KIEV, Jan. 21 - A new wave of attacks targeting journalists and protest activists swept Kiev spelling out doubts over President Viktor Yanukovych’s commitment for talks to end Ukraine’s deepest political crisis in decades.
Ihor Lutsenko, a prominent journalist and activist was kidnapped by 10 unidentified thugs from a Kiev hospital on Monday while helping a wounded protester. He emerged a day later from a wooden area outside Kiev, severely beaten and barely able to walk.
“Over the past 24 hours I have three times said goodbye to my life,” said Lutsenko, who is not related to former interior minister and protest leader Yuriy Lutsenko. “Now I am okay.”
Valeriy Portnikov, a prominent television journalist critical of the government, fled Ukraine on Tuesday after a group of unidentified thugs had tried to break into his apartment, TVi television reported Tuesday.
Andriy Yanytskiy, an editor at Liviy Bereh newspaper, said Tuesday a friend had warned him about an imminent attack after obtaining a tip from his sources.
"The friend of mine just called and warned me that I will be the next to go missing like Ihor Lutsenko,” Yanytskiy said before Lutsenko had been found.
The attacks that seem to be well-coordinated target specifically journalists that are critical of the government and protest activists.
This comes as protesters had detained dozens of thugs, known as titushky, roaming in hundreds in Kiev’s downtown during the night, smashing store windows and breaking cars.
The thugs said they were hired by unknown people that had given them tools and instructions aimed at damaging people’s property. The thugs responded to a classified ad seeking protesters for hire.
Lawmakers and businessmen linked with the authorities have been known to hire ‘protesters’ to join a rally in support of the government over the past two months. The ‘protesters’ are paid between 200 hryvnias and 500 hryvnias per day.
The attacks follow a similar tactic last month culminating with a late night car chase and beating of Tatiana Chonovil, a prominent reporter and a protest activist, on a highway outside Kiev. The attack was recorded by a dash camera and opposition lawmakers had uploaded video on Youtube. This led to a quick detention of the alleged attackers.
The latest wave of violence targeting journalists and activists comes amid calls for talks from Yanukovych. The talks failed to materialize on Monday after Yanukovych had refused to show up, suggesting opposition leaders must talk to Andriy Kliuyev, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, a top security body under the president.
Kliuyev, who is in charge of Yanukovych campaign, is believed to be an official who had ordered a violent crackdown on peaceful student protesters on November 30.
Suffering from brain concussion, a bruised face with missing front teeth and fractured heel broken by a metal stick, Lutsenko said the kidnappers tortured him in the woods trying to find out who has been financing the anti-government protests.
“They fail to understand that the people joining the protests are not there for money!” Lutsenko said.
Lutsenko was kidnapped with a wounded protester, Yuriy Verbytskiy, who needed attention from a doctor for his eye injury. Lutsenko described his ordeal.
“There were about 10 people that had pulled us into a black mini van right from the doctor’s office and in front of the lady doctor.
"They took us in the middle of the night to the forest somewhere near Kiev and I thought must be it. We stayed there long enough with the kidnappers beating both of us asking who had been financing the protests.
"Then they took us 20-30 kilometers away and threw us into something like a metal garage with metal floor. It was very cold.
"In the garage we spent a long time, probably 10-11 hours.
“Then they took me in a car and drove for an hour. Again, I thought this is it for me. It was an abandoned area and I had a plastic bag around my head.
“They put me on my knees and with my forehead facing a tree, and told me to pray. I prayed.
“And then they disappeared.
"I looked at the world again like it was the first time. A snow blizzard was the most beautiful spectacle during this night. I will remember this moment for life.
"Then I was crawling through the snow-covered road and I was singing songs. A gift of life is so beautiful.
“Sorry, there will be no pics. My phone is done.
“And, of course, we will not stop.” (tl/ez)