Yet another harrowing incident for journalists with Schemes (Skhemy), a joint investigative project by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian Public Television (UA: Pershy). The latest attack occurred on August 17 when a car of one of the Schemes team was torched outside Kyiv. No one was hurt in the fire, which investigators said was caused by “an external ignition source.
Schemes reporters were working on a story revealing how the transport of high-level state officials is breaking traffic rules.
RFE/RL Acting President Daisy Sindelar said in a statement that the broadcaster is “concerned that this incident appears aimed at intimidating RFE/RL’s reporters and contributing to a threatening environment for journalists across Ukraine.”
She added, “Schemes is an award-winning investigative team whose work is vital to the public interest of all Ukrainians. We urge Ukrainian authorities to ensure that our colleagues can work safely and without fear.”
Media watchdogs, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International and European Federations of Journalists (known as IFJ and EFJ), likewise condemned the attack and called on Ukrainian authorities to investigate.
“It is essential that investigative journalists can freely and critically report on corruption and wrongdoing of state officials,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said in a statement.
This wasn’t the first episode of harassment for Schemes correspondents.
In November 2019, a prominent member of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, Andriy Portnov, released the personal data of several Schemes members who were looking into Portnov’s dealings with officials in the Ukrainian government. The data release included registration data on 16 vehicles used by editorial and staff members of Schemes.
In March 2019, reporter Katerina Kaplyuk and cameraman Borys Trotsenko, two members of the Schemes team, were assaulted by local officials in the village of Chabany, just south of Kyiv as they investigated the allocation of state lands controlled by Ukraine’s National Academy of Agrarian Sciences for private use. The attack, in the offices of the village council, left Trotsenko with a concussion and damaged his camcorder.
In February 2019, Schemes journalists published video evidence indicating that bodyguards with a security company owned by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, had been following them on assignments. Journalist Mykhailo Tkach and his colleagues have said they are convinced “that such actions are aimed at interfering” with their reporting. Schemes has previously reported on Akhmetov, including coverage in 2016 of clandestine contacts with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and other high-ranking officials.
In August 2018, a Kyiv court, in connection with a criminal investigation involving the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine, ruled to allow the Prosecutor-General’s office access to mobile phone data belonging to award-winning Schemes author and host Natalie Sedletska over a 17-month period in 2016-2017. The ruling drew outrage among media rights advocates. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a decision in October 2018 banning public authorities in Ukraine from accessing the data “until further notice.