Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Georgiy R. Gongadze
Georgiy Ruslanovich Gongadze (in Ukrainian Георгій Русланович Ґонґадзе, Heorhiy Ruslanovych Gongadze) (May 21, 1969 – September 2000?) was a Ukrainian journalist kidnapped and murdered in 2000. The circumstances of his death became a national scandal and a focus for protests against the government of the then President, Leonid Kuchma. Gongadze's killers have yet to be publicly identified or put on trial, although two men accused of his murder were arrested in March 2005. His wife and their two children received political asylum in the United States and currently live there.
Born in Tblisi, Georgia, Gongadze was the son of a deputy speaker of the Georgian Parliament. He was educated at the Ivan Franko National University of L'viv in western Ukraine. He became a successful journalist, first in Georgia (where he reported on the conflict in Abkhazia) and then in Ukraine. He worked for the Kyiv-based radio station Kontynent, on which he had his own show called First round with Heorhiy Gongadze. His strongly independent line soon attracted hostility from the increasingly authoritarian government of Leonid Kuchma; during the October 1999 presidential election , his commentaries prompted a call from Kuchma's headquarters to say "that he had been blacklisted to be dealt with after the election." Visiting New York in January 2000 with other Ukrainian journalists, he warned of "the strangulation of the freedom of speech and information in our state."
In April 2000, Gongadze co-founded a news website, Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth), as a means of sidestepping the government's increasing influence over the mainstream media. He observed that following the muzzling of a prominent pro-opposition newspaper after the election, "today there is practically no objective information available about Ukraine". The website specialized in political news and commentary, focusing particularly on President Kuchma, the country's wealthy "oligarchs" and the official media.
In June 2000, Gongadze wrote an open letter to Ukraine's chief prosecutor about harassment from the SBU, the Ukrainian secret police, directed towards himself and his Ukrayinska Pravda colleagues and apparently related to an investigation into a murder case in the southern port of Odesa. He complained that had been forced into hiding because of harassment from the secret police, that he said he and his family were being followed, that his staff were being harassed, and that the SBU were spreading a rumor that he was wanted on a murder charge. 
Disappearance and investigations
Gongadze disappeared on September 16, 2000 after failing to return home. Foul play was suspected from the outset. The matter immediately attracted widespread public attention and media interest. 80 journalists signed an open letter to President Kuchma urging an investigation and complaining that "during the years of Ukrainian independence, not a single high-profile crime against journalists has been fully resolved." Kuchma responded by ordering an immediate inquiry. This was, however, viewed with some skepticism. Opposition politician Hryhoriy Omelchenko reported that the disappearance had coincided with Gongadze receiving documents on corruption within the president's own entourage. The Ukrainian Parliament set up a parallel inquiry run by a special commission. Neither investigation produced any results.
Two months later, on November 3, 2000, a body was found in a forest in Tarashcha district, some 70 km (40 miles) outside Kyiv. The corpse had been decapitated and doused in acid, apparently to make identification more difficult; forensic investigations found that the acid bath and decapitation had occurred while the victim was still alive. A group of journalists first identified it as being that of Gongadze, a finding confirmed a few weeks later by his wife Myroslava. In a bizarre twist, the corpse was then confiscated by the police and resurfaced in a morgue in Kyiv. The authorities did not officially acknowledge that the body was that of Gongadze until the following February and did not definitively confirm it until as late as March 2003. The body was eventually returned to Gongadze's family amidst disputes about its identification and was buried in September 2002, two years after his disappearance.
On November 28, 2000, opposition politician Oleksandr Moroz publicized secret tape recordings which he claimed implicated President Kuchma in Gongadze's murder. The recordings were said to be of discussions between Kuchma, presidential chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and were claimed to have been provided by an unnamed SBU officer (later named as Major Mykola Mel'nychenko, Kuchma's bodyguard). The conversations included comments expressing annoyance at Gongadze's writings as well as discussions of ways to shut him up, such as deporting him and arranging from him to be kidnapped and taken to Chechnya. Killing him was, however, not mentioned and doubt was cast on the tapes' authenticity, as the quality of the recordings was poor. Moroz told the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (parliament) that "the professionally organized disappearance, a slow-moving investigation, disregard for the most essential elements of investigation and incoherent comments by police officials suggest that the case was put together."
The affair became a major political scandal (referred to in Ukraine as the "Cassette Scandal" or, perhaps inevitably, "Tapegate"). Kuchma strongly denied Moroz's accusations and threatened a libel suit, blaming the tapes on foreign agents. He later acknowledged that his voice was indeed one of those on the tapes, but claimed that they had been selectively edited to distort his meaning.
Crises and controversy
The affair became an international crisis for the Ukrainian government during 2001, with the European Union expressing dissatisfaction at the official investigation, rumors of Ukrainian suspension from the Council of Europe, and censure from the OSCE, which described Gongadze's death as a case of "censorship by killing" and castigated the "extremely unprofessional" investigation.  Mass demonstrations erupted in Kyiv in February 2001, calling for the resignation of Kuchma and the dismissal of other key officials. He did sack the head of the SBU, Leonid Derkach, and the chief of the presidential bodyguard, Volodymyr Shepel, but refused to step down.  The government invited the US FBI to investigate, though it does not appear that this offer was ever taken up. The protests were eventually forcibly broken up by the police.
In May 2001, interior minister Yuri Smirnov announced that the murder had been solved - it was attributed to a random act of violence committed by two "hooligans" with links to a gangster called "Cyclops". Conveniently, both of the killers were said to now be dead. The claim was dismissed by the opposition and by the government's own prosecutor-general, whose office issued a statement denying Smirnov's claims. 
Mass protests again broke out in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities in September 2002 to mark the second anniversary of Gongadze's death. The demonstrators again called for Kuchma's resignation but the protests again failed to achieve their goal, with police breaking up the protesters' camp.
The prosecutor of the Tarascha district, where Gongadze's body was found, was convicted in May 2003 for abuse of office and falsification of evidence. Serhiy Obozov was found guilty of forging documents and negligence in the investigation and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. However, he was immediately released due to a provision of Ukraine's amnesty laws. 
In June 2004, the government claimed that a convicted gangster identified only as "K" had confessed to Gongadze's murder, although there was no independent confirmation of the claim. The ongoing investigation received a setback when a key witness died of spinal injuries apparently sustained while in police custody. 
Gongadze's death became a major issue in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, in which the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko pledged to solve the case if he became president. Yushchenko did become president following the subsequent Orange Revolution and immediately launched a new investigation, replacing the country's prosecutor-general.
On March 1, 2005, Yushchenko announced that the journalist's suspected killers had been arrested.  Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun announced the following day that the case had been solved, telling Ukrainian television that Gongadze had been strangled by employees of the Interior Ministry. Two of the alleged killers were said to be senior policemen working for the Interior Ministry's criminal investigations directorate (CID). Former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, one of those recorded with Leonid Kuchma in the "cassette scandal", was also said to be under investigation. The two police colonels accused of the killing have been detained and a third senior policeman, identified as CID commander Oleksiy Pukach, was being sought on an international arrest warrant.
The Ukrainian newspaper Siehodnia ("Today") reported that Gongadze had been abducted by the policemen and accidentally shot in the head while seated in a vehicle, necessitating his decapitation (to avoid the bullet being recovered and matched to a police weapon). His body had been doused in petrol which had failed to burn properly, and had then been dumped. 
On March 4, Yuri Kravchenko was found dead in a dacha in the elite residential area of Koncha-Zaspa, outside Kyiv. He had died from apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds, though some speculated that he might have been assassinated to prevent him from testifying as a witness. Hryhory Omelchenko, who chaired the parliamentary committee that investigated the Gongadze case, told the New York Times that Kravchenko had ordered Pukach to abduct Gongadze on President Kuchma's orders. Kuchma himself has denied this allegation.
Name spelling disambiguation
Note that the pronunciation and sometimes spelling of Gongadze's name may differ following the phonetics of different languages. The proper Georgian name Georgi Gongadze became Георгий Гонгадзе in Russian and Георгій Гонгадзе in Ukrainian. While the Cyrillic character Г (He) is pronounced as G in Russian, its pronunciation in Ukrainian has no close match in English and is usually transliterated as H. This is why Gongadze (born of a Ukrainian mother and excellent Ukrainian speaker) was often mentioned as Heorhiy Honhadze in Ukrainian. To add further confusion, Ukrainian also uses the modified letter Ґ (Ghe) for a G in foreign names, which has been used in spelling Gongadze's last name (Ґонґадзе), but not his first name (Георгій). Some sources also refer to him as Georgy Gongadze.
- "Ukraine: Radio station accuses authorities of bullying tactics", BBC Monitoring (from "Den", Kyiv), October 27, 1999
- "Journalists seek freedom on the net", Kyiv Post, May 4, 2000
- "Outspoken Ukraine journalist missing", BBC News, September 19, 2000
- "Corpse of missing journalist found in Ukraine", Interfax, November 16, 2000
- "Opposition leader blames Ukrainian president for "ordering" reporter's disappearance", Interfax, November 28, 2000
- "Ukraine's 'censorship killing'", BBC News, February 14, 2001
- "Judge denies journalist's murder solved", BBC News, May 17, 2001
- "Ukraine official sentenced over journalist murder", BBC News, May 7, 2003
- "'Killer admits' Gongadze murder", BBC News, June 21, 2004
- "'Gongadze killers' held by police", BBC News, March 1, 2005
- BBC News reports on the latest developments in the investigation of Gongadze's death
- "Killing the Story", the BBC's extensive investigation of Gongadze's case
- Ukrayins'ka Pravda's Web-page dedicated to Gongadze and his case
- Collection of photocopied documents supposedly leaked from the criminal investigation of Gongadze's murder
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