'Schemes' journalist Mykhailo Tkach recently found alleged surveillance equipment in his home, and one of the program's cars was torched. (Photo: Natalie Sedletska)

Ukrainian investigative program ‘Schemes’ targeted with car burning, alleged surveillance

New York, August 17, 2020 – Ukrainian authorities should conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the torching of a car affiliated with the “Schemes” TV program and the alleged surveillance of one of the program’s journalists, and hold the perpetrators to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On August 7, Mykhailo Tkach, an investigative reporter working for “Schemes,” an investigative TV program jointly produced by the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Ukrainian public broadcaster UA:First, found what he suspected were signs that surveillance equipment had been installed in his apartment in Kyiv, the capital, according to news reports and “Schemes” chief editor Natalie Sedletska, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

At about 1 a.m. this morning, in the town of Brovary, near Kyiv, unknown attackers burned a car used by journalists working for “Schemes,” according to news reports and Sedletska. The car belonged to Boris Mazur, a driver employed by the program, Sedletska said.

On August 8, Ukraine’s national police said in a press release that a “violation of privacy” investigation had been opened following Tkach’s claims. Today, the police released a statement announcing a criminal investigation into “intentional destruction or damage of property” relating to the car burning. Neither statement named any suspects in the cases.

“Ukrainian authorities should find the perpetrators of the recent torching of a car used by the investigative ‘Schemes’ program and hold them to account. Authorities also must thoroughly investigate the surveillance allegations made by ‘Schemes’reporter Mykhailo Tkach,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “By reporting on corruption, investigative journalists at ‘Schemes’ are doing an important service for the public, and the authorities should ensure their safety.”

On the evening of August 7, Tkach posted photos on Facebook of what he alleged were “signs of a listening device” in his kitchen ceiling. Police arrived at his apartment the following morning and uncovered three holes in the building’s attic leading into Tkach’s apartment, but left without securing the area, Sedletska said, adding that she believed the perpetrators may have been able to remove any equipment they had installed.

In this morning’s car attack, experts from the State Emergency Service arrived at the scene of the burning car along with the fire brigade, and conducted a preliminary investigation, which concluded that the fire was a result of “a third-party ignition source,” according to Sedletska and news reports.

The car was parked by the apartment building where Mazur lives and was empty at the time of the attack, and no one was injured, Sedletska said. Mazur discovered the attack had taken place when the fire brigade arrived to extinguish the flames, she said.

Sedletska told CPJ that she suspects the alleged surveillance and car burning were retaliation for Tkach and the outlet’s journalistic work, but said she did not know who could be behind either incident.

Tkach recently published a series of investigations about high-ranking Ukrainian officials allegedly breaking quarantine rules, and an investigation into how Ukrainian authorities, including members of the presidential administration, allegedly violated road rules while using fake license plates.

Last month, Tkach received warnings from his sources that his work upset “high-ranking officials,” and that they planned to surveil him, according to Sedletska.  

CPJ emailed Ukraine’s national police in Kyiv for comment, but did not receive any response.

In February 2019, “Schemes” reported that vehicles belonging to a security company owned by Rinat Akhmetov, a Ukrainian billionaire and former member of parliament, surveilled Tkach and his camera operator, as CPJ documented at the time.