On the evening of September 16, 2000, Georgiy Gongadze, a prominent Ukrainian independent journalist and founder of the website Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth) disappeared after he left his house in Kyiv and was never seen again. On November 2 that year, his headless body was found in the Tarashansky forest not far from Ukraine's capital.
Gongadze's widow, Myroslava, also a journalist, recalled the day's events in a Facebook post.
15 років тому сьогодні була субота. Я прокинулась рано, треба було збиратись на конференцію в Пущі. День був гарний, вирішила взяти з собою дітей. Він ще спав, поки я збирала дітей. Перед виходом я його розбудила, щоб попрощатись. Він прокинувся і сказав, що ми не підемо поки він не проведе з дітьми урок англійської і грузинської. Діти нили, бо налаштувалися іти. Але він настояв. Ми вийшли лише через годину і домовившись, що повернемось десь біля 10. Коли ми повернутись , двері в квартиру були зачинені, він ніколи не повернувся додому…… Є дні , які пам'ятаєш по хвилинах, сьогодні, 15 річної давнини, саме такий день. Серце розривається.
15 years ago today was a Saturday. I woke up early, had to go to a conference in Pushcha. It was a good day, so I decided to take the kids with me. He was still asleep while I got the kids ready. Before leaving, I woke him up to say goodbye. He woke and said that we couldn't leave until he had an English and Georgian language with the kids. The children complained, since they were all ready to go. But he insisted. We left only an hour later and said we'd be back around 10. When we returned, the door to the apartment was closed, and he never came back… There are days which you remember every minute of, and today, a day 15 years in the past, is one of those. My heart is breaking.
15 years after his murder, those who ordered Gongadze's killing have still not been identified or found by the investigators, though there have been many theories. The person who performed the crime—Oleksiy Pukach, former head of external surveillance of the Ministry of Interior—has been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison by the court, but is disputing his sentence.
Gongadze's life and death have become a symbol of how unprotected independent journalism remains in Ukraine. According to Ukrainian media non-profit IMI, 64 Ukrainian journalists have lost their lives during the years of Ukraine's independence since 1991. This year, among the seven journalists killed in Ukraine overall (mostly in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine) there was one Ukrainian, photo reporter Serhiy Nikolayev, who died from a shrapnel wound.
Every year on September 16, the day of Gongadze's disappearance, Ukrainian journalists stage public memorial events to raise awareness of his case and other lives lost by media workers. This year, they chose to rally under the slogan “Arm yourselves with the truth” and called on Internet users to post about Gongadze and other fallen reporters with the hashtag #truthisnotacrime.
In a short video, prominent Ukrainian journalists called on citizens to honor the memory of Gongadze and other fallen reporters and to campaign for justice on their behalf. “The law only protects us on paper, but in reality we're the only ones who can protect ourselves and each other. Never forget that.”
Public memorials were held in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, with people gathering downtown, lighting candles, and giving speeches, recognizing Gongadze and reciting the names of other Ukrainian journalists who perished in the field or suffered for their work.
— Hromadske.TV (@HromadskeTV) September 16, 2015
Kyiv honors the memory of journalist Gongadze.
— Корень в квадрате (@korenvkvadrate) September 16, 2015
#Kharkov #Gongadze #journalist
— Hromadske.TV (@HromadskeTV) September 16, 2015
Activists put up a banner on Instytutska street. “Georgiy, we haven't forgotten.”
Ukrainian reporters and supporters in other countries also honored Gongadze's memory.
— Oleksandr Akymenko (@akymenko_o) September 16, 2015
Many journalists and other Ukrainians joined the action on social media, including a Twitter-storm around the hashtag #truthisnotacrime, meant to raise awareness of the dangers of independent journalism in Ukraine.
— Natalie Sedletska (@natasedletska) September 16, 2015
We won't forget.
— Yevgen Perebyinis (@YPerebyinis) September 16, 2015
#ThisDay On September 16, 2000 Georgiy Gongadze was last seen alive. He changed Ukrainian journalism, his death changed Ukraine.
— Анастасия Руденко (@afrudenko) September 16, 2015
Gongadze is a symbol of Ukrainian journalists’ fight for freedom of speech. We remember.
Друг, коханий, чоловік, батько наших дітей, журналіст,патріот, активіст #Gongadze#Гонгадзе #Ukraine#truthisnotacrime pic.twitter.com/aWYBDB24A9
— Myroslava Gongadze (@MGongadze) September 16, 2015
Friend, loved one, husband, our children's father, journalist, patriot, activist.