Journalist goes missing in eastern Ukraine

New York, August 18, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the whereabouts of Vasyl Klymentyev, chief editor and reporter for the Kharkiv-based weekly newspaper Novyi Stil (New Style), who has been missing for a week.

According to local news reports, on August 11, Klymentyev was seen leaving his home in the city of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, with an unknown man in a BMW. The reports did not specify who saw Klymentyev that day. He has not been seen or heard from since. The journalist’s girlfriend reported his disappearance to authorities on August 12, Kharkiv regional police said in a statement. On Sunday, investigators with Kharkiv’s Dzerzhinsky District Police Department opened a criminal case classified under the criminal code as “premeditated murder,” the statement said. They have not named any suspects or motives in the case.

Mikhail Dobkin, governor of the Kharkiv region, told journalists that classifying the case as a murder rather than a disappearance allows investigators to use more tools to search for Klymentyev, the Russian service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Novyi Stil specializes in reporting on corruption in local government and law enforcement, the Ukrainian service of RFE/RL reported. Klymentyev’s deputy, Petr Matviyenko, told RFE/RL that in his latest articles Klymentyev had criticized a local prosecutor and the head of the regional fiscal police.

Authorities announced today that beachgoers found Klymentyev’s cell phone on a boat on Pechenezhskoye lake, outside of Kharkiv, the independent news agency Interfax-Ukraine reported.

“We are deeply concerned about the well-being of Vasyl Klymentyev and call on the authorities in Kharkiv to carry out a thorough, comprehensive probe into his disappearance,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Given that Klymentyev’s newspaper was known for its critical coverage of authorities, we urge investigators to focus on his journalism as a motive.”

Matviyenko told RFE/RL that on August 9 he and Klymentyev photographed the mansions of local officials. He said the photographs were going to run alongside a piece in Novyi Stil‘s next issue. Matviyenko said he met with Klymentyev the day of his disappearance to discuss the upcoming material and photographs, RFE/RL reported.

In an interview for the Kyiv-based independent daily Segodnya, Matviyenko said that in 2008 someone had followed Klymentyev in a car that later turned out to have false license plates.

According to the Kyiv-based news agency UNIAN, Kharkiv police announced a reward of 20,000 Ukrainian hryvnas, (about US$2,500) for information that would help locate Klymentyev.