Investigative reporter in critical condition after being shot in head

Published on Thursday 20 October 2011.
Reporters Without Borders is shocked to learn that Oleksander Vlaschenko, an investigative reporter for the local newspaper Nashe Misto, was shot in the head by unidentified attackers while returning to his home in the southern city of Mykolayiv on the night of 16 October and is now in a critical condition in hospital with a bullet in his brain.
“We voice our support for Vlaschenko, his family and colleagues and we welcome the fact that the attack’s possible link to his work is now one of the hypotheses being considered by the police,” Reporters Without Borders said. This possibility must be given serious consideration. It should be the subject of a full and impartial investigation.”
Vlaschenko was attacked shortly before midnight by assailants who shot him once in the head and took his two mobile phones and camera before making off. They left the 300 grivnas (30 euros) he had in his pocket. As that is a relatively large sum in this part of Ukraine, their failure to take it suggests that robbery, the theory initially preferred by the police, was not the motive.
Vlaschenko is often critical of the local authorities in his reporting and has covered highly sensitive subjects involving corruption and organized crime. His latest stories were about possible embezzlement of the proceeds from the sale of land by local government officials.
Nashe Misto editor Anatoliy Astafiychuk told Reporters Without Borders: “We cannot rule out the possibility that robbery was the sole motive, but it could also have been connected to his work. He covers extremely sensitive subjects and many people might have wanted revenge. He was beaten up three years ago, suffering concussion (...) Death threats have been made against him in comments posted online under his articles.”
He was also one of four journalists who were beaten up by representatives of the tax inspection department last May (see picture). “Journalists are often attacked and beaten in the Mykolayiv region but this would be the first time that a journalist has been shot in connection with his work,” Astafiychuk added.
Vlaschenko is no longer in a coma but he is suffering from amnesia and doctors still regard his condition as very critical. They have not yet tried to remove the bullet from his brain because it is lodged so deep (8 cm).
The police are currently looking for witnesses of the attack, which has been registered as a violation of article 187 of the criminal code (“robbery by an organized group or robbery in which serious injuries are inflicted”).
Physical attacks on journalists are a major problem in Ukraine, where media freedom has deteriorated sharply during the past 18 months or so after a promising spell. Ukraine is ranked 131st out of 178 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom organisation press freedom index.