Opinion: Dedicated Ukranian journalists describe YanukovychLeaks project


Photo by Andrey Kronberg/AFP/Getty Images

Photo by Andrey Kronberg/AFP/Getty Images

Ankita Bhanot, Y2

During the Investigative Reporters & Editors conference at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco on June 27, two Ukrainian journalists, Olesya Ivanova and Denys Bigus, described their experiences working in the mansion of Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the Ukraine, after he was thrown out of power in May.

These two journalists, along with other groups of investigative journalists, spent seven days sorting through 25,000 financial documents that Yanukovych tried to discard in a river before fleeing the country.

These dedicated workers spent a very long week drying, pasting, and recovering these documents, which they then scanned and uploaded on a website called “YanukovychLeaks” for the world to see. These documents exposed Yanukovych’s corruption as a swindler of his country’s money.

For the 10 teams of journalists who worked on the project, the struggle of recovering these documents was definitely real.

“People came out of nowhere, bringing scanners and lamps to try to recover the documents; not sleeping or eating,” one of the journalists said.

However, for the citizens of Ukraine under Yanukovych’s rule, the problem had already been prevalent for quite some time. Yanukovych stole almost $20 billion by over-taxing the people and creating “fake” countries to make money off of contracts. Yanukovych controlled all finances of the country, which meant almost all of the country’s money found its way into Yanukovych’s pocket.

As one of the journalists put it, “If you have unlimited power, you have unlimited possibilities to steal.”

Within a few years of Yanukovych coming into power, he and his family controlled the Ukraine’s finances and economy. According to Ivanova and Bigus, it was then that citizens started to peacefully protest Yanukovych’s activities in Maidan, the central square of Kiev, a city in Ukraine.

Although Yanukovych tried to stifle the protestors by using violence and weapons, it soon became apparent that the people would fight back—and win. Thus, Yanukovych fled the country. He left behind his enormous estate, which ironically became the home of the journalists who worked day and night to recover the wet documents.

The journalists tried everything to restore the documents, from heat lamps to professional equipment, and even Yanukovych’s own home sauna. “I would have loved to see Yanukovych’s face if he saw that we were trying to dry his corrupt documents with his own sauna,” one of the journalists joked.

The hard work paid off in the end, when the journalists uploaded the thousands of documents and exposed Yanukovych’s financial corruption. Their bravery was commended by every journalist at the IRE conference and gave the Ukraine the exposure and hope that it needed.

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