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02 Nov. 2023


Who is Georgiy Gongadze and why is freedom of speech in Ukraine inextricably linked to his life story?

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Who is Georgiy Gongadze and why is freedom of speech in Ukraine inextricably linked to his life story?

23 years ago, the body of previously disappeared journalist Georgiy Gongadze was found in the forest near Tarashcha. Find out why Gongadze's murder became such a resonant event and a reason for national protests, and why Gongadze's work is more relevant than ever for modern Ukraine

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On September 16, 2000, Georgian-born Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze was kidnapped on his way home, and on November 2 of the same year, his body was found in the Tarashchansky forest. The murder of one of the first opposition journalists in independent Ukraine was the impetus for large-scale national protests that raised a wave of indignation among the Ukrainian people.

What happened in 2000 and why did Georgiy Gongadze become the victim of a horrific murder? How his activities influenced the further history of independent Ukraine and why freedom of speech in Ukraine and the fight against corruption are so closely linked to the journalist's name today - we will tell you further in the article.

Who is Georgiy Gongadze?

Georgiy Gongadze was born on May 21, 1969, in Tbilisi to a Georgian-Ukrainian family, and in 1989 he moved with his family to Lviv, his mother's historical homeland. However, his fate was inextricably linked to Georgia, as he returned there many times, including during the uprising against President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and the war in Abkhazia. Gongadze was there as a medic and journalist, and in one of the battles he received 26 shrapnel wounds. 

After his recovery, Georgiy returned to Ukraine and began active civic activities aimed at promoting freedom of speech in Ukraine, preventing the strengthening of state censorship and fighting corruption in the government. His main specialization was investigative journalism. In April 2000, shortly before his disappearance, Georgiy Gongadze founded the Ukrainian socio-political publication Ukrainska Pravda.

It should be noted that in 2005, Georgiy Gongadze was awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine (posthumously). In addition, his name is engraved on the glass wall in the hall of the Memorial to Fallen Journalists at the News Museum in Washington, DC.

Why Georgiy Gongadze was killed: a chronicle of events and the cassette scandal

Georgiy Gongadze was actively working on investigating corruption schemes of the ruling elite of Ukraine, including the then President Leonid Kuchma and other high-ranking officials.

Before his disappearance, Georgiy Gongadze published an open letter to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Mykhailo Potebenko, warning that he was being followed. The journalist suspected that law enforcement officers were involved, but in this way he tried to protect himself and be proactive. 

The last time he was seen was on September 16, 2000, on Lesia Ukrainka Boulevard, when he was getting into a "random taxi". However, the car, as it became known later, was not random at all. On November 2 of the same year, the decapitated body of Georgiy Gongadze was found in the Tarashchansky forest, 70 km from Kyiv. It was only in 2009 that the remains of his skull were found in the Kyiv region.

Two months after the journalist's disappearance, tapes were made public that pointed to the involvement of the Ukrainian authorities in Gongadze's disappearance. The so-called "cassette scandal" raised a wave of outrage, as Kuchma, Volodymyr Lytvyn and other high-ranking officials discussed the need to silence the journalist because of his online articles about high-level corruption.

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"The defendants in this case are people who should have been looking for themselves. The head of the Main Criminal Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Oleksiy Pukach, and three of his subordinates," Ukrayinska Pravda describes the perpetrators.

The direct perpetrators of the journalist's "elimination" were brought to justice, but not all of them served their sentences, as one of them died in prison. Oleksiy Pukach was sentenced to life imprisonment as the organizer of the murder. After admitting his involvement in the murder, Pukach named the names of the customers: Leonid Kuchma, Yuriy Kravchenko (who was found shot dead in his home the day before his testimony before the prosecutor's office), Volodymyr Lytvyn and Mykola Dzhyga. At the same time, none of the instigators of Gongadze's murder have been convicted. 

Heorhiy Gongadze's body was buried only in 2016 in Podil, in the courtyard of St. Nicholas Church.

Why is the story of Georgiy Gongadze still relevant today?

In 2000, Ukraine was confidently following the path of russia and Belarus, risking becoming another authoritarian state with a dictator at the helm, as freedom of speech was being stifled by any means necessary, and state censorship was only getting stronger every day. In addition, the issues of corruption, which are more relevant than ever for Ukraine today, once turned the country's development vector 180 degrees thanks to an opposition journalist.

Thus, the murder of Georgiy Gongadze did not have the effect that the masterminds were trying to achieve, because the resonance that this case has gained has had an unprecedented impact on Ukrainian society and made it speak out.

And today, the whole world can see where the path taken by Belarus and russia has led, and unfortunately, today Ukraine is forced to once again confront crazy dictators who are used to acting by force. However, the unbreakable Ukrainian spirit and character will prove that Ukraine will never take the treacherous path.

We remind you, that anxiety among citizens about the situation in the country is growing. According to a recent survey conducted by KIIS, there has been a significant increase in the number of Ukrainians who believe that the country is developing in the wrong direction. Read more about the changes in the mood of Ukrainians and what is happening in Ukraine because of corruption.

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