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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 18:43 GMT 19:43 UK
Free to mourn the Orange dream
By Kateryna Khinkulova
BBC News, Kiev

If journalists in Ukraine are enjoying a new air of freedom since the Orange Revolution, it is a freedom which allows them to question the very heroes of that political phenomenon.

Serhiy Leshchenko
Mr Leshchenko's investigations did not stop with Mr Kuchma

Serhiy Leshchenko writes for the website of Ukrainska Pravda. One of Ukraine's most popular sites, it was started by Georgiy Gongadze, the journalist infamously kidnapped and murdered in 2000 for - it is widely believed - his outspoken criticism of the authorities at the time.

Mr Leshchenko began working for Ukrainska Pravda several days before Gongadze's disappearance but he refuses to be compared to the dead journalist who has become an iconic figure in Ukraine, a symbol of struggle for the freedom of speech.

Nonetheless, Mr Leshchenko's articles are written in the same style of uncompromising belief in the rule of the truth.

Mr Leshchenko's feelings about the current president, like those of many of his compatriots, have changed a lot since he reported from Kiev's Independence Square, the Maidan, almost 12 months ago.

He calls the past year in Ukraine a year of wasted opportunities because the authorities, he believes, failed to make use of a tremendous degree of trust that Ukrainians had put in them to go ahead with a lot of badly needed and keenly awaited reforms.

"Yes," he says, "there was no other choice last autumn and, even now, knowing everything that went wrong, I would still do exactly the same things I did. At the time we simply had no alternative."

Deaf ears

When asked to name one thing that went most "wrong", he says:

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"The government failed to become transparent. It doesn't respond to criticism.

"Sure, you can criticise it now more easily, you know you won't get arrested or killed, but it's not making any difference. Freedom of speech is just one part of a democratic society: The authorities have to respond to it. Otherwise, it's one-way traffic."

Several months ago, Mr Leshchenko carried out a journalistic investigation into the lifestyle of President Yushchenko's son Andriy.

Reports spoke of a $100,000 car, luxury mobile phone and evenings out at an expensive Kiev bar.

Mr Leshchenko says he has never acted on anybody's orders and was not working for Mr Yushchenko's political opponents.

The journalist says he was driven by promises given by Viktor Yushchenko himself when he swore in front of revolutionary crowds to fight corruption in Ukraine.

When forced to give explanations of his son's lifestyle at a press conference, President Yushchenko angrily brushed aside hints of wrongdoing and said he had told his son to stuff receipts from the bar into the journalist's face to show everything was paid for.

Such investigations, he said, were driven by envy or desire to undermine him.

Strange days

Serhiy Leshchenko was not the only journalist shocked at such a response from the previously mildly spoken president, known for his gallant manners.

Queen Elizabeth II congratulates Viktor Yushchenko
Mr Yushchenko's political role was recognised in London this week
But it is perhaps unsurprising that in recent months a few articles on the Ukrainska Pravda website have been signed "Serhiy Stuffed-Face".

Mr Leshchenko says the story with the president was the most personal - but not the most disappointing - episode in a year-long series of disillusionments.

These include a lack of real progress with economic reform, embarrassing squabbles in the president's team and sometimes inexplicable political alliances with former opponents including Viktor Yanukovich, for many an odious figure in Ukraine.

Hardly anything has been done to promote fairness in the media: TV channels are said to impose self-censorship by cutting out any vaguely controversial programmes to avoid potential problems with the authorities.

New government appointments appear to be awash with nepotism not seen even when Leonid Kuchma was in power.

Bribery is said to have increased manifold.

Mr Leshchenko corrects himself: "I shouldn't talk about disappointment - just of sadness."

His main task now, he says, is to stop himself becoming a cynic.

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