Late on April 8, a young man approached Kyiv Post journalists on a public square near the Oblast State Administration Building in Kharkiv and boasted how he and his friends broke into the local ATN TV channel and smashed its equipment and furniture with wooden sticks.The channel is linked to interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who is despised by pro-Russian separations.
“We came into their apparatus room and smashed it to pieces,” he said, calling himself Anton but refusing to give his last name over fears of persecution from the police.
Some 50 masked thugs with the Russian flag, St. George's stripes and wooden sticks came into the TV channel at about 9:30 p.m. on April 7.
“They were threatening to throw the journalists out of the windows, they pushed out our director, Natalia Didenko," editor in chief of ATN, told the Kyiv Post. “Their demands were unclear: they accused us of lies, then they demanded live broadcast, then pressured our director to resign, which is nonsense, as we are a private TV channel.”
The police officers who showed up didn't get involved. Initially the officers were just standing downstairs and then they came into the channel, talking to the thugs as if they were old acquaintances. “They were calling each other by names, like: 'Segioga,' don’t do this, you promised me,” Didenko remembers.
Video footage of the incident, filmed by journalists of the TV channel, showed how one of the thugs irritated by presence of journalists in the room was asking the policemen: “Max, what’s going on?” “It wasn’t me, who allowed them in,” the officer explained away.
The gang left deliberately after hearing about clashes near the state administration regional headquarters. They took several hardware disks from the computers of the channel, documents and belongings of the journalists and also stole Hr 15,000 from the office of Oleg Yukht, the channel’s director. None of them has been arrested.
“They took everything they liked here,” Yukht said, showing what is left from his office room. He estimated loss of the TV channel after attack at about Hr 1 million, not being able to say when ATV would recover from its damage and broadcast again.
For now its TV programs could be seen only on the web.
ATN is in joint ownership of Yukht and Investor Corporation, close to Minister of Interior Affairs Arsen Avakov, who is from Kharkiv. T
he station's news coverage was considered opposition when the Party of Regions, led by overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych, was in power.
The Yanukovych administration refused to allow broadcasts of the station, which had to work for 2.5 years online only. It resumed its TV broadcast only in February. The channel is known for its investigations incriminating Kharkiv Mayor Hennady Kernes, a one-time Yanukovych supporter, and former Kharkiv Oblast governor Mykhailo Dobkin, who is now running for presidency as the candidate of the discredited Party of Regions.
Yukht said he was sure the attack on the channel was ordered by Kernes, who is a long-standing rival of Avakov.
Kernes is now under house arrest, suspected of kidnapping and threats. His close friend Yevheny Zhylin is a head of radical pro-Russian Oplot group, whose members were a hardcore of ongoing pro-Russian separatism in Kharkiv. Zhylin fled Ukraine at the end of February, escaping criminal prosecution.
Kernes denies accusations of backing separatist movements in Kharkiv, but not many believe it. “We don’t have the direct proof that Kernes was involved in the attack on us, but we are sure that he was behind this,” Yukht said.
Late on April 9, Kharkiv police reported they seized the organizer of attack on ATN, without providing any details. The Kharkiv police department is now carrying out the internal investigation of the Kharkiv policemen who were present during the attack on the channel but didn’t involve.
Avakov earlier this week announced that some 30 percent of staff of Kharkiv police would be dismissed over sabotage and inaction.
Editor’s Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from the project www.mymedia.org.ua, financially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action.The content in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of the Danish government, NIRAS and BBC Action Media.