For Pavel Sheremet, Ukraine was a ‘freedom project’

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Ukrainians pay tribute to Pavel Sheremet. [Kyiv Post]

The EU should help speed up the investigation of the gruesome murder of Pavel Sheremet, writes Jana Brovdij.

Jana Brovdij is a political scientist and policy analyst focusing on EU-Ukraine relations.

On 20 July, international media was shaken by the news of Pavel Sheremet’s death. A harsh critic of leaders in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, Sheremet was a prominent journalist who was at the forefront of independent media in Ukraine.

Pro-Western journalist killed in Kyiv car bomb

A car bomb in Kyiv today (20 July) killed a pro-Western reporter from a news site, whose founder was beheaded 16 years ago after probing the alleged crimes of Ukrainian leaders.

I saw Sheremet for the first time in 2013, on his programme, Against the Night, which ran on Ukraine’s TVI channel. At the time we all thought the channel was the last bastion of an independent media in Ukraine, extremely critical of Ukraine’s government along with its former President, Viktor Yanukovych. Sadly, the channel’s reputation was eventually destroyed in an illegal takeover. Sheremet was the first to be sacked, the official reason being the alleged poor quality of his programme. However, everyone knew that Sheremet’s outspokenness about the takeover, and the live coverage of this criminal act, was far too irritating for the channel’s new management and owner.

It did not take long for the most of channel’s well-known and trusted journalists to leave their compromised workplace. As for the rest of us, we felt once again cheated by the corrupt, oligarchic system deeply embedded in all spheres of our lives and highly resistant to any signs of democratic progress.

Sheremet knew all too well the realities of the former Soviet republics. Born and raised in Belarus, he was an outspoken critic of the last European dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. The journalist founded the popular opposition news website, Belarussky Partizan. His unwillingness to bow down to the rule of one man and to censor his journalistic work resulted in a two-year prison sentence, of which he served only 3 months thanks to the intervention of former Russian President Yeltsin. After moving to Russia, and working for a few years for a major Russian TV channel, he witnessed first-hand the destruction of freedom of speech in the country, censorship and blatant lies on Russian TV, but, despite the pressure, he was not going to give up his principles.

The search for professional freedom brought the journalist to Ukraine, a country that he called a ‘freedom project’. Compared to its two neighbours, Ukraine had a vibrant civil society and a progressive media landscape, which was still, however, suffering from the grip of oligarchs.

Sheremet was at the forefront of Maidan, a Ukrainian revolution of dignity. I often watched his direct and dramatic live reports from the heart of people’s movement for freedom, for European values and against the corrupt system keeping Ukraine in a time warp. He was frank, energetic and sometimes ironic.

Working for the independent news site Ukrainska Pravda, founded by Georgiy Gongadze, another free mind who became too dangerous for those in power and was murdered in 2000, it seemed as if Sheremet had finally found the place where he could freely practice his profession in a circle of like-minded people. He often gave lectures to young journalists and always encouraged his colleagues not to give up and to continue their fight for truth. His investigations into the corruption and misconduct of state officials regularly made headlines in the Ukrainian media.

The moment when a car of the founding editor of Ukrainska Pravda and Sheremet’s partner, Olena Prytula, blew up in the centre of Kyiv, Ukraine lost a true friend and a strong supporter of its democratic aspirations. That same moment, the ‘freedom project’ Sheremet once spoke about came under a gruesome attack.

The Ukrainian government owes his family, friends, colleagues, the Ukrainian people and the international community a full investigation. The international community, particularly the EU, which actively supports reforming Ukrainian law enforcement and the judicial system, should help to speed up the investigation process by providing the technical know-how and independent investigators. We cannot allow a repetition of the slow and piecemeal investigation into the Maidan murders. The perpetrators and those who ordered the murder must be brought to justice regardless of their political affiliation, business ties, and the country they operated from.

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