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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Nervous times for Ukraine journalists
Kiev's main square
Kiev: Scene of violent anti-government protests
Ukrainian journalists say they are living in a climate of fear following a number of attacks on their colleagues in the past few months.

The violence has prompted condemnation from both within the country and abroad. Paris-based Reporters sans Frontieres has been particularly harsh in its criticism.

"Ukraine has the worst record in Europe for violence against journalists," the organisation's chief, Robert Menard, said.

Journalist Yuriy Oleksandrov
Yuriy Oleksandrov: Eleventh journalist killed in the past five years
His remarks came in the wake of the death of TV chief Ihor Oleksandrov, who died after being beaten with baseball bats in the stairwell of the TV building earlier this month.

Another prominent TV journalist, Oleh Velychko, suffered fractured ribs and head injuries when two attackers beat him up last week.

The Ukrainian Interior Minister, Yuri Smirnov, sought to quell journalists' fears after Mr Oleksandrov's death, saying they were much less likely to meet with violent deaths than miners or policemen.

If you are really ready for war, we will give you arms and we will fight crime together

Interior Minister Yuriy Smirnov
"More Interior Ministry employees lose their lives - our profession has one of the highest death rates, second only to coal miners," he told a news conference broadcast by Ukrainian Novyy Kanal TV.

He said journalists who tried to unearth scandals were taking the "path of war", and that any information should simply be given to the police.

But he offered to arm them if they wanted to join the police in fighting crime.

"If you are really ready for war," he told journalists, "we will give you arms and we will fight crime together."

Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Smirnov
Mr Smirnov said Gongadze's death was a random act of "hooliganism"
Oleksandrov, head of the private radio and television company TOR and a well-known campaigner against corruption and organised crime in his region, was the eleventh journalist to be killed in Ukraine in the past five years.

Thousands of people, among them journalists from all over the country, attended his funeral, which took place in the eastern town of Slavyansk.

The United States has urged Ukraine to adhere to the rule of law and thoroughly investigate his murder, along with that of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, whose headless body was found in the outskirts of the town of Tarashcha last November.

No-one is satisfied with the situation

US aid co-ordinator William Taylor
US aid co-ordinator William Taylor said the investigations were "crucial for the international image of Ukraine".

He also warned that the US might reduce the level of the country's financial assistance due to concern over the killings and the country's slow pace of reform.

"No-one is satisfied with the situation in that there's been no resolution of either of these two cases," he said.

Opposition leaders have also accused the authorities of hindering investigations into the murders.

Gongadze's death sparked the largest demonstrations post-Soviet Ukraine has seen, with thousands demanding the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma.

Opposition leaders had accused the president of involvement in the killing, an allegation he has denied.

Journalists are likely to need more convincing proof of the authorities' commitment to press freedom before they begin to breathe more easily.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

19 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Ukraine's air of unrest
19 Sep 00 | Media reports
Outspoken Ukraine journalist missing
27 Feb 01 | Media reports
Kuchma rejects Ukraine murder claims
11 Feb 01 | Europe
Analysis: Kuchma under pressure
26 Apr 01 | Europe
Timeline: Ukraine
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