New York, January 18, 2024—Ukrainian authorities must conduct a swift and thorough investigation into threats made against journalist Yuriy Nikolov and alleged surveillance of journalists with investigative outlet Bihus.Info, and hold the perpetrators to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On January 14, a group of unidentified people came to the apartment of Nikolov, a co-founder and editor of the Ukrainian investigative media project Nashi Groshi, banged on his door, and shouted that he needed to join the army, according to multiple media reports, a Facebook post by Nikolov and text messages to CPJ from the journalist.
Separately, on January 16, Bihus.Info editor Maksym Opanasenko told the Ukrainian digital broadcaster Hromadske that staff members of Bihus.Info had been wiretapped and monitored for “at least several months” after a video allegedly showing employees of the outlet using drugs during a New Year’s party and tapped phone conversations were published by the YouTube channel Narodna Pravda on the same day.
“Ukrainian authorities must conduct a swift and thorough investigation into the verbal threats made against journalist Yuriy Nikolov, as well as the alleged surveillance of Bihus.Info journalists, identify the perpetrators, and hold them accountable,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “A symptom of a healthy democracy, Ukraine’s vibrant investigative journalism should not be discouraged in wartime, but rather, more than ever, must continue to flourish, without fear of reprisal.”
Footage and pictures of the visit to Nikolov’s apartment were posted on the anonymous Telegram channel Kartochnyy Ofis. The post showed Nikolov’s door covered with papers with inscriptions calling him a “provocateur,” a “traitor,” and a (military service) “evader,” and said that soldiers had allegedly come to deliver a military summons to the journalist.
“The police took my testimony and are currently conducting an investigation,” he told CPJ on January 17, adding that criminal proceedings had not yet been formally opened and he has not seen any official reaction from authorities.
Nikolov told CPJ that this visit was the “first case of such pressure” since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The journalist does not rule out that the visit is connected to his criticism of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky during a YouTube program by Ukrainian independent news website Ukrainska Pravda in late December, he told Ukrainian media monitoring organization Detector Media.
Anastasiya Borema, head of communications at Bihus.Info, told CPJ via messaging app that according to the analysis of the leaked video, the team’s phones had been tapped for about a year. “Therefore, we do not associate this with one specific material, but rather with the desire of many of those involved to discredit our work,” Borema said.
Borema told CPJ that this “media attack on independent journalists” showed that the perpetrators “did not find any grounds for discrediting us professionally, and then decided to get involved in our personal lives… We consider it a method of pressure on the editorial board.”
“At Bihus.Info, we expose the schemes of top officials, MPs, law enforcement officers, representatives of the President’s Office, and officials of various levels in general. Therefore, there is a fairly wide range of people who would like to cause us trouble,” Borema said.
She told CPJ on January 17 that Bihus.Info filed complaints with police and Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office. “The Security Service of Ukraine has informed us that it has also initiated criminal proceedings. We are also conducting our own investigation into these circumstances,” she said.
On January 17, the Security Service of Ukraine announced that it is investigating “the circumstances of the illegal wiretapping and video recording” of Bihus.Info representatives and that it believes that” transparent and unimpeded work of independent and professional media is an important condition for the development of Ukraine as a democratic state.”
CPJ emailed the Ukrainian National Police for comment but did not receive any replies.