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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK
Ukraine remembers slain reporter
By Helen Fawkes
BBC correspondent in Kiev

The Gongadze monument near the forest where his body was found
The Gongadze case is still unresolved
On the edge of a forest, weeds and stinging nettles are cleared away with bare hands to reveal what was once a shallow grave.

This is where the beheaded body of crusading Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was discovered.

To mark the fourth anniversary of his abduction from Kiev, people gathered here, more than a 100km (60 miles) outside the capital.

Friends, fellow journalists and opposition MPs lit candles and placed them next to a wooden cross made from branches of a tree.

Gongadze showed that if you stand firm, if you fight, you can actually make a difference even after your death
Peter Voitsekhovsky
Gongadze family friend
A memorial service was also held by two Orthodox Christian priests.

"It's really special being here but it also sends a chill down my spine knowing what the criminals did in this forest," says family friend Peter Voitsekhovsky.

Political uproar

Nearby, flowers and a smiling photograph of the journalist were placed at the foot of a monument dedicated to Gongadze.

Candle-lit human chain in the capital, Kiev
Some 3,000 people rallied in Kiev against alleged media curbs

His death caused one of the biggest political scandals in this former Soviet republic.

A former presidential guard released secret audio recordings allegedly implicating President Leonid Kuchma in his disappearance.

The Ukrainian president has repeatedly denied any involvement but the row almost toppled him.

For four years the unsolved murder has been a high profile case for the opposition and human rights groups.

'Reporters' graveyard'

Ukraine is one of the most dangerous countries in Europe in which to work as a reporter.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma
Kuchma denies any involvement in the affair

It's believed more than 20 journalists have been killed here since independence.

Heorhiy Gongadze set up the news website, Ukrainska Pravda which means the "truth of Ukraine".

He led a campaign against high level corruption.

The man who took over from Gongadze after his death is full of admiration for him.

"He was critical of our president and our authorities," says Serhiy Leshchenko, the editor of Ukrainska Pravda.

Two man light candles for Gongadze in the forest where the journalist's body was found
A wooden cross marks the place where Gongadze's body was found
Complete with an old wardrobe and long bedroom mirror, the office of the website is based in a converted apartment in Kiev.

The sound of reporters tapping away at keyboards is accompanied by the singing of two caged canaries.

One is yellow, the other is blue - they were bought by Gongadze and kept at the office to symbolise the Ukrainian flag.

"Gongadze tried to be like a normal reporter, he didn't try to be a hero. But in Ukraine it's a brave activity being a being a journalist," the editor says.

Events to commemorate the Gongadze's anniversary ended with a night-time protest.

Thousands of people formed a candle-lit human chain through the capital.

They were asked to remember all the journalists who have died in Ukraine.

Still unsolved, the murder of Gongadze is a major issue in the run-up to the presidential election next month.

"His death was one of the pivotal events of Ukraine's political history since independence in 1991," Mr Voitsekhovsky.

"Gongadze showed that if you stand firm, if you fight, you can actually make a difference even after your death."


SEE ALSO:
Ukraine MPs call for impeachment
18 Jun 04  |  Europe
Ukraine hopes for sell-off boost
12 May 04  |  Business
Ukraine MPs vote against reforms
08 Apr 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Ukraine
21 Apr 04  |  Country profiles
Kuchma gets chance of third term
30 Dec 03  |  Europe


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