New York, November 19, 2002—A body suspected to be that of Mykhailo Kolomyets, director of Ukrainski Novyny news agency, was found on October 30 hanging from a tree in a forest in northwestern Belarus, near the city of Maladzechna, said a news report that Ukrainski Novyny published today.
Kolomyets’ colleagues at the news agency said that he did not show up for work on October 21, and that they reported him missing to law enforcement authorities a week later. According to Ukrainian police, the journalist had traveled to neighboring Belarus on October 22, where he telephoned a friend, Lyubov Ruban, who said that Kolomyets informed her that he was planning to commit suicide.
However, several journalists at Ukrainski Novyny fear that Kolomyets could have been targeted because of the agency’s independent reporting, but no specific incidents or reports were cited.
“We are saddened by this tragic discovery,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “and we call on Ukrainian and Belarusian authorities to investigate Mykhailo Kolomyets’ death thoroughly and to consider all possible motives.”
Ukrainian journalists at risk
In recent years, Ukraine has gained notoriety as a dangerous place for journalists, most notably with the murders of George Gongadze and Igor Aleksandrov. Gongadze was editor of the Internet news site Ukrainska Pravda (www.pravda.com.ua), where he often reported on alleged high-level government corruption in Ukraine. He disappeared on September 16, 2000, after several weeks of harassment by police officials. In early November 2000, a headless corpse believed to be his was discovered in a forest outside the capital, Kyiv. Audio tapes have linked President Leonid Kuchma to the journalists’ disappearance, but Kuchma has denied involvement in the crime.
In July 2001, Igor Aleksandrov, director of the independent television company Tor, which is based in Slavyansk, in eastern Ukraine, was beaten to death with baseball bats as he entered Tor’s offices. A homeless man, accused of the murder was acquitted in May 2002 for lack of evidence and died of a heart attack two months later. According to recent news reports, an investigation into Aleksandrov’s murder may be reopened.