It’s been three months since ex-president Viktor Yanukovych fled in the dead of night, after a last, desperate attempt to cover his tracks by destroying documents.
It’s not going to be that easy, Mr. President.
For the past three years, Ukraine’s “Journalists Day” has been commemorated with an anti-censorship rally in front of his former Mezhyhirya residence. This year, the sprawling compound itself has been hacked.
From June 6-8, the Mezhyhirya Festival on investigative journalism, digital activism, and leaks will celebrate a new era of freedom of expression with those who were on site to help usher it in.
The sold-out festival will feature presentations by journalists who were on site during the February document dig, such as Anna Babinets, Natalie Sedletska, Dmytro Gnap, and Vlad Lavrov—all partners of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which helped create the YanukovychLeaks website.
They will be joined by activists, hackers, journalists, and media theorists from around the world to explore how technology and journalism can intersect and empower.
Ukrainian journalists made history in late February by fishing out tens of thousands of documents dumped into the lake on his opulent Mezhyhirya estate.
For an update on the conference, see this story from the Kyiv Post.
Since then they have produced dozens of stories, with more on the way, from the nearly 200 folders of sodden papers recovered by volunteer divers. A team of more than 50 collaborated to sort and separate the documents, making use of the residence’s sauna to dry the incriminating evidence.
The findings were scanned and uploaded within days onto YanukovychLeaks, which now hosts 23,400 documents that have been translated into English, Russian, and Ukrainian. Whistleblowers and citizens continue to come forward daily with more information about exactly what was going on during Yanukovych’s tenure.
From this trove of information journalists have been able to reconstruct some of the massive wealth accumulation and corruption in the Yanukovych regime.
YanukovychLeaks blew the lid on closely guarded information ranging from the ousted president’s AutoMaidan Black List to the offshore accounts of billionaire Serhiy Kurchenko, who is suspected of being a front man for the former First Family.
The documents also offered an insider’s view into how the former regime worked.
“Notes of a Personal Bodyguard” exposed Yanukovych’s elite hunting club and the security details of his lavish presidential estate, which was given the code name “Object 109.” The story also reported on some of the suspicious information Yanukovych’s bodyguard was gathering, such as the hourly movements of a firebrand journalist who was severely beaten.
And the flood of revelations continues. New information about the muck and mire behind the regime is being unearthed daily.
In March, journalists found more than 40 bags stuffed with shredded papers in Mezhyhirya and outside of Kurchenko’s former offices.
Equipped with training from FBI specialists and software that can re-assemble shredded documents, more than 300 people are now working on the “Paper Division” project, collecting, restoring, analyzing, and uploading the scavenged papers.
The public airing of the once fiercely guarded information signals the end of an era of Yanukovych media repression.
The upcoming commemorative festival will also include the launch of Ukraine’s first investigative journalism award— a fitting commemoration and celebration of a watershed event in Ukrainian history.
Ana Baric is a daily news reporter for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a GIJN member that manages a network of non-profit investigative centers and for-profit independent media stretching from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. She is based in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.