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Tribute to Vadym Komarov - by Katherine Makarychev

  • Page ID
    187963
    • Katherine Makarychev at Pima Community College

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    On May 4, 2019, Ukrainian journalist Vadym Komarov was attacked. He was found on a central street unconscious with a broken head by a passerby walking in the morning at about 9.30 a.m..( Institute of Mass Information ) Vadym Komarov was only 57-years-old when he was brutally assaulted by an unidentified individual in his hometown of Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine. After being found he was hospitalized and medically induced into a coma for six weeks. Despite this, the injuries were to sever and Vadym passed away in the hospital June 20, 2019 (Martinovic).  These, however, are only the circumstantial, undeniable, basic facts of Vadym’s untimely death. I would like to shine some more light on this journalist’s death, or rather more appropriately said, murder. For Vadym was not simply attacked, and didn’t simply die due to “circumstance”. He was targeted, deliberately killed, and, like many truth-bearing, out-spoken, and honest journalists of the world – silenced.  

    Vadym was like any man, living his ordinary life with his beloved wife, making money with freelance work on his social media, as well as writing and reporting for the local daily Dzvin. Denys Kolesnyk, a colleague of Komarov, spoke about him as being a very kind and loving person. But at work his personality was more fearless and daring, as Kolesnyk stated, he was not afraid to name people in his stories (ctd. in Melkozerova). Another acquaintance of Vadym’s, Borysiuk, told the Kyiv Post: “What I liked in him as a journalist was his bite. If he took a topic, he would get to the bottom of it. He was like a track hound when it came to digging and reporting,” (qtd. in Melkozerova). Komarov’s bravery and brutal honesty were rare attributes for Ukrainian journalism, and as admirable as that may be, they were also a leading cause to his murder. In digging into the truths for his reports, he posed as an inconvenience for those who were in control of local Cherkasy politics. “He raised annoying questions about corruption in Cherkasy, raised important topics that resonated in the society,” Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, told CPJ. In trying to find a voice of truth for his community and the people of Cherkasy, he “poked his nose” too much into corrupted politicians’ scandalous behavior. He became a problem that needed to be “taken care of”.

    However, being the local “mafia” main pain in the neck was no surprise for Komarov. The Ukrainian journalist   had received multiple threats throughout his career, and even survived other attempts on his life in the past. Vitaly Chernukha, chief architect of the Cherkasy city council and one of Komarov’s close friends, recalled one of these attempts. “Somebody rang the door, Vadym went to open it. He stuck his head out of the door and saw a man pointing a gun at him. He managed to hide and the bullet hit the wall where his head was a moment earlier” (qtd. in Melkozerova). Another assault the architect shared happened in 2017, when Komarov was shot at in the hall of a residential building. This attack left him with a wounded leg. “The police even gave Vadym a bulletproof vest that time” Chernukha later added (qtd. in Melkozerova). But it’s that last statement that reveals one of the biggest issues in this whole story. Even with these multiple attacks on Komarov’s life and open evidence of direct threats, the local authorities did close to nothing in ensuring the journalist’s safety.  And this negligent behavior has likewise transitioned into the actual investigation of Vadym’s death.

     In doing my own research, I attempted to find Vadym’s Facebook page to inspect his pervious works, and get a clearer picture about what he was fighting against. However, according to authority’s report, Komarov’s family had deleted the journalist’s electronic files before police could examine them, on the grounds that they could contain personal images and documents, and other reliable sources of information about what the journalist was working on (CPJ). This only made me more suspicious of the circumstance of this particular murder case and the Ukrainian officials’ involvement in it all.

    It’s been over a year later and authorities still have not claimed and persecuted anyone for the murder of Vadym Komarov. Moreover, they have made little to no progress in bringing justice to the case. Investigations have stalled and no new suspects have been publicly identified (Martinovic). Worst of all, officials to this day don’t confirm or acknowledge that this murder was the result of Komarov’s bold journalism. They proceed to entertain different theories, such as unresolved arguments, a robbery, and etc.  Yet everyone who was close to Vadym and knew his work unanimously agree, that “the only reason for an assault and subsequent death of Komarov was his journalism.” (Tomilenko qtd. in CPJ). Colleges and a number of national organizations have even signed an open letter on May 4, 2020 urging for regional authorities to be more transparent about the investigation. The letter said it “would allow all us to believe that the death of our colleague is not another unpunished crime and that the perpetrators will be found and brought to justice” (Martinovic). Even outside of the journalist’s home country, this murder story and lack of resolution has raised concerns.  European co-rapporteurs and Ukraine monitors Dzhema Grozdanova (Bulgaria) and Alfred Heer (Switzerland), have requested that local Ukrainian powers ensure that an effective investigation take place. They emphasized that Vadym’s  professional activity as an investigative journalist reporting on corruption and abuse of power in Cherkassy being directly linked to his murder, makes the case all the more concerning. (Belgium).

    But have any of these attempts form both local and abroad journalist associations lead to any progress in bringing justice to Komarov’s death? No. Since it’s the very same corruption driven authorities that are in play, who are most likely working with those that Vadym was speaking out against. It is suspected that local ties between law enforcement and powerful individuals are involved and makes keeping this case unsolved within their best interests. Unsurprisingly, impunity for the murder of journalists is common in Ukraine. According to IPI’s Death Watch, Komarov was one out of eleven victims in Ukraine killed for their journalism in the last six years (Martinovic).  And such a negligent response on authority’s part sends out a concerning message to local journalists throughout the country. According to Tomilenko, Ukrainian journalists previously killed have been for the most part all well-known public figures, whereas, “The murder of Komarov was alarming for regional journalists. They realized that living in small communities means that they are even more unprotected than their nationally well-known colleagues…they were afraid of becoming the next victims” (qtd. in Martinovic).  In such circumstances and cases, a lack of a response tends to be the loudest response.

    Again, I can’t can say any of this surprises me. Growing up with two Ukrainian parents, my family made regular trips to their home town of Kharkov. As a little kid my entire summers were spent living in small Ukraine towns, playing with local children, shopping at bazars, and experiencing what most Slavic children grow up with. This includes seeing parents and surrounding adults participate in casual bribery with local authorities. This practice being so common and socially accepted that it was only after learning about it in American schools did I realize how immoral it was. I have vivid memories of daycares collecting money from our parents to pay off the ‘cop tax’ so that the local mafia won’t ‘touch’ the schools. Or how my father, after getting pulled over in traffic, a normal weekly occurrence, would simply open his wallet so that the officer could chose how much hryvna (Ukrainian currency) to take. If this is the kind of behavior even little children as myself were exposed to, I can only imagine what goes down on local political levels.

    Corruption in Slavic countries such as Ukraine has become as normalized and accepted as traffic laws or common curtesy. And speaking out against them or pointing out authority’s involvement in it all is considered socially wrong and dangerous. Everyone is aware that in doing so, you’re putting an unwanted target on your back. Truth seeking journalists get called insane or even stupid for their work, strives, and efforts in anti-corruption. However, the only words I can find to describe these journalists, such as Vadym Komarov, are “selfless” and “brave”.  Even though they knew the risks of putting themselves in such a spotlight, they willing choose to speak for the truth and what’s right. And it was this kind of selfless decision in his career that led bold journalist Komarov to his untimely death. I now only hope that the murderer and perpetrator of this awful crime is found, prosecuted, and that justice will be served. But that, unfortunately, is only a small and unrealistic hope.

    Works Cited

    CPJ. “Vadym Komarov.” Committee to Protect Journalists, 7 Jan. 2022, https://cpj.org/data/people/vadym-komarov/.

    "Belgium : Ukraine monitors call for effective investigation into the murder of Vadym Komarov." Mena Report, 4 July 2019. Gale General OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A592307509/ITOF?u=pima_main&sid=bookmark-ITOF&xid=049d3e05. Accessed 30 Nov. 2022.

    Institute of Mass Information. “No Longer like That: What Regional Journalists Lost in 2019.” NO LONGER LIKE THAT: WHAT REGIONAL JOURNALISTS LOST IN 2019, 27 Dec. 2019, https://imi.org.ua/en/monitorings/no...in-2019-i31105.

    Martinovic, Monika. “A Year Later, Killers of Ukraine Journalist Vadym Komarov Still Evading Justice.” International Press Institute, 24 Feb. 2022, https://ipi.media/a-year-later-kille...ading-justice/.

    Melkozerova, Veronika. “Ukraine - Kyiv Post - Ukraine's Global Voice.” Cherkasy Journalist Who Pursued Truth Is Murdered for Exposing Corruption, 8 Nov. 2019, https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics.


    This page titled Tribute to Vadym Komarov - by Katherine Makarychev is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Katherine Makarychev at Pima Community College.