“The fight against corruption is the task for the society. We would like to hear about what society is already doing. The contest we conducted is also to highlight these actions. I think this is may be even more important than handing money for grants”, pointed out Martin Raiser, the World Bank Country Director for Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. “We show that it is possible to fight corruption, albeit it is difficult and there are many setbacks. But you have had patience and courage. Without people in this room, Ukraine’s fight against corruption would remain ineffectual, but with people in this room, hopefully, Ukraine could make some real progress”.
The World Bank Office in Ukraine awarded five reporters: Ihor Hryschenko from Chernihiv, Oleh Peretiaka from Luhansk, Oleg Oganov and Yaroslav Chepurnoy from Mykolaiv and Anna Pavliuk from Kherson. In their articles these reporters demonstrate examples of how citizens can successfully fight corruption in the sphere of rendering medical and public utilities services. Of particular note was a series of publications by Mykolaiv reporters Oleg Oganov and Yaroslav Chepurnoy on the fight of pensioners with the local power company that was charging high and unfounded penalties.
“We were appalled when we came across such an extent of abuses carried out by the monopolist,” Yaroslav Chepurnoy related. As the reporting shows, in cases when citizens were taken to court for unpaid services, the power company was in reality the violator. According to Mr Chepurnoi, “In our publications we gave practical advice obtained from workers that were earlier employed by the power company. These former employees are now helping people to win their cases against the monopolist.
Another winner, Oleg Peretiaka is a physician who considers journalism a hobby. Oleg Peretiaka describes how often the authorities close their eyes to the conclusions of reporters’ investigations. “Unfortunately our publications are not always those tools that help fight against corruption. I can say that from the time I began investigations the effectiveness of my articles is not great. Regrettably, the Lugansk law and order bodies and local authorities do not always respond to such publications. Sometimes those exposed in my investigative articles climb the ladder in their careers”, sadly admits Oleg Peretiaka.
At the same time Ihor Hryschenko informed the audience at the WB that in his native town of Chernihiv the authorities respond to the articles of the investigations: “Our town is small with 300 thousand residents where almost everybody knows each other. That is probably the reason why the prosecutor’s office responds, maybe not that actively, but all the same responds. It is heartwarming that people also respond to the articles. Dozens of people come to my office or phone every week. They are interested in what they should do to defend their rights”.
Anna Pavliuk publishes her articles in the Kherson newspaper “Vhoru”. This weekly has its own special journalist investigation bureau. At present its reporters are investigating close to 10 widely publicized topics. Among them are abuse in law and order bodies and housing municipal services, drawbacks in the medical system, and the destruction of city parks by construction companies. Anna Pavliuk is also an activist with one of the public organizations. According to her, “At present time there exists an active public movement in the city against the construction in one of the central parks and demolition of the city stadium. In addition to the regular meetings, the activists also coordinate their activity via Facebook.
The fact that even the best journalist investigations cannot in one moment change Ukrainian society was pointed out by Semen Gluzman, well-known human rights champion and former Soviet dissident. Psychiatrist Semen Gluzman spent 10 years at a camp in the USSR and was exiled because he criticized the use of psychiatry in political cases. “Each of the awarded journalists remains to be a Don Quixote. The World Bank cannot change anything even if it grants Ukraine all the money in the world. There will just be more corruption. These are sad words but they are genuine. I am very grateful to you young journalists for what you are doing in this country. I believe that the seeds you are sowing will sprout. No one knows when this will take place, but they will sprout”. This is how, very metaphorically, one of the most famous human rights champions in Ukraine, noted the courage of the journalists.
But in spite of all difficulties with freedom of speech, a high demand remains in Ukrainian society for journalist investigation. This was pointed out by all participants of the meeting. And despite many problems, participants vowed to continue their work. The winners of the mediacontest also agreed to regularly exchange information on the best methods of the struggle of citizens against corruption. One option may be to make more use of the internet which seems free of influence of corrupted and influential officials.