For 17 days in November 2004, with temperatures below freezing in the central square in Kiev, Ukraine, a million people stood in a sea of orange color, protesting fraudulent presidential elections. Two huge screens flanked the makeshift stage hooked into Ukraine’s only independent source of information, Channel5 TV. The broadcast they received was from the Voice of America’s Washington studio, and the face they saw was Myroslava Gongadze. When Gongadze reported U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s statement that the United States refused to recognize the falsified election results, it was one of the watershed moments of Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” which resulted in the election and peaceful installation of Viktor Yuschenko as Ukraine’s new President.
A native Ukrainian who was granted political asylum in the United States in 2001 and began working for Voice of America in 2004, Myroslava Gongadze is one of the most recognized journalists and human rights advocates in Europe. This episode during the 2004 elections is just one chapter in her long-running fight for justice in her homeland and across the globe.
While her story is inspirational, the circumstances that drove Gongadze to become a political activist are tragic. Her husband Georgy Gongadze was a renowned investigative journalist who exposed corruption and cronyism in the administration of the former Ukrainian President. In 2000, he was murdered by government police.
Since his death, she has made it her mission to promote freedom of speech, the rights of journalists and the need to bring corrupt officials to justice.
She has pursued her agenda by working with many different organizations including the European Court for Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Committee to Protect Journalists. She even created the Gongadze Foundation, a nongovernmental organization working to protect journalists’ right and political freedom.
But the organization that has given her the platform to make her biggest impact has been the Voice of America.
Before she joined VOA, there was one 20-minute broadcast per week for the Ukrainian audience. Now, there is a live show every day, in addition to special in-depth reports. Much of her coverage involves speaking to U.S. and Ukrainian politicians about the socio-political situation in Ukraine. In particular, she helped drive the story of the poisoning with toxins of President Yuschenko just weeks before his 2004 election.
She has also reported on topics ranging from American culture and traditions, the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States and the role of women in the U.S. military. Her broadcasts are watched by 5 million viewers each day, more than 10 percent of the Ukrainian population. To put that into context, the same percentage of Ukrainians watch her show as Americans watch American Idol. Having such a well-recognized and well-respected figure talking to millions of Ukrainians about American culture and values is having an immeasurable impact on Ukraine’s transition from a country that had a rigged presidential election in 2004 to a more pro-western, transparent democracy.
One of the most rewarding stories Myroslava Gongadze has covered for VOA was President Yuschenko’s visit to the United States in the fall of 2005 and his speech before a joint session of Congress, an honor extended only to America’s closest allies. Just five years after her native country’s government murdered her husband, Ukraine’s new President was being celebrated in the U.S. Congress and hailed as one of the world’s great symbols of freedom and democracy. Such a scene must have seemed unimaginable in 2000. But Myroslava Gongadze could imagine it, and few people did more to make it a reality than this remarkable woman.