On January 14, unknown assailants attempted to break into the Kyiv apartment of Ukrainian journalist Yurii Nikolov, co-founder and editor of anti-corruption media investigative project Nashi Groshi (Our Money).
Nikolov’s mother, who was home at the time, heard unknown men banging on the door, yelling threats, and demanding to “talk” to Nikolov. They then slapped signs on the door calling Nikolov a “traitor” and a “provocateur.”
Images of the attack were published on an anonymous Telegram channel and a smear campaign ensued on several pro-presidential Telegram channels. Posts implied Nikolov was a Russian agent and accused him of draft evasion and attempts to discredit Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Police promptly started an inquiry into the incident.
Nikolov is not the only investigative journalist recently targeted. Two days after the attempted break-in, the head of Bihus.info, known for its investigations into law enforcement officials, told media that his staff have been monitored through video surveillance and telephone wiretapping for months.
A Ukrainian media freedom movement, Mediarukh, has urged President Zelenskyy to condemn this kind of intimidation and pressure on independent journalists. On January 17, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine’s security service started investigating unlawful surveillance of journalists.
Nikolov has a long track record of investigating corruption. He’s worked with Nashi Groshi since 2010, exposing corruption scandals under Viktor Yanukovych’s government. After Russia’s full-scale invasion, Nikolov led groundbreaking investigations into allegations that Ukraine’s Defense Ministry purchased military supplies at inflated prices, which eventually led to formal investigations and dismissals. Nikolov told Human Rights Watch that then-Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov requested at the time that Ukraine’s security service investigate Nikolov for disclosing sensitive information, but no charges were filed against him.
Nikolov said he believes the attempted break-in and smear campaign were likely in retaliation for his recent criticism of President Zelenskyy's handling of mobilization efforts.
“Going after journalists who criticize their government … is a tactic straight from our enemy’s playbook,” Nikolov said. “President Zelensky needs to react loudly to such intimidation tactics.”
Media freedom, independence, and pluralism are important to democracy, during war and peacetime alike. Attacks on journalists, if left unaddressed, ultimately serve to obscure corruption and lead to erosion of the rule of law. President Zelenskyy and other senior officials should continue to emphasize that any attempts to silence independent media in Ukraine will not be tolerated.