govorukhin at a local restaurant, where she says he laid out his quid pro quo for the interview.

“He proposed that I spend the night with him. I rejected him, and he threatened to cancel the interview. I was ashamed. I had already told all my friends and colleagues that I was going to interview a famous person -- Stanislav Govorukhin,” Komarova recounted in a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service.

Darya Komarova
Darya Komarova

Shocked but unfazed, Komarova stood her ground.

“I first told him that he would have to pay me for my lost time if he refused to do the interview, but it didn’t work. Then I told him I would leave the room and stir up a scandal. Apparently, that frightened him," Komarova recounts. “After that, I asked him a few questions and we finished.”

Komarova later contacted Govorukhin to check a few facts from the interview. His nonchalance over the phone overwhelmed her.

“He picked up the phone but didn’t remember me. It was funny. I thought, 'He must have had a lot of provincial journalists.' This isn’t about Govorukhin, but the fact that such behavior becomes commonplace. That’s what so scary.”

RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service contacted Govorukhin by telephone but he declined to comment on the allegations.

“I’m at a hospital and can’t talk,” Govorukhin said.

Film director Stanislav Govorukhin (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg in April 2017
Film director Stanislav Govorukhin (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg in April 2017

But Govorukhin has previously denied having ever met Komarova for an interview, a copy of which is available on the journalist’s Facebook page.

Komarova says she was scared and confused at the time but then largely forgot the incident after colleagues she confided to largely brushed off the whole thing with a laugh. She also was wary about bringing it up with her husband.

“My husband was against me working as a journalist, and then this happened. Maybe that’s why I did not dwell on it. Now I’m able to laugh at the whole thing involving Govorukhin. It just seems funny to me how some high-ranking people react when they see a pretty girl. However, this is no laughing matter. In all these situations, it is disgraceful how these men behave.”

Komarova continued in journalism, including work as a contributor to RFE/RL, before she became a campaign manager for Ksenia Sobchak, the former TV personality who made a failed run in Russia’s recent presidential election.

Then public allegations emerged that numerous female journalists working in Russia had been harassed, an indication that the global #MeToo movement exposing cases of sexual harassment and abuse appeared to be spreading to Russia.

Among the first to come forward were several female reporters who accused Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky of sexual harassment.

Slutsky is a member of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, (LDPR), whose leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, called Sobchak a “whore” during a TV presidential debate.

The developments led Komarova to post details of her own experience on Facebook.

After that, Komarova said she was harshly criticized on social media (from many ‘fake’ accounts she suspects were solely created to target her) and attacked by others she assumes were friends or fans of Govorukhin.

Komarova said she was disappointed by the reaction of Alena Arshinova, a State Duma deputy from Chuvashia, who in a posting on Facebook defended Govorukhin and cast doubt on Komarova’s claims, saying she had worked alongside him during the 2012 campaign.

Sympathy, or justice for that matter, for victims of alleged sexual harassment appears to be in short supply in Russia.

On March 21, the State Duma’s Ethics Commission heard the Slutsky case after accusers officially filed complaints. The committee, however, ruled that Slutsky had not committed any violations of “behavioral norms,” prompting more than 20 media outlets to pull their journalists from covering the lower house of Russia’s parliament.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has questioned why so many victims of sexual harassment have waited so long to file complaints.

“If he groped you, if he harassed you, why did you remain silent? Why didn’t you go to the police? Why did so much time pass, and then you went to the Ethics Commission?" Peskov told students at a Moscow university on March 29.

Peskov noted that women in the United States and elsewhere have been speaking out increasingly about sexual harassment, sometimes years after an alleged offense occurred, and suggested that Slutsky's accusers were making "something of a fashion statement."

“We’re trying to keep up with the mayhem that’s been happening in America,” he said.

A State Duma deputy from Tatarstan, Fatikh Sibagatullin, from the ruling United Russia party, on March 23 compared journalists to “servants,” sparking outrage.

“To a certain degree, we are all servants before someone, I guess,” says Komarova. “Our deputies often forget that they are servants of the people and not the other way around.”

Komarova predicts sexual harassment in Russia will only be addressed once there is a frank, public debate about the problem.

“In my case, I just wanted to show that this happens so often,” she says.

Komarova regrets that she herself didn’t come forward sooner.

“Maybe if I had talked more openly about what happened to me, then no one would have experienced the same thing,” she says, before adding a bit of advice.

"As a journalist, I can only urge [anyone] to turn on your Dictaphone. It’s important that you have evidence. As a woman, I urge anyone not to keep this to themselves.”

“We have fulfilled the law, no matter how absurd it was,” said Vitaliy Shabunin, one of the leaders of the Anti-Corruption Action Center.

KYIV -- Ukraine's revolutionary electronic asset-declaration system has been praised by the country’s Western partners and local anticorruption activists as a crowning achievement of the post-Maidan government.

But those same partners and activists have more recently warned that the transparency project is being undermined and used as a tool to quash the work of government critics.

Alarm bells began ringing well before Ukrainian lawmakers on April 3 failed to pass laws that would abolish subsequent e-declaration requirements for activists and NGOs who fight against entrenched corruption that were signed into law by President Petro Poroshenko last summer.

Proponents of the NGO requirements argued they were needed to promote transparency.

But the U.S. State Department and European Union representatives said otherwise of the NGO requirements, and urged Ukrainian officials to repeal them as soon as possible. They said the requirements would put undue burdens on those NGOs and activists, and hamper their work.

The e-declaration system was designed to help prevent corruption by granting the public and anticorruption watchdogs access to income and asset information of Ukrainian public servants who are involved in handling money from the state budget.

The alarms are growing louder now.

Andriy Parubiy: "I am ashamed of our decisions."
Andriy Parubiy: "I am ashamed of our decisions."

“Colleagues, frankly this is one of those days when, unfortunately, I am ashamed of our decisions,” parliamentary speaker Andriy Parubiy told lawmakers inside the Verkhovna Rada after the failed votes.

Lawmaker and anticorruption campaigner Serhiy Leshchenko said afterward that Poroshenko, who had called for the NGO law to be scrapped but failed to get most members of his own political faction and those of its coalition partner to vote to repeal it, was playing a “cynical game” that would “destroy Ukraine’s relations with partners in the West.”

“If only Ukraine’s politicians showed as much zeal at fighting corruption within their own ranks as they do in going after civil society organizations,” tweeted Michael Carpenter, the senior director at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and former deputy assistant secretary of defense. “Sadly, it’s blindingly obvious why they don’t.”

Ukraine’s anticorruption activists and NGOs were given until April 1 to file their assets and income in e-declarations, or else face prosecution. Some did, including the head of Transparency International’s Ukraine office, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, and Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC) leaders Daria Kaleniuk and Vitaliy Shabunin.

“We have fulfilled the law, no matter how absurd it was,” Shabunin said in a video published on March 30.

According to accounting done by the Kyiv Post newspaper, Shabunin disclosed 889,543 hryvnya ($33,800) in income at the current exchange rate -- a fraction of what many Ukrainian officials make.

As expected, attacks meant to discredit the activists began almost immediately afterward, with populist lawmakers taking the lead.

Ukrainian lawmaker Ihor Mosiychuk: "Those so-called antigraft activists have been working in Ukraine for foreign money."
Ukrainian lawmaker Ihor Mosiychuk: "Those so-called antigraft activists have been working in Ukraine for foreign money."

Radical Party lawmaker Ihor Mosiychuk called them “foreign agents,” echoing the label assigned by the Russian government to describe NGOs there who receive outside funding.

“Those so-called antigraft activists have been working in Ukraine for foreign money, helping to turn Ukraine into a raw material base for the rest of the world,” Mosiychuk said, according to the Kyiv Post.

His party leader, Oleh Lyashko, is among those who the activists have accused of corruption in connection with dubious private lottery winnings amounting to 570,000 hryvnya (roughly $21,660) and personal income of 20 million hryvnya ($760,000), despite having no business interest for years.

On Facebook, Anastasia Krasnosilska, another AntAC activist, expressed disappointment that public attention was now on the declarations of those working to combat corruption instead of on the declarations of public officials and the creation of an anticorruption court needed to prosecute those charged with corruption-related crimes.

“The government has achieved its goal with e-declarations” for NGOs, she conceded.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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