Unknown arsonists burned two cars that belonged to Pavlo Biletskiy, chief editor of independent news agency Zido, on December 5 in the western Ukraine city of Uzhgorod. In the Ukraine, several journalists have been targeted with car burnings. Credit: Pavlo Biletskiy

Ukrainian investigative journalist Pavlo Biletskiy’s cars destroyed in alleged arson attack

Vilnius, Lithuania, December 9, 2021 — Ukrainian authorities should thoroughly investigate the alleged arson attack on investigative journalist Pavlo Biletskiy and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In the early morning hours of December 5, unknown individuals burned two cars that belonged to Biletskiy, chief editor of independent news agency Zido, and his wife in the western Ukraine city of Uzhgorod, according to World Today News; Biletskiy, who spoke to CPJ via phone; and a video of the burning cars on Biletskiy’s Facebook account

Around 4:20 a.m., Biletskiy’s daughter saw the family’s Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Beetle burning in their private backyard and woke the journalist, he told CPJ. Biletskiy called the fire department but both cars were destroyed by the time firefighters and police arrived at 4:30 a.m., the journalist told CPJ. 

“We call on Ukrainian authorities to conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the alleged arson attack on investigative reporter Pavlo Biletskiy, and to consider his reporting as a likely motive,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Biletskiy’s work serves the public interest, and his safety and well-being must be ensured.”

Biletskiy believes there is no reason for the attacks, except in direct response to recently published reports in Zido about local corruption, property developers, and a report he wrote about the illegal privatization of a road in Tyachiv in the Transcarpathia region, he told CPJ. Biletskiy said he is also investigating the stealing and reselling of gravel in Transcarpathia. 

Local police opened an investigation into the “deliberate destruction or damage of property by arson,” the journalist told CPJ, adding that the damage was around 325,080 hryvna (US$12,000).

Yesterday, police called Biletskiy and told him the alleged arsonist has been detained, the journalist told CPJ. The alleged arsonist is a male from Uzhgorod, who reportedly confessed he was paid 5,418 hryvna (US$200) for the attack but did not disclose who paid him. 

The arson “is an alert for all journalists in Ukraine as their property is often attacked,” Sergiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, a professional trade organization, told CPJ via phone. In recent years, several Ukrainian journalists’ cars were set on fire, including journalist Serhii Guz’s car in February 2017, in Kamyansky, Central Ukraine, and a car used by journalists working for the “Schemes” TV program in August 2020, in Brovary, near the Ukraine capital Kiev, according to CPJ’s documentation at the time and Tomilenko.  

CPJ emailed request for comment to the police of the Transcarpathia region but there was no response.