“People in Black”: Why the Security Forces of Ukraine Blocked the Work of the “Vesti Ukraine” Publication

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



In Kiev the oppositional media holding Vesti Ukraine was blocked off by employees of the National Police, the military prosecutor’s office, and the National Agency of Ukraine Concerning Identification, Search, and Asset Management. Representatives of the company and lawyers weren’t allowed in the room. The management of the holding connects the events to the resonant journalistic investigation into the activity of this National Agency. “Vesti Ukraine” is not the first publication that has faced pressure from Ukrainian governmental institutions. Earlier the editor-in-chief of the “Strana.ua” website Igor Guzhva asked for political asylum in Austria. Why Kiev more and more puts the clamps on media that is uncontrolled by the authorities is in the material of RT.

Without a warning

The work of one of the largest Ukrainian oppositional media – the “Vesti Ukraine” media holding, which includes a daily newspaper, radio, and website – is paralysed.

“At about 6am in Kiev near ‘Gulliver’ (trade and office center located in the center of Kiev) unknown persons in black jackets appeared, who in some tens of minutes were already on the 32nd floor. The few employees who were in the office were blocked off, then pushed out from the territory. Employees of the morning shift aren’t allowed to come to work,” wrote the managing director of “Radio Vesti” Andrey Blinov on his page on Facebook.

It was reported to RT that in the press service of the “Vesti Ukraine” media holding the work of the radio station was suspended, the release of the next issue of the “Vesti” newspaper is under threat, and news on the website appears “whenever possible”.

“They came to us without a preliminary warning, without documents confirming their identity, and blocked the work of our journalists. The work of the three publications of the media holding are now suspended, because there is a direct obstruction in front of journalistic activity,” stated the representative of the press service.

The employee of holding told RT that lawyers weren’t allowed to enter the publication, during searches there were no witnesses, and one of the security officers walked into the office with a weapon.

“We saw how certain things were brought into the room. Later they can quietly appear to be ‘ours’,” said the interlocutor of RT.

There was a rumbling on the floor for several hours, journalists were afraid that their office and the expensive equipment of the radio station were being destroyed. Security officers left the office of “Vesti” at around 12:30 Kiev time, but representatives of a private security company remained in the office of the media agency. Nobody was allowed to enter the room.

“We started asking questions about whether or not we can take our things, why the security officers dragged heavy equipment with themselves, and who they are in general, after all, judging by their equipment, they are representatives of a security firm. In response we were sprayed with gas,” quoted the “Vesti” newspaper from the words of one of the employees of the publication.

Security guards barricaded themselves in the room and welded the doors. The journalist of RT who was at the place of events reported that the employees of the holding were stood on the first floor of the business center – in the same place as the top managers, and that police officers aren’t so numerous, and they don’t interfere in the events.

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“Vandalism and raiding”

Searches are being carried out according to the “statement” of National Agency of Ukraine Concerning Identification, Search, and Asset Management, it is said in the official statement of the Agency. The organisation is engaged in managing the arrested assets before their sale at auction, that’s why this department was repeatedly called a parallel State property fund.

At the end of September, 2017, the Pechersky district court appointed National Agency as the manager of all non-residential premises on floors 31-33 of the business center of “Gulliver” in Kiev where the “Vesti” publication is located.

Arrests were made within the framework of criminal proceedings against the former Minister of Revenue and Duties Aleksandr Klimenko, who is suspected of creating “tax platforms” to evade paying taxes in 2011-2014. The sum of the damage caused to the State is estimated at 96 billion UAH ($3.5 billion). Representatives of the National Agency tried to receive possession of the room on February 3rd, but failed to do so.

“The media resources of the holding occupy the office on a legal basis, because our company signed a lease contract with the owner of these rooms within the framework of the current legislation. The legal relationship under this contract can be terminated on grounds provided by the law, in a contract, or by a court decision. At the moment the contracts are valid and there are no grounds for the termination of their action. In turn, the invasion of the room under the direct norms of the Constitution of Ukraine is possible only on the basis of a court decision. Such a document wasn’t presented, and it is necessary to believe that it doesn’t exist. The media holding ‘Vesti Ukraine’ is the lawful user of the room in the ‘Gulliver’ business center, and the invasion of security officers is an act of vandalism and raiding,” it is said in the statement of the legal adviser of the “Vesti Ukraine” media holding Yury Mostovenko.

Representatives of “Vesti” connect the close attention to the holding company with the journalistic investigation into the activity of the National Agency of Ukraine Concerning Identification, Search, and Asset Management.

“Just today we were preparing for printing the second part of the investigation into the National Agency and its friends,” wrote on Facebook the editor-in-chief of the “Vesti Ukraine” publication Oksana Omelchenko.

“Among guests we recognised recent heroes of our investigation: Andrey Gritsenko and Vladislav Zaytsev, who specialise in going to people’s homes and remove the residents from there, being covered with the power of attorney for the implementation of any activity,” it is said in the report of the editor-in-chief of “Vesti”.

Under pressure

The “Vesti Ukraine” media holding is already the second Ukrainian oppositional media agency that has faced problems. At the end of January the editor-in-chief of the Strana.ua publication Igor Guzhva asked for political asylum in Austria because of the initiation against him of five criminal cases and death threats from the nationalist organisation C14. The Shevchenkovsky district court of Kiev, allowed the detention of the editor-in-chief and to bring him to court for a change of the measure of restraint from bail to detention under guard, wrote Igor Guzhva on his Facebook page.

“In parallel, Bankova Street (the administration of the President of Ukraine) charged diplomatic channels to organise the application of pressure on Austria to achieve my delivery,” wrote Guzhva.

“‘Strana.ua'” and ‘Vesti Ukraine’ express a non-radical position, but dare to publish oppositional materials and to conduct investigations. That’s why they are subjected to pressure, which is absolutely not surprising. In Ukraine there is a continuous fight against freedom of speech,” noted the deputy director of the Institute of the CIS countries Vladimir Zharikhin in a conversation with RT.

The Director of the Center for Political Analysis Pavel Danilin connects the events to preparation for presidential elections in Ukraine next year.

“In Ukraine we observe illegal actions carried out by the authorities and political censorship. But it is regrettable that no journalists stand up for their colleagues,” said the expert in an interview to RT.

Danilin predicts that the pressure being put on Ukrainian journalists will only amplify. He also considers that in the near future the media will carry out the orders of oligarchs.

“Media and oligarchs already united in 2013-2014 against the President Viktor Yanukovych, which led to him fleeing the country,” summed up the expert.

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[Security officers only allow certain persons into the building]

[Staff of the “Vesti Ukraine” publication ask why they aren’t allowed into their office]

[Impudent security officers shamelessly loot the shelves of the publication]

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