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Ukraine: Newspaper Shuts Down After State Seizes Bank Account

Kyiv, 30 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A popular Ukrainian newspaper announced Friday it was suspending publication indefinitely after its bank account was seized by state controlling agencies.

"We were forced to shut down", read a front-page headline in the March 27 issue of Vseukrainskie Vedomosti (VV), adding that publication of the paper may resume in April.

VV's bank account was seized two months after a Ukrainian regional arbitration court ordered the paper to pay $1.7 million in moral damages to the president of the Dynamo Kyiv football club, Hryhory Surkis, who earlier filed a lawsuit against VV.

In the lawsuit, Surkis claimed that a story VV ran in September 1997 about a possible transfer of Dynamo's leading forward to an Italian team damaged his and Dynamo's reputation.

The move against the paper's bank account was hardly a surprise for the paper, whose editor, Volodymyr Ruban, said before that the paper is unable to pay such an amount of money. The newspaper's lawyers protested the arbitration court ruling with higher courts, arguing that all statements made in the Dynamo story were attributed to identified sources and - if incorrect - could not be blamed on the paper. However, VV got no response.

The newspaper has become the latest victim in the ongoing war for control over the media that has intensified in Ukraine in the run-up to March 29 parliamentary elections.

Last month, the Ukrainian Information Ministry closed the Pravda Ukrainy daily for not filling out the right form when registering last July. A well-known Kyiv businessman, Mykhaylo Brodsky, who owns another opposition daily, Kievskie Vedomosti, was arrested three weeks ago and is currently in jail.

In its lead story in the Friday issue, VV said the seizure of its bank account was a logical consequence of numerous attempts the government made in recent months to close down Ukraine's leading opposition paper. It said the lawsuit that forced it to shut down was the work of the government, citing Surkis's links with government officials and his other position as a presidential adviser.

"Can a newspaper in Ukraine withstand the assault by those in power? VV now knows: unfortunately not," read the lead story.

VV has seen its circulation increase by seven times to 177,000 since last September when owners of the paper completely replaced the old editorial team.

Since then, the paper has become supportive of Kuchma's primary foe, former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, a likely candidate for 1999 presidential elections.

It has run a series of articles charging Prime Minister Valery Pustovoytenko and other top government officials with misusing state budget funds, and regularly publishes mocking cartoons of Kuchma and Pustovoytenko. Last week, VV ran an interview with an unidentified businessman who gave an account of illegal financial schemes government officials, including Pustovoytenko, used for personal profit.