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Ukraine’s investigative journalists are facing intimidation – POLITICO

Ukraine’s investigative journalists are facing intimidation – POLITICO

“Look, you can be a patriot. You can want Ukraine to win this war and still be a journalist,” he told POLITICO. Sat in a café in downtown Kyiv, discussing what it’s like to be an honest reporter during wartime, he said: “Journalists should also understand they’ve got a job to do. It’s not bad for Ukraine to be transparent and to have proper journalism happening. I want us to have more air defenses and more weapons for our troops — that’s what the money should be spent on, not lining peoples’ pockets.”

In some ways, corruption has been hard-boiled into Ukraine, with graft blighting the country since it secured independence in 1991. It reached a crescendo during the tenure of Viktor Yanukovych, president from 2010 until his ouster in 2014, with theft, bribery, corruption in public procurement and rigged energy prices on an industrial scale. They’re estimated to have embezzled as much as $37 billion — although the first post-Maidan revolution government claimed it could have been as much as $100 billion. The proceeds were stashed in bank accounts and companies in Austria, Latvia, Cyprus, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain via a complex money-laundering machine.

Graft is no longer on that scale now, Nikolov reckoned. But like others, he thinks the intimidatory tactics being employed against journalists are reminiscent of the Yanukovych era.

In some ways, however, the direction of travel with anti-corruption efforts is heartening. “When it comes to state spending, things have got better. But there are still problems with procurement contracts, and we have a problem with bribery and kickbacks and, for example, with the police, state security service, custom officers, tax inspectors demanding money for problems to go away and facilitation,” he said.  

Take the defense ministry — prices for food supplies have dramatically decreased, but Nikolov argued those responsible are still entrenched within the ministry’s bureaucracy. “The prices may have been pushed down but the mafia hasn’t been pushed out, and they’re biding their time,” he said.

Others who closely monitor anti-corruption efforts agree that things have improved since Yanukovych’s ouster, with progress made during the presidency of Petro Poroshenko and since Zelenskyy took office. A 2018 report by the Kyiv-based Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting said reforms — including more transparent government procurement and the energy sector’s deregulation — had reduced grand corruption by approximately $6 billion, about 6 percent of Ukraine’s GDP. According to the report, the shadow economy also dropped from an estimated 43 percent of GDP in 2014 to 33 percent in late 2017.

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