Sergii Leshchenko on open access information in Ukraine

After the screening, Sergii Leshchenko, a journalist and the protagonist from the first film, took part in a Q&A via Skype from Kiev. The film follows Leshchenko as he applies for information about the ownership of the presidential residence. The four other stories in Open Access followed requests of information on the closing of a school, the destruction of historical buildings, the cancellation of a bus to a remote village and the status of a housing waiting list for army veterans. When the film was released in 2011, his short film was deemed the most controversial due to the accusations of corruption it made against the then current president Viktor Yanukovych.

“There were a lot attempts of local officials to cancel the distribution of this movie . . . especially in the central and eastern part of Ukraine. Even in Kiev . . . the demonstration was attacked by some people. . . . I think that homeless people were hired by officials to cancel the demonstration of the movie . . . they were paid by officials.”

One of the first questions from the audience asked what Leshchenko thought would be the first sign that things could be changing for the better.

“The most clear signal could be free and fair presidential elections in May . . . and of course people in Ukraine they are looking for clear signals that government is going to fight corruption in Ukraine and I mean low-level corruption. It is police corruption, corruption in clinics, corruption in schools . . . so-called everyday corruption. People in Ukraine they were fed up with this corruption. . . . High-level corruption is something difficult to explain and people do not understand how much 100 million dollars or 1 billion dollars is, they do not understand this level of money.”

What’s the media’s role in fighting corruption?

“Before . . . there were two different realities in Ukraine, one was the reality of traditional TV stations and traditional media, they were very loyal to the government and they created news programmes with very loyal coverage of presidential everyday themes and on the internet it was absolutely another reality. Much more critical about the president.


“I think one of the preconditions of [the] protests was that if former president Yanukovych underestimated the role of the internet, he had underestimated the role of new media. He was believing it was possible to share his propaganda among TV stations . . . and it was enough to keep under control his voters and his supporters and society in general. He was wrong of course.


“Now, the situation is better, some reports from media watchdog [organisations] show that there is a very small . . . misuse of media now.”

How does Leshchenko feel about the scale of corruption that has emerged?

“As a citizen I was very satisfied because society paid a high price for this because 100 people were killed before Yanukovych left.


“As a journalist I’m just lucky that everything is confirmed, everything which we were writing about . . . it is completely true. . . . Our former president was probably the most corrupt president in Europe during the last few decades.”

What can we learn from this, how can the corruption be combatted and prevented from getting out of control in the new government?

“It is very useful for society to understand that they have to control officials because if people, ordinary people, they could not imagine how corrupt Yankovich was they could not imagine . . . how he misused his power. Now people can see the proof that officials without control – it’s really dangerous.


“We have to play our role in the media, but the last word in this is the people, they go to the pole stations in favour of some politicians and now they understand that what politicians say is absolutely different from what they do after they are elected.”

Leshchenko added:

“I was shocked because I couldn’t even imagine how much money they could steal from society because this huge big palace it is filled [with] masterpieces . . . very expensive furniture, very expensive decoration, it is something incredible.


“It is a case study of corruption and it is very important to publish this for people to understand that politicians could be so corrupted, . . . it’s very important to punish this to keep the new government under control. To bring home that . . . you have to punish these corrupted people and you should not do it.”