Ukrainska Pravda, one of the biggest media outlets in Ukraine with an estimated readership of 10 million unique users monthly, was bought by Tomáš Fiala, CEO of investment firm Dragon Capital. This is the biggest deal for a digital media in the country since UMH media holding was bought in 2013 by actors affiliated with then president Yanukovych.
The purchase agreement, which will soon be published on the Ukrayinska Pravda website, foresees the transfer of 100% ownership to the new owner. The deal includes an announcement on non-interference in editorial policy.
The editorial team, led by co-founding editor and owner Olena Prytula and editor-in-chief Sevgil Musaieva, will continue their work independently. Prytula herself has committed to stay on for 2 years in her role.
In a blog post she announced that $250k of earnings from the sale will go towards launching a scholarship fund named after Pavlo Sheremet, a Belarusian Ukrayinska Pravda columnist assassinated in 2016. $200k will go to support daughters of Georgiy Gongadze. Gongadze co-founded the publication with Prytula in 2000, but was assassinated shortly after (widely believed on the orders of then president Leonid Kuchma).
Publishing deals are a sensitive issue in Ukraine. Much of the media landscape is controlled by a handful of oligarchs who use them to peddle influence. As a result, purchases of media are screened for the potential political or censorship implications.
This is something that Musaieva knows well. Prior to becoming chief editor of Ukrayinska Pravda, she worked for Forbes.ua. There she published an article titled “The Gas King of All Ukraine”, exposing how in a few months Serhiy Kurchenko became a major player in Ukraine’s petroleum product market and linked him to gas smuggling.
The article introduced Kurchenko, then a 27-year-old multimillionaire, to the world, following which he purchased UMH (the holding that owned Forbes.ua). Many staff working for UMH media were ousted or left as a result.
“Throughout the entire 21 years of Ukrayinska Pravda’s operations, the interests of the reader and Ukrainian society at large were the top priority for our team. This principle is laid out on paper in the editorial agreement with Ukrayinska Pravda’s new owner and will remain inviolable and of utmost importance to us in our work going forward”, Musaieva said.
Ukrayinska Pravda launched a multi-membership model in the second half of 2020, which grew quickly to cover 10% of the media’s budget. While exact numbers are not available, it is believed to have had a strong year financially.
The new owner is confident that the new investment is not only a prospective business opportunity, but also a “step to support free media and freedom of speech in Ukraine ”.
Fiala’s investment firm, Dragon Capital also owns NV media holding and other smaller media projects. He is originally from Czechia but has most of his business in Ukraine. In addition to his investment activities Fiala has served as president of the European Business Association, a trade body, since 2010 (barring a short period in 2015-2016).
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