KYIV -- An RFE/RL journalist has challenged lawmakers and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's government "to do their job" and ensure a free press amid a campaign by a former high-level official against the editorial staff of investigative journalism group Skhemy (Schemes), a joint project run by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and UA:Pershy television.
Mykhaylo Tkach, a reporter for Skhemy, addressed a session of the parliamentary committee on freedom of expression devoted to journalists' safety on November 6, vowing to continue investigative journalism even though reporters are attacked on a regular basis with what seems to be impunity.
Tkach blamed much of the current anti-press climate on Zelenskiy's predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, who created an "atmosphere of hatred and negligence toward journalists," during the five years that he ruled the country until losing an election in May.
"Will [Zelenskiy] personally initiate the fight against journalists who criticize his government and damage therefore his rating? Will he silently observe other people's efforts against journalists...?" Tkach asked lawmakers present at the session.
"I demand the authorities do their job, which is to secure the rule of law. I just want to do my job, but very often I'm unable to do so. You are always able to do your job, but do you actually want to do it?"
"I want to say to those who do not want us to tell the public about secret deals, hidden meetings where private issues are being resolved by officials, that our attitude mimics the words of the well-known politician and journalist Winston Churchill. We will film them on the beaches, we will film them on the shores, we will film them in the fields and streets, we will film them on the hills. We will film, and we will never give up!" Tkach said to end his speech.
The hearings come a day after Andriy Portnov, a former lawmaker and deputy head of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych's administration, followed through on his threats to disclose further personal data of members of Skhemy.
The move, which has been condemned by RFE/RL President Jamie Fly and press-freedom groups, was apparently prompted by a Skhemy investigation into him and his relations with officials currently in the Ukrainian government.
In retaliation, he published registration data for 16 vehicles used by editorial and staff members of Skhemy on his Telegram messaging channel and invited anyone who comes across these vehicles to "give a stiff rebuff" to the drivers.
Days earlier, Portnov had suggested that one driver whose personal data he disclosed was also under surveillance and could be exposed to physical harm. In justifying his release of the data, Portnov claimed they were part of a journalistic assignment for the 112 Ukraine television channel.
Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, called the hearing as threats against journalists are on the rise both inside the country and globally.
In Ukraine, 16 journalists have been killed since 1995, according to the European Federation of Journalists.
Vadym Komarov, a regional reporter in the central Cherkassy region, died on June 20 after being badly beaten up a month before by a group of unidentified men, a day after he posted on Facebook that he was working on alleged corruption in sports schools.
The head of the presidential office, Andriy Bohdan, filed a libel suit in August against two Skhemy journalists and the project's chief editor.
Investigators are also seeking access to Skhemy's internal documents and correspondence as part of an investigation into Poroshenko that the project's journalists say is excessive and unnecessary.