local hospital Tuesday, June 27,  after being attacked by suspected supporters of the mayor, several sources said.

Sergei Romanenko was "beaten up in downtown Uzhhorod" Monday, June 26, shortly after reporting on shady business dealings of Uzhhorod’s Mayor Sergei Ratushnyak said the journalist’s news website www.ua-reporter.com, of which he is Editor-in-Chief.

The website said Romanenko was rushed to Uzhhorod’s Regional Hospital with severe injuries, including a concussion of the brain, broken teeth, and torn lips, seen as a sign from the underworld that he should be silent. "He was so severely beaten that he could not remember what happened," ua-reporter.com reported.

Phone connections to the website’s newsroom were cut off later Tuesday, June 27, preventing BosNewsLife to check more details, including the age of the reporter.


Mayor Ratushnyak, who was reportedly in Germany watching football, could not be reached for comment. His phone number gave only a fax tone and Deputy Major Vladimir Bobkov refused to arrange an interview with him, for instance by mobile phone. "I don’t know you, I first need a list of questions to approve them. I will sue you if you publish this, I prohibit it," he told BosNewsLife speaking from his office.

Bobkov questioned the mistreatment of the journalist saying "maybe he was beaten up because he was drunk or watching a football match."

However prosecutors said they have been investigating Mayor Ratushnyak’s direct and indirect involvement in several beatings in the past, BosNewsLife learned.

Romanenko had been publishing stories how the mayor allegedly forced supporters of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution to join his political wing. In addition, the journalist exposed the link between Ratushnyak’s extensive network of firms and political decisions. Uzhgorod is bordering EU nations including Hungary, Poland, Slovakia as well as EU hopeful Romania.


Ratushnyak owned over 50 companies, including alcohol and soft drink production plants, as well as insurance and banking firms, many of whom he reportedly illegally privatized, either by giving bribes, falsifying documents, or by using violence.

Under his previous leadership (from 1994 till 1998) many Uzhhorod citizens also lost properties, including lands and homes, BosNewsLife learned.  

Critics claim Ratushnyak  came back to power March 28 after being absent for four years, to reclaim companies and properties he lost during an investigation for economic crimes in Uzhhorod, seen as a major gateway for exports to, and imports from, the European Union. Locals have questioned whether the March local elections were free and fair because of the mayor’s reported violent behavior and control over local media.

Besides Romanenko, several other independent local journalists in the Uzhhorod region have been beaten and even killed after apparently trying to cover the involvement of judges, police, municipality departments and nearby customs authorities in the criminal network of Ratushnyak and his allies, human rights watchers say.

In 2004, cameraman Ishtvan Kotsanyk of Transcarpathian television channel M-Studio was killed. His murder was never solved. "There seems to be an alarming rise of unresolved cases regarding journalists being beaten up or even killed," commented website Uzhhorod.net.ua.   


The latest attack against a journalist comes amid international concern over widespread corruption and other criminal activities involving local officials in Ukraine, and its border region in particular, despite pledges by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to crackdown on the misuse of power.

Evangelical churches in Uzhhorod have been struggling to change attitudes in the town, after decades of Communism when religious values and freedom of expression were discouraged.

Yushchenko has been quoted as saying it was important that Ukraine turns to God. His recently re-elected Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko went even further: "Our government has come to the conclusion that Ukraine can never rise on her feet until she bows down her knees before the Almighty God," she said.

The situation in Uzhhorod is seen as a test case as to whether the Orange Revolution will also reach regions far removed from Kiev. (This story is part of a BosNewsLife initiative to expand coverage on freedom of expression issues in for instance ex-Communist nations).



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