From car arson to Tarashcha forest: Fears of Gongadze case repeating in Ukraine.

Anatoly Oktisyuk

The functions of the state are eroding in Ukraine, while law enforcement are increasingly losing public support. Under such conditions, journalists and public figures are facing tougher attacks, finding themselves in various unpleasant situations. There are many examples, from the tragic story of acid attack victim Kateryna Gandziuk to the arson attack on anti-graft activist Vitaliy Shabunin's house and Skhemy investigative journalists' car. It should be noted that Skhemy had been under pressure for quite a while – it's not the first time their cars get damaged. Also, their top reporter Mykhailo Tkach recently found singes of eavesdropping equipment being installed in his apartment.

That is, on the one hand, we have weak government and state institutions, and on the other – a variety of criminal groups that have teamed up with law enforcement and prosecutors. Attempts to intimidate or threaten independent journalists and activists are likely to stem precisely from this kind of union.

In Ukraine, the functions of the state are eroding, while law enforcement are increasingly losing public support

Besides, due to the fact that law enforcement agencies have lost their authority, victims don't even expect any real assistance. They do report the attacks but they don't see how they can help them.

We're seeing a rollback to the 1990s, when the state lost its monopoly on violence. This setback began somewhere in the middle of Petro Poroshenko's presidential term and moved on through that of Zelensky. As a result, anarchy is returning to the streets of Ukrainian cities.

At the same time, it's not only journalists and public activists who become victims of arbitrariness and violence, but also businesses and representatives of local opposition forces. The dialogue is moving towards violence, which is very bad. This is the result of corrupt law enforcement, as well as the weak government. It seems that we have a president with high popular ratings, who is at the same time weak and unable to control the situation.

Besides, there are many objective factors: the ongoing war war, poor socio-economic situation, criminal gangs hired to do a dirty job, as well as unstable war veterans who could also be employed for some kind of reward.

Since there is no reason to expect that the law enforcement system will suddenly change, the situation will further worsen for journalists and public figures. If it all started with "innocent" acts like hurling paint at someone, now things are getting much more violent. And worst of all, there is no inevitable punishment for this violence.

If the trend prevails, we might even see a repeat of Gongadze's story

In Ukraine's regions, at the local level, the situation is even much worse. If there is still some publicity in Kyiv, it is easier to hide and hush things down at the local turf.

I can't rule out that, if the trend prevails, we might even see a repeat of Gongadze's story. Nobody is insured against this. Journalists are being killed not only in post-Soviet or "third world" countries – this is happening everywhere, even in more successful democracies. For example, a journalist was recently killed in Slovakia, which led to a deep political crisis. In Ukraine, the situation is more complicated as several structural crises are unfolding simultaneously: economic, ideological (a divide in society), and law enforcement (merging with the criminal world). This is happening against the background of an amorphous government, which tries not to interfere or respond to resonating incidents. This, in turn, is untying hands of regional elites, corrupt prosecutors, judges, and criminals.

Zelensky has been targeted by the Skhemy investigations as well, so I can't rule out that the arson attack is a signal to journalists from the authorities. However, Skhemy create problems to regional gang lords and corrupt officials, not only the government... So this could be anyone who could put pressure on the team

Anatoliy Oktysiuk is a political expert with the Democracy House think tank

Author: UNIAN

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