Location Ukraine Ukraine

Interview with Igor Guschwa, Ukrainian journalist who fled to Austria seeking political asylum

Published in Jungewelt (Germany), June 2, 2018 (translation from original German to English by A Socialist In Canada)

Igor Guschwa is editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian Internet news publication Strana.ua. In February 2018, fearing for his life, he fled to Austria and applied for political asylum.

Jungewelt: About two years ago, you founded the Ukrainian anti-government website Strana.ua. What makes the portal special?

Igor Guschwa: When I launched the website Strana, the information landscape in Ukraine had been almost completely redesigned according to the needs of the administration of President Petro Poroshenko. Many topics were banned, from the corruption surrounding Poroshenko to the actual situation in the war zones in Donbass [Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine]. Therefore, there was a clear niche to occupy.

Strana is not anti-government. We are an objective medium that reflects the many views of the Ukrainian people. Yet under present circumstances, even such an approach needs courage and draws accusations by authorities of representing an “anti-patriotic” position and “working for the enemy”.

At the beginning of the year, you left for Vienna to apply for political asylum. Why?

In Ukraine, I have been charged in five cases. All of them are far-fetched, including alleged tax evasion and allegations of support for separatism. These date from 2014 when I reported in the magazine Westi.Reporter on different views of events in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Another case concerns alleged extortion. A man offered me money to withdraw an article. I refused. The man later testified that I had extorted from him money for the removal of the article. I was arrested and spent several days in prison.

As well, ultra-nationalists have constantly threatened me with violence. At the end of December 2017, at a rally on the Maidan, I was attacked by Evgeny Karas, head of the ultranationalist organization ‘C14’. The police refused to initiate criminal proceedings. After leaving for Austria, Igor Mossijtschuk, a member of the Radical Party, threatened me with the same fate as that of the murdered journalist Oles Buzina.[1]

Are critical journalists in Ukraine generally exposed to serious danger?

Yes. Any journalist who works in influential media and criticizes the authorities must expect to be the victim of persecution, discrediting, slander, and imprisonment.

Why are people being tracked and by whom?

In addition to economically motivated persecution, there is a political motivation to prosecute those who criticize the government and are perceived as competitors. Finally, there are attacks by nationalists on persons who are considered as traitors. These attacks are sometimes carried out in the knowledge of the authorities. The organization ‘C14’ does not even hide that it works closely with the SBU.

How do you view the role of the European Union in this?

The EU points to human rights violations and restrictions on freedom of speech. Mostly, however, this remains expressions of concern. Similar procedure as in the days of the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych are not seen here. Then, Western countries immediately reacted very harshly to alleged rights violations. The Ukrainian government is viewed as an ally by the EU and the U.S. Recently, however, human rights violations have accumulated in such a way that it is no longer possible to ignore them. The criticism from Western countries sounds harder now.

Note by A Socialist In Canada:

[1] Well-known Ukrainian journalist Oles Buzina was shot dead at the doorstep of his home in Kyiv on April 16, 2015. That story is here. Two extreme-right paramilitaries have been accused in his murder. They appeared in court as recently as February 2018, but there is no ongoing news in English of the court case. Western media does not report these or other cases of journalists killed or threatened in Ukraine because this contradicts their narrative of a liberal and democratic Ukraine under attack by Russia. Oles Buzina’s name was listed on a state-sponsored website listing Ukrainian and international journalists deemed to be ‘enemies of the state, story here. A 2016 interview with University of Ottawa researcher Ivan Katchanovski on attacks against press freedom in Ukraine is here.

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