A Leading Ukrainian Journalist Visits HURI

On January 25–29, HURI hosted Serhiy Leshchenko, one of today’s most celebrated Ukrainian investigative journalists and a deputy editor-in-chief of Ukraїns´ka Pravda, a leading online publication in Ukraine. Mr. Leshchenko helped to launch the Ukrainian free-speech movement “Stop Censorship!” and participated in “Chesno” (‘Truthfully’), a campaign calling for transparency and accountability in the Ukrainian parliament. In 2011 Poland’s Foundation of Reporters recognized Mr. Leshchenko as the “best journalist in the countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP of the European Union)” and in 2012, he was awarded a John Smith Fellowship, with residence in London and Edinburgh. Most recently, in 2013, he was awarded a Press Prize by the Norwegian Fritt Ord Foundation and the German ZEIT Foundation (ZEIT-Stiftung). Leshchenko is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, based in Washington DC. The object of Leshchenko’s investigative reporting is corruption among Ukrainian government officials and oligarchs. He criticizes the country’s ruling elites for their gross criminality and their opposition to Ukraine’s integration into the EU, even as they themselves choose Europe as a place to live, conduct business, and enroll their children in exclusive private schools.

Leshchenko’s visit to the Boston area was tightly scheduled with events, meetings, and presentations. It began at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Christ the King, where he spoke to the members of the local Ukrainian community about the Euromaidan and other events unfolding now in Ukraine.

On Monday, January 27, he gave a talk at HURI entitled “Global Warning: Hot Winter in Ukraine. The Maidan Protests and Their Impact,” at which he presented a brief overview of the ongoing Ukrainian fight for democracy and the establishment of the rule of law. He also shared his vision for how the West could help Ukraine to solve this acute political crisis. Not surprisingly, this topic generated great interest, drawing  an overflow crowd.

Leshchenko gave a summary of recent events in Ukraine, stating that contrary to numerous misconceptions and misrepresentations surrounding the protests, this revolution was not about proverbial divisions between eastern and western Ukraine exploited by a few “radical extremists,” nor was it about the ambitions of a “power-hungry” opposition. It was instead a wide-spread, popular uprising of Ukrainians of all ethnic, social, and religious backgrounds against the current regime.

During this presentation Leshchenko’s discussant was Dr. Nadia Diuk, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, who serves as vice president at the National Endowment for Democracy (Programs for Europe, Eurasia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean). According to Dr. Diuk, what we are now witnessing in Ukraine is the birth of a new civic and political nation.

Leshchenko also presented his new book The American Saga of Pavlo Lazarenko: Investigating Corruption Charges and Judicial Proceedings. The book is based on investigations conducted by U.S. law enforcement agencies into money laundering by the former Ukrainian prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko. The investigations resulted in Mr. Lazarenko’s conviction and sentencing to nine years of imprisonment by a Californian court.

During his visit Leshchenko participated in numerous meetings and informal discussions with members of the Harvard community. He met with the Harvard Ukrainian Student Society as well as with political scientists Margarita Balmaceda and Oksana Shevel, and Timothy Colton, the current chairman of the Government Department of Harvard University and former director of the Davis Center.

Despite his busy schedule, Leshchenko continued to post on his blog at Ukraїns´ka Pravda. His most recent articles describe the expensive real estate holdings abroad of various Ukrainian oligarchs, and follow money trails leading from Ukraine into accounts in places like London and Vienna. Leshchenko adds his voice to those who call on the US and the EU to impose targeted sanctions on corrupt Ukrainian elites and their immediate families as a means of discouraging the government from further crackdowns on protesters. Leshchenko believes, as do many, that such action by the West would send a powerful message showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people and support for its efforts to build a free, democratic, and prosperous new Ukraine.

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