Combatting Corruption in Ukraine: Investigative Reporting from Slidstvo.info

by JenniferCobb on 04/23/2016

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For Ukraine to continue receiving the international support it will need to rebuild its economy and resist pressure from Russia, it must quickly get a handle on internal corruption. The $17.5 billion package from the IMF requires stringent oversight and anti-corruption measures. This is easier said than done in a country that until recently was controlled by the corrupt president, Victor Yanukovych. With corruption continuing to run deep, the best way to root it out is to expose it.

This is the reason that Slidstvo.info (a project of Hromadske.tv), Ukraine’s newest and most effective investigative reporting program, was born. Launched last spring, the program airs a weekly investigative report with major wins under its belt.

In August of last year Anna Babinet of Slidstvo.info (Investigation.info), Ukraine’s newest and most effective investigative reporting program, broke a major story.

Babinet revealed that the Commander of Special Operations in Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation, Vyacheslav Nazarkin, was feeding troop deployment information to his brother who was serving in the Russian military. Babinets and her team proved that the brothers spoke on several occasions while Nazarkin was deploying Ukrainian troops to the East as part of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). Nazarkin’s troops were repeatedly ambushed by pro-Kremlin insurgents and Russian soldiers, arousing suspicions that he conspired with the Russian military to kill his own soldiers.

As a result of the Slidstvo.info story, Commander Vyacheslav Nazarkin has been relieved of his duties and is now under criminal investigation.   Anna Babinets was invited to the Military Prosecutor’s Office as a witness in the criminal case and prosecutors included all of the information collected by Slidstvo.info as evidence.

2014 was a particularly bad year for Journalists in Ukraine. Between the revolution on the Maidan in February of 2014 and the outbreak of conflict in the East in March, 2014 was one of the worst years on record, particularly for physical assaults with almost 1,000 violations according to the Ukrainian Institute of Mass Information. In fact, the total number of violations in 2014 was 995 cases – twice the number in 2013 (496 cases) and three times as many as in 2012 (324 cases).

2014

While 2014 will be remembered as a year of unprecedented threats to the freedom and livelihoods of Ukrainian independent media, it will also be remembered as the year that these same journalists came forward to fight for their rights to freely practice their profession. The small but growing number of independent journalist organizations in Ukraine are committed to advancing the reforms that will transform Ukraine into a free and fair democracy.

In this mix, the work of Slidstvo.info is critical. Slidstvo.info broadcasts a well-documented, legally-vetted program every week that examines corruption and wrongdoing in all aspects of the Ukrainian public and private sectors. In the past year, the organization and their regional partners have produced and aired programs on a wide range of issues including corruption within the Ukrainian military, the abduction, torture and murder of human rights protesters in Russia-controlled Crimea, the illegal clearing of forests in Mykolaiv, illegal mining in Nikolaiv, and several pieces devoted to the corrupt practices of MPs, judges and prosecutors that is one of the most enduring legacies of the Yanukovych regime.

Olga Krainyk, a Production Editor at Slidstvo.info, commented, “During the Yanukovych era it was very dangerous to do investigative work about politics and criminal scams and corruption. But now the situation has changed in terms of our ability to talk about it. What hasn’t changed as much is the nature of the corruption. Much of the corruption from the Yanukovych era is still in play.”

In addition to breaking the story about the corrupt General, Slidstvo.info did an in-depth piece on the Ukrainian SBU, the government security agency in charge of counterintelligence activity and of combatting terrorism. The piece revealed that that after the change of power last year, the SBU underwent only minor changes among its high-ranking staff, despite the role it played in cracking down on the Maidan protests. Reporters requested information about staff changes at 4 SBU locations in the West, and were refused the information. Lawyers for Slidstvo.into challenged this decision as a violation of the access to public information law. Two weeks after the story was broadcast, the heads of the 4 regional SBU offices were dismissed by President Poroshenko.

Olga commented, “Yes, we have a serious problem with Russia. We all know this. But at the same time, our biggest problem is corruption here in Ukraine. The vested interests are deep and the corruption is endemic. The war is a huge opportunity for corruption. There is big money in war and many people in the military are interested in seeing it continue.”

Slidstvo.info also broke a story about corruption at a Ukrainian armored vehicle assembly plant that prompted criminal proceedings. Ukrainian MP Alexander Dubovyi was suspected of stealing money allocated for new armored transporter vehicles for the Ukrainian Army. Mr. Dubovyi was forced to publicly explain his involvement in this scheme and he subsequently lost his bid to join the new parliament in the October 26, 2014 elections. Another scandal revealed that the head of the Internal Audit Department for the Ministry of Defense was linked to corrupt procurement of ammunition and he resigned from his post.

She explained, “Increasingly, we are getting material from insiders. The story about the corruption in the munitions factory was a result of a whistleblower. People work in factories and they see the corruption. Even though they risk losing their jobs, they can’t stand by and watch it anymore. Our solidiers are dying because they are not getting the munitions they need and we know our chief stole the money for the munitions that could save their lives.”

Another significant area that Slidsvto.info has explored is corruption in the natural resource sector. An investigation into the illegal use of forests for housing projects in the Mykolaiv region resulted in public pressure that forced the chairman of the regional forestry administration to be fired. A series of stories was also produced on corruption in the state mineral resources agency which also lead to the dismissal of its head. The new Minister of Environment and Natural Resources asked the journalists from Slidstvo.info to assist him in his efforts to eradicate corruption in this area.

The work of Slidstvo.info continues to dig deeper. Their most recent work focused on corruption among Ukrainian judges.   explained, “We are profiling a judge who has made a very modest salary for 20 years and we reveal that he owns 20 flats, some big houses, a significant amount of private land and a fleet of very expensive cars,” explained. “It is our job to reveal these problems and we hope that the law enforcement agencies will respond.”

This body of work is both impressive and brave.   When asked about the risks involved, is resolute. After the sacrifices made in the revolution and in the conflict in the east, the reporters at Slidstvo.info are unified in their belief that this work will pave the way for a new and more just Ukraine. This is a sophisticated and experienced team and they are in it for the long game.

“We don’t want to have a President who is a liar. We don’t want to have a Prime Minister who is a liar. But we voted for these people,” explains. “The problem is not just theirs, but ours as well. Our work is about informing people. Maybe after months and years, our minds will change and our society will change along with it. Step by step, our country will change. This work will help make us ready for the new country.”

Slidstvo.info (Investigation.info), seen by a large and growing audience, enables a free and skilled media to promote good governance by drawing public attention to the conduct of corrupt and inefficient public servants, and engaging citizens with accurate and balanced information that they cannot find in Ukraine’s mainstream media.


This article originally appeared on Medium.com.

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