Serhii Sholokh: “I fear that the closure of Kontynent is not the last action against freedom in Ukraine”

by Vasyl Pawlowsky
Special to The Ukrainian Weekly
March 14, 2004

KYIV – On March 3 Radio Kontynent, 100.9 FM, which re-broadcast programming of BBC, VOA, Deutche Welle, Radio Polonia, and had taken on the re-broadcasting of Radio Liberty on February 28, was shut down when Ukrchastotanahliad, Ukraine’s State Agency for Radio Frequencies issued an order to close down the station.

Radio Kontynent’s director Serhii Sholokh had told The Ukrainian Weekly a week before fleeing Ukraine that he had already agreed to start re-broadcasting Radio Liberty, but added, “It will happen when I am already out of the country.” In fact, Mr. Sholokh left Ukraine for Poland on February 29, a source close to the director told The Weekly.

According to local reports, Mr. Sholokh had met with his former lawyer Maria Sambur of the Center for Crisis Journalism, and Valeriy Vorotnik, a journalist and director of the Internet publication Antenna from Cherkassy, who had become a consultant to National Deputy Nestor Shufrych of the Social Democratic Party-United. Previously Mr. Vorotnik and his publication had a great deal of trouble from the authorities, though these problems subsided once he started consulting for Mr. Shufrych.

The same source told The Weekly that he thought it odd there was such a meeting, as he saw Mr. Sholokh on February 25, and did not recognized the third person sitting with him as being Mr. Vorotnik, and suspected that there may have been another meeting.

Local reports claim that Mr. Vorotnik and Ms. Sambur had tried to assist Mr. Sholokh, though the later’s mistrust of the two meant he would not take that step of cooperating with them. According to local reports, they claimed Mr. Sholokh would not answer their calls after the meeting on February 25. Neither could be contacted for comment.

Mr. Sholokh told The Weekly he had good reason to distrust both these people, who he believed had sold out to forces close to the regime. Mr. Vorotnik found protection with the SDPU, while Mr. Sambur, who had worked with the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a journalist’s rights group, was the first to make public the letters of a former police officer who claimed to have known who killed Heorhii Gongadze. However, Ms. Sambur had left out one little detail: the words regarding the president’s role in the killing of Gongadze had been removed. She was subsequently fired from her position at IMI.

Mr. Sholokh had told The Weekly’s source that he refused to meet with them anywhere other than at a place that was known and frequented by many Kyiv journalists, as he felt he would be safer there and feared possible arrest if he were to have met them at another venue.

The Weekly contacted Mr. Sholokh on March 9 by e-mail as he agreed to clarify a number of things regarding his last few days in Ukraine. Following is information from that exchange.

* * *

Q: As you know, Radio Kontynent was closed down on March 3. In your opinion, what were the reasons for this?

A: First of all this is a demonstration of strength and impunity and a way of testing the West’s reaction, so further repressive activities can be carried out. Secondly, it was the actual [act of] getting all the undesirable programming that is not under their control off the airwaves all at once. My decision to re-broadcast [Radio] Liberty was the last straw. I fear that the closure of Kontynent is not the last action against freedom in Ukraine.

They planned to use Kontynent for themselves and their own means, but when they understood that they couldn’t get me they carried out their pogrom. They planned to lock me up in jail, and “convince” me while I was locked up to cooperate with them.

Q: Some of the local media have been reporting that you met with Maria Sambur and Valerii Vorotnik on February 25. The Weekly’s source told us they did not recognize Mr. Vorotnik as the person who was sitting with you both. Was there a second meeting?

A: No, that was the same meeting, the fact that Vorotnik was not recognized is that he has been feeding at the trough.

Q: Some people have stated it is very clear why Kontynent was closed; you were operating without a license. But the problem is much more complicated, and what can you do now in order to solve the problem?

A: The question regarding our broadcasting license is under investigation by the European Court of Human Rights, and until that examination is complete Radio Kontynent had all the right to continue broadcasting.

But in Ukraine rules and laws don’t exist. I cannot consider Mykola Veresen’s opinion piece in Dzerkalo Tyzhnia as the way it transpired. I obeyed all the laws, and I paid incredible taxes. [Veresen, in his article places the blame for Kontynent’s closure on Sholokh himself – ed.] Just last December I paid over 25,000 hryvnia in taxes, but in this country there is a war going on against everything that is democratic. It is not a country in which the rule of law is followed, and these are wars without rules.

The only way to solve the problem is through continuous pressure by international organizations and Western governments.

Q: You probably heard about Hryhorii Chechyk’s death – the director of UTA Radio and Television in Poltava died in a car crash on March 3. Now that you are abroad, do you feel safer than when you were still in Ukraine?

A: I am not going to discount the idea that Chechyk took my place. The regime needed a sacrificial victim in order to frighten other directors from contacting Liberty. I fled, and they chose someone else. Yes, I feel safer here. However, there were people who claimed to be from the Ukrainian Embassy who tried to contact me, and I have been told that the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] knew where I was. It was necessary for me to leave for another country and change my telephone.

Q: Of course we have been following the situation regarding the closure of Kontynent and the reaction in the West. Can you comment on this?

A: I believe that the regime signed its own death sentence, because Radio Kontynent’s audience is not simple listeners – it is almost an army of a million elite individuals. Some time will go by and we will be once again broadcast, and not just in Kyiv.

The reaction of the West so far is correct. However, the West must demand real actions from Ukraine, and not limit itself to declarations. The regime long ago began ignoring all declarations, because not once were there any real sanctions.

Source: The Ukrainian Weekly