Rude! 6 Times Ukrainian Politicians Disrespected Journalists
9 August, 2019
Two presidential candidates Viktor Yanukovych (L) and Viktor Yushchenko after a meeting on November 26, 2004. Unian

This month the head of the Presidential Administration, Andriy Bohdan, announced that authorities don’t need journalists to communicate with citizens. Bohdan has been preventing reporters from putting questions to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Although, as a lawyer, he should be well aware that obstructing the professional activities of journalists is prohibited by law.

On August 3, Bohdan went further and embraced a Radio Liberty journalist so that “she would not fall when she needed to run after him.” This gesture and further explanation from the official, who, according to the president’s team, does not fall under the lustration law, is offensive behavior towards the journalist.

Zelenskyy also does a poor job of addressing journalists. For example, he called investigative journalist Mykhailo Tkach "a boy." Meanwhile, before the start of the presidential campaign, Zelenskyy demanded respect for himself from the former President Petro Poroshenko.

Within the first three months of heading the country Bohdan and Zelenskyy joined the ranks of officials who behave disrespectfully towards journalists. Almost all of these officials have left their posts, while journalists continue to ask the authorities questions. Hromadske takes a look at some of the most famous cases where journalists faced disrespect. 

“Put that bill in the journalist’s face, and then go to court!”

Who: Viktor Yushchenko - Third President of Ukraine

To: Sergii Leshchenko - at that time a journalist for online publication Ukrayinska Pravda. 

When: July 25, 2005 at the president’s press conference

What happened: Leshchenko asked Yushchenko what kind of car his son Andriy was driving. The day before, Ukrayinska Pravda news site published an investigation "Andriy Yushchenko, the son of God?” which described the luxurious lifestyle of the third president’s son. 

The investigation included that Andriy drove Mercedes CLS 500 and BMW M6. In response, Yushchenko said that he advised his son the following: “Son, I can only soften your soul with one piece of advice - learn to protect yourself! Learn to protect yourself! The bill? Take the bill from the restaurant. How many people did you sit with, what did you eat, what did you drink? Put that bill in the journalist’s face, and then go to court! And learn to protect yourself!” 

How it ended: On July 29, 2005, Yushchenko’s press secretary Iryna Herashchenko announced that he had phoned Leshchenko the day before and “made peace” with him. 

“I Do Not Envy You”

Who: Viktor Yanukovych - the fourth president of Ukraine

To: Mustafa Nayyem - at that time a journalist for online publication Ukrayinska Pravda.

When: December 21, 2011 at the president’s press conference.

What happened: Nayyem asked Yanukovych what was the secret to success of his oldest son’s (Oleksandr) business and and everything was going well for Yanukovych and his family while the rest of the country was in a bad place. 

In response, Yanukovych began to make excuses that in his life there was little time for pleasures, and then turned to the journalist: "I want to tell you that I do not envy you." And after a pause he added: “We have long known and understood each other. Figure the rest for yourself.” 

How it ended: On December 22, Yanukovych’s press secretary Darka Chepak wrote to Nayyem, explaining his words: “The president said that he personally knows you and the specifics of your work. That is why he expressed this humane position.”

"Oi, you?!"

Who: Ihor Kolomoisky - Head of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration in 2014-2015

To: Serhiy Andrushko - Radio Liberty journalist

When: March 19, 2015

What happened: On the evening of March 19, 2015, Kolomoisky, accompanied by armed people, arrived at the office of UkrTransNafta. This happened after the supervisory board of this company removed Oleksandr Lazorko, who was close to Kolomoisky, from his position as head of the board. The oligarch himself then stayed in the building for about six hours, and when he left, he accused President Poroshenko’s entourage of raidership and abused Andrushko.

To the question of what was the head of the Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration doing at night in the office of a state enterprise, Kolomoisky answered: “He wanted to see you. There was no other way to see your face, Radio Liberty. Why don’t you ask how the raider seizure at UkrTransNafta happened? And how the Russian saboteurs got here, huh? Why aren’t you asking about this? Well? You need to ***** see Kolomoisky?"

Kolomoisky continued the abuse: “You are Radio Liberty ... you broke the Soviet Union, you knocked down the Bolsheviks. Always declared for the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists-Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and now you're checking passports? Or what are you doing here? Where is your  f*****t Leshchenko? Well, will you show this on your TV channel or Internet? Oi, you?!”

How it ended: Poroshenko reprimanded Kolomoisky. The Stop Censorship movement demanded an apology from the oligarch. Subsequently, Kolomoisky admitted that, as an official, he had no right to behave this way but was in no hurry to apologize: “I can apologize to the journalistic community, but not to Andrushko.” 

“Get Lost”

Who: Mikheil Saakashvili- Leader of the Movement of New Forces Party

To: Jonah Fisher, BBC journalist

When: December 6, 2017

What happened: in early December 2017, the Security Service of Ukraine came to search Saakashvili’s apartment following allegations that his party was financed by fugitive oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko.

The politician was detained, but his supporters blocked the cars of the security service and freed the Movement of New Forces leader. After that, Saakashvili, along with his associates set off to parliament, where he staged a rally. Later, a tent city appeared there.

During one of the rallies near parliament, BBC journalist Jonah Fisher asked Saakashvili if he was going to surrender to the Georgian authorities (he is now convicted of two cases, the process is ongoing for two others). Saakashvili replied: "Get lost.” 

How it ended: Saakashvili turned and walked away from the camera.

"My Dear"

Who: Petro Poroshenko - the fifth president of Ukraine

To: Marina Baranivska, then a journalist for Detector Media 

When: February 28, 2018

What happened: During a press conference, journalist Marina Baranivska asked: “How does it feel to be an oligarch president in a country where people live on the brink of humanitarian disaster? Do you not feel uncomfortable in this position? ”

In response, the president began to list his achievements and invited the journalist to spend a day with him so that she would change her mind, addressing her “my dear.”

How it ended: A week after that, on International Women's Day, those who worked in  the media, launched a hashtag #ятобінедорогенька (#iamnotyourdear). The goal was to remind the president of the impermissibility of sexism and other inappropriate ways to address journalists.

The journalist did spend the day with Poroshenko and shot the documentary “One Day with the President”. Poroshenko did not apologize for the way he addressed Baranivska and called the initiative with t-shirts, which featured the hashtag, stupidity.

“Let the Girl Out”

Who: Arsen Avakov - Interior Minister of Ukraine

To: Victoria Roshchyna - Hromadske journalist

When: November 28, 2018

What happened: Roshchyna was preparing a report about former Berkut employees who at that time continued to serve in the police, and sought comment from the minister at a public event. Having listened to only part of the question, Avakov noted that he “will do what he needs to do” and not what the journalist needs. After further questions, he turned to the guard and said: “Let the girl out.”

How it ended: No reaction.

/By Vasyl Pekhno and Maxim Kamenev