Ukraine's two journalists who became politicians: Reforming Ukraine after the revolutions - New Yorker

10:25 Aug. 30, 2016

Reforming Ukraine after the revolutions - New Yorker

Ukraine’s journalists-turned-politicians Mustafa Nayyem and Sergiy Leshchenko (UNIAN photo)

Two muckraking journalists had contempt for Ukraine's corrupt political system. So they became politicians

When Sergii Leshchenko was at university, in Ukraine, he dreamed of working in television news. He is the son of two Soviet-trained engineers, and grew up in Kiev, where he studied journalism. He aspired to become an on-air correspondent, but his speech was mumbly and imprecise. After an unsuccessful summer internship at a local news channel, in 2000, he heard that a new online publication, Ukrayinska Pravda, was desperately looking for reporters; in recent weeks, nearly all the staff had quit, fed up with low pay and worn down by pressure from authorities. His interview took place in a cramped and sparsely furnished three-room apartment, where he was met by the site's founder and editor-in-chief, Georgiy Gongadze, a thirty-one-year-old reporter. Gongadze regularly received threats from Ukrainian officials because of his muckraking investigations. The power was out in the apartment, so Leshchenko and Gongadze sat in darkness. After a few minutes, Gongadze told him that he could start right away.

In contrast, the path that led Mustafa Nayyem to journalism was marked by happenstance. He was born in Afghanistan, where his father was a deputy education minister. His mother died when he was young; in 1989, when Nayyem was eight, his father moved the family to Moscow, and then, in the waning moments of the Soviet Union, to Kiev. Nayyem is thirty-five, with a sculpted goatee, heavy black eyebrows, and an immaculately shaved head.

As a child, Nayyem quickly became fluent in Russian—Ukrainian came more slowly—but his immigrant status made him an outsider at school. He compensated with wit and charm. At university, in Kiev, he studied aerospace engineering. When he graduated, in 2003, he couldn't find employment, so he bounced between various jobs, played drums in a rock band, and performed in an experimental theatre troupe. In 2004, he began work as a political reporter for a local news agency. "I found I liked to get to the bottom of things," he recalled. "To reveal all these arrangements and internal stories." He soon found himself covering one of modern Ukraine's foundational events.

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