I was on the way from Vienna to Prague, doing a story on the Austrian business of Andriy Kliuyev – still head of the Ukrainian presidential administration at that time. When I read that divers found the Yanukovych documents I took the first flight back to Kyiv.
This is a great time to be an investigative journalist in Ukraine. It is a moment of big disclosures. We had been reporting on the ultra-luxurious style of Yanukovych’s life and his corrupt ties for a long period, when this information was very well-guarded and kept as a big secret. It’s like one was trying to get into a closed, dark room for a long time. And then suddenly the walls have fallen.
I guess that for many people the disclosed documents don’t yet say that much – unless it is about obviously ridiculous amounts of money paid for ridiculous things, like a bronze pig statue or dining plates for 3,000 euros each. But we’ve been investigating the corrupt circle around Yanukovych for a long time, so we see that these documents also prove connections between many companies. A huge amount of cash was flowing to companies directly related to Yanukovych. There was a closed “club” around the president, and participants had to pay a monthly “fee.” And all this is now proven by the Yanukovych documents. All this will appear in journalists’ publications after analyzing and proofreading.
I believe we’ll publish our first story in the coming days. I can’t wait to do that. But we agreed that the first task is to dry, save, scan, and upload the documents publicly. A group of volunteers are helping us with scanning around 200 folders each with 200 to 400 documents. And we are uploading everything to www.yanukovychleaks.org so every journalist can use it.
Besides the papers fished up from the Kyiv Sea, we’ve been finding more and more new documents. The project is becoming bigger. The support of OCCRP (the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project) is extremely helpful as their talented developers built a website within hours so we could start uploading very fast. Another amazing thing is the regular people who brought us driers and scanners, and are ready to help save these docs day and night.
And the most surreal and extreme thing is that we are working with these documents while physically staying at Mezhygirya. We didn’t want to take them out from here. Imagine, journalists occupying one of the buildings at top-secret president’s residency after he has run away. And we are investigating his corrupt activities. If somebody told me that this will happen, I would never believe it.
Natalie Sedletska is an award-winning investigative journalist in Ukraine who is currently fulfilling her Vaclav Havel Fellowship with the Ukrainian Language Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. From 2012-2013, Sedletska produced and anchored “Tender News,” a hard-hitting program on corruption and public procurement on Kyiv’s TVi channel. From 2009-2012 she was a special correspondent for another investigative program on TVi. She is a member of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community, and the “Stop Censorship” journalism movement in Ukraine.