August 21, 2000
His Excellency Leonid Kuchma
President of Ukraine
vul. Bankivska 11
Via Fax: 011-380-44-293-7364/291-6161/293-1001
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged by the recent assault on Valentina Vasilchenko, a freelance journalist from the city of Cherkassy who was apparently beaten up in retaliation for a series of articles on police corruption that she published in the local independent weekly Antenna. We demand that the attack be investigated immediately and thoroughly, and the assailants held accountable.
Vasilchenko was assaulted in the stairwell of her apartment building at around 11:45 a.m. on August 14, local sources reported. Two men in running gear and sunglasses attacked the journalist from behind, hitting her several times in the head with a heavy object. The attackers ran away as they heard Vasilchenko’s neighbors coming down the stairs.
Bleeding heavily, the journalist entered her apartment and called the police, the emergency medical service, and her colleagues at Antenna. Although Vasilchenko refused to be hospitalized, medical examination revealed severe skull injuries, concussion, and several bruises on her arms.
According to Vasilchenko and Antenna editor Olga Shvets, the attack was likely provoked by a series of articles titled “Khristinovka Syndrome” that appeared in four April issues of the Russian-language Antenna. The series was based on Vasilchenko’s investigation of police corruption in the town of Khristinovka.
In the April 27 installment, for example, she reported that local police officers had charged a resident with manslaughter in a killing that they allegedly committed themselves. Antenna later reported that the defendant, who denied any involvement in the killing, was brutally beaten and had to be hospitalized on June 11, a day before he was supposed to testify in court. On July 19, a defense witness was also assaulted. Vasilchenko covered both attacks for Antenna.
The police opened an investigation into the attack on Vasilchenko, but according to Shvets they have not shown much enthusiasm about finding the perpetrators. Although Vasilchenko and the witnesses gave descriptions of both attackers, the police produced an artist sketch of only one, claiming that descriptions of the other suspect were insufficiently detailed. Moreover, the one sketch that police did produce bears little resemblance to eyewitness descriptions, according to Shvets.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, we urge Your Excellency to ensure that the Cherkassy authorities carry out a complete and honest investigation of this crime, so that those responsible may be brought to justice and punished to the full extent of the law. We also call on your government to ensure that Vasilchenko and all other journalists in Ukraine may exercise their internationally-recognized right to report the news without fear of reprisal.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your comments.
Ann K. Cooper