Ukraine’s Intelligence Services Harass Anti-Corruption Activists

By Brian Dooley

In 2017, I went to the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine when I heard that local anti-corruption activists were being harassed and attacked by the local mayor’s office. I met them and wrote about what happened.

One of those attacked in 2017 was Dmytro Bulakh of the Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center. The NGO has an international reputation for exposing corruption in Kharkiv; in July 2023 we co-authored a report on irregularities in reconstruction contracts in the city and region.

I’ve been back to Kharkiv a dozen times in the last two years, reporting from the city as it copes with heavy bombardment from Russian missiles.  While Kharkiv battles the Russian military, the fight against local corruption continues.

Media reports that yesterday Bulakh’s house and car were searched by officials from the State Bureau of Investigations and the domestic security service (SBU), and his phone was taken.

This follows authorities’ harassment and charges against other leading anti-corruption figures in Ukraine, including prominent anti-corruption activist Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the Kyiv-based Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board. Shabunin spoke with me for our 2017 report on corruption in Ukraine.

Like Bulakh, Shabunin enlisted in Ukraine’s military at the start of the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022. Despite this, Shabunin says he has been charged with “draft evasion and forgery,” charges he describes as “idiotic.”

Yurii Nikolov, one of the country’s most prominent investigative journalists who revealed procurement wrongdoing in the Defense Ministry, said he received a visit from unidentified people in January 2024 who banged on his door, verbally attacked him, and labeled him a traitor.

The following month, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists expressed deep concern over the SBU’s surveillance of journalists working for Ukraine’s investigative outlet Bihus.Info and called for a transparent investigation into SBU’s actions.

This pattern of harassment is part of what Helen Getmanenko of the Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center describes as “systematic pressure exerted by government structures on the civil sector in Ukraine involved in anti-corruption activities.”

The NGO says that other anti-corruption figures, including Yevheniy Shulhat of Slidstvo.Info and chief editor of the Honesty Movement Oleksandr Salijenko have also been targeted. They report that in late 2023 Bulakh noticed several cars with government license plates following him to various places.

In 2017, when Bulakh and others from the Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center were targeted, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch went to Kharkiv to meet with them. Although other foreign diplomats have visited Kharkiv, U.S. embassy officials have not traveled there since 2022, citing security concerns.

With Ukrainian intelligence services’ harassment of anti-corruption activists widely reported, now would be a good time for U.S. officials to go to Kharkiv to meet and show support for Bulakh and the others who are being targeted across Ukraine.



  • Brian Dooley

Published on April 11, 2024


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