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Ukrainian journalist on price for exposing government corruption – interview

Editor of the Nashi Hroshi project Yuriy Nikolov
Editor of the Nashi Hroshi project Yuriy Nikolov

Yuriy Nikolov, editor of the Nashi Hroshi (Our Money) anti-corruption investigative project, has recently been on the receiving end of scare tactics and intimidation attempts. Unknown people came to his apartment, tried to break in, scared Nikolov’s mother and neighbors, and left a note on the door calling him a “traitor.”

In an interview with NV Radio on Jan. 15, the journalist talked about the incident and speculated who might be behind the apparent intimidation attempt.

NV: How would you describe this intimidation attempt that was clearly directed at you?

Nikolov: The simplest explanation now is whoever it is, they are doing everything they can to give the biggest gift to the Russians, to [Russian dictator Vladimir] Putin and to anyone from that side.

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Who benefits from a narrative that in Ukraine the authorities are putting pressure on journalists or that there is an assault on the freedom of the press? This is definitely not beneficial to any of us here.

I’m used to dealing with investigations in the Prozorro electronic procurement system, not these silly showdowns.

Therefore, whoever it is, for whatever reason this moron took this order or whatever, he just needs to understand that he’s working for the enemy in this way. And, by the way, he’s shooting [Ukrainian President] Volodymyr Zelenskyy very hard in both legs, so to speak.

As far as I understand, many people are now talking about the fact that it might be some pressure from the President’s Office. Because yet another Telegram channel has made a new post claiming this is ‘revenge’ for me criticizing Zelenskyy for his attitude to the Ukrainian military. Thus, they’re simply giving everyone arguments to say that Ukraine is an unruly country, where freedom of speech mans nothing.

That’s what scares and worries me a lot.

NV: We’re talking about a network of Telegram channels that have long been associated with the President’s Office, even with specific names. Moreover, we can recognize such posts by their very distinct style. We’re also mentioned there, NV itself or NV’s sister publication Ukrainska Pravda, described as “[CEO of Dragon Capital Tomáš] Fiala activists who are playing with the topic of corruption.” What do you think is the goal of this campaign?

Nikolov: There are two options: either they really don’t understand what they’re doing ... They really, let’s say, don’t even identify the problem they’re creating. That is, it’s a matter exclusively of their mental abilities.

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Or they work on behalf of the enemy who’s interested in creating such effects. Here we must choose one version and work on it. Honestly, I don’t know.

I found out about what was happening at my home a little earlier than all Ukrainians because my mother called me. I was visiting a friend at the time. But 15 minutes later, all of Ukraine was already reading about it on Telegram.

Therefore, certain people at the President’s Office or somewhere else, who understand how this ‘dark PR’ and hit piece market works, should do their homework and investigate this campaign that clearly works against Ukraine’s interests.

Many people, both journalists and activists, don’t talk about the pressure they’re facing now. They believe that it’s unthinkable to discredit Ukraine in the eyes of the world at this time.

But in this case the culprits behind this provocation made it public. They were interested in making it public, they posted about it in a Telegram channel with almost a hundred thousand subscribers. The idea was precisely to hit Ukraine where it hurts.

NV: Nashi Hroshi has been publishing quite positive news in recent days.

Nikolov: Yes, and there are good things happening in the Defense Ministry, which we’re starting to record. Nashi Hroshi is trying to be an objective mirror of what is happening in public procurement. We’re now seeing much more upside than before. We’re recording these improvements, showing Ukrainians that things are changing.

But it turns out that either we’re too good at changing Ukraine for the better and the enemies don’t like it, or it’s just... Honestly, I don’t know.

NV: What was the trigger? I remember in a previous interview with us, you talked about a logistics colonel who, together with his relatives, stole UAH 170 million ($4.4 million) in rations.

Nikolov: I don’t think this is a related story. I don’t think it had something to with the recent incident.

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What scares me is that another Telegram channel has suddenly appeared from the so-called pro-presidential crowd, posting another story. They took my quote from an event by Ukrainska Pravda. It was a few weeks ago when I criticized Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his passive position regarding mobilization. This Telegram channel has now published this video clip of mine.

And this scares me because these morons contribute to building Ukraine’s image as if journalists who criticize the president are intimidated here, and they’re intimidated precisely for criticizing the president. This is something usually said about another country— the one that attacked us.

NV: If we return to the president’s passive position regarding domestic policy. Zelenskyy answered some questions at his December press conference. He said that he is focused on foreign policy, which takes a lot of time. He’s currently in Davos, in Switzerland. And here is the question: to whom did he entrust domestic policy? How much can we trust these people? Can we imagine that such an attack on you was an idea of Zelenskyy’s entourage?

Nikolov: Maybe. I’ve already had several people call me this morning, either my old sources or the ones I know who are connected with the authorities. They put forward their versions and guesses.

In particular, they say that there are several different centers of gravity at the President’s Office, in competition with one another.

Or it could be some kind of hit pieces from someone offended by my posts. But these are all hypotheses.

We’re talking about the fact that, relatively speaking, some people came to my door and posted several pieces of paper. These were not military summonses, nothing official at all. People who were simply dressed in military clothes. I didn’t see them, like all of you, I saw them on Telegram. They shouted something, ran, left a note saying I was a “Kremlin agent.” They wrote that I should go serve in the army and keep my mouth shut.

There is a minimum of evidence, as well as very few hints as to why this was done. Therefore, we can only speculate on who was behind this stunt.

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So far, we can only talk about who benefits and that several pro-presidential Telegram channels are making posts trashing Ukraine’s reputation.

I sincerely hope that Volodymyr Zelenskyy has the tools to find out who is behind this activity. Whether in Davos or not, he, like all of us, has to do his homework.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine