[Editor’s note: Co-founders of The Fix, Daryna Shevchenko and Jakub Parusinski, both worked in the Kyiv Post in the early 2010s. Both of them contributed to this article].

On Monday morning, Nov. 8, the team of the Kyiv Post, Ukraine’s leading English-language publication, learned that everyone was fired and the paper would shut down for “relaunch and reinforcement” by its owner. Effective immediately. 

The paper’s editorial team released a statement: “The independent Kyiv Post has ceased to exist today, after 26 years”. 

This marks an abrupt end for a publication that played an important role in Ukraine’s journalism landscape. Kyiv Post staff – trained in the best traditions of old-school, Western-style reporting – have taken leading roles in media and civic organizations across the region. 

It is especially concerning given trends in the region. Ukraine’s neighbours – Belarus, Russia, Hungary and Poland – have over the past 2 years carried out unprecedented moves against the free press. By comparison, Ukraine has been a sort of oasis. But there are worrying signs, like recent reports of pressure on the public broadcaster by the president’s office.

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Kyiv Post frontpage on 30th March 2018, photo by Anna Myroniuk

A lodestar for Ukraine’s independent journalism

Kyiv Post has been the leading English-language publication in Ukraine for the last 26 years. It is known for its editorial independence and bold criticism of the authorities, regardless of their political affiliation. 

It currently publishes a weekly print edition with a circulation of 7,500 copies and a website with an average monthly audience of up to half a million visits, according to SimilarWeb. The publication has been a primary source of information about Ukraine for diplomats, business elite and decision-makers around the world. 

Arguably more important is the Kyiv Post’s role on Ukraine’s journalism scene. At the time it was launched, media in the country were overwhelmingly dominated by oligarchs. They used “media assets” as a political resource, not independent organizations, and staffed them with loyalists. (This is still the case for TV channels, digital media fares somewhat better). 

The Kyiv Post, conversely, has persisted as a counter-example. The editor in chief was independent and management pursued a policy of sustainable commercial development (with some years better than others, 2020 being particularly tough). 

The publication drew headlines in several loud battles for journalistic independence. In 2010 notorious oligarch Dmytro Firtash filed a libel lawsuit in a UK court against the paper (the case was dismissed in 2011). 

The following year journalists went on strike after the publisher fired chief editor Brian Bonner for refusing to pull an interview with the then agriculture minister (he was reinstated soon thereafter).

Conflict with the publisher

The current owner of the Kyiv Post, Adnan Kivan, is a construction multimillionaire from Odesa (Forbes Ukraine assessed his wealth at $240 million). He purchased the publication in 2018 for $3.5 million from prior owner Mohammed Zahoor, who in turn bought it from founder Jed Sunden in 2009. 

Following the purchase of the Kyiv Post Kivan publicly promised to “preserve the editorial independence of the newspaper”.

In comments that appeared in the announcement of the shut down, Kivan thanked “the entire Kyiv Post team and Brian Bonner for his service to Ukraine and independent journalism in the past 25 years.”

However, in the statement released by Kyiv Post team later in the day the employees say that they see “the cessation of publication and the dismissal of the paper’s staff to be an act of vengeance by Adnan Kivan.” 

A few weeks before the decision to close the paper Kivan announced the launch of a Ukrainian-language version of the newspaper and a chief-editor of this new project – a hand-picked editor from Odesa. 

The Kyiv Post team found out about this from social media and pushed against such a move. Initially, Kivan seemed to be willing to compromise and even promised a budget increase to the Kyiv Post.

However, Kivan later opted for a different strategy. “We see this as the owner getting rid of inconvenient, fair and honest journalists,” – the statement says. The address was signed by the representatives of editorial, commercial and administrative staff of the publication. 

The decision to shut down the Kyiv Post elicited many surprised and concerned comments from its community. President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine Andy Hunder wrote on Facebook that he was “[s]addened and deeply concerned with today’s news that the future of the Kyiv Post is in jeopardy”. 

[Editor’s note: Below is the full statement released by the Kyiv Post team in protest of the newspaper’s shut down on Nov. 8]

“The independent Kyiv Post has ceased to exist today, after 26 years.

On the morning of Nov. 8, the paper’s employees came to the office only to be notified that they were all being fired, effective immediately.

Three weeks ago, the Kyiv Post’s owner, Odesa construction tycoon Adnan Kivan, had other plans: To expand the Kyiv Post and launch a Ukrainian-language outlet under the paper’s brand.

At the time, this news, as well as the appointment of a hand-picked chief editor to head this new section, were a total surprise to the newsroom.

We saw significant risks in the expansion format chosen Adnan Kivan. We also saw it as an attempt to infringe on our editorial independence.

The newsroom’s attempt to save the editorial independence of the Kyiv Post elicited opposition from our owner.

We consider the cessation of publication and the dismissal of the paper’s staff to be an act of vengeance by Adnan Kivan. He has officially announced plans to “reorganize” the Kyiv Post and to restart operations in a month with a new team.

We see this as the owner getting rid of inconvenient, fair and honest journalists.

The Kyiv Post has been the international community’s primary source of news about Ukraine for the last 26 years.

We have exemplified high professional and ethical standards. That is why every president and government in Ukraine’s history attempted to influence the Kyiv Post.

However, even under all this pressure, none of our owners went so far as to shut down the paper. Adnan Kivan himself promised to protect our editorial independence when he bought the Kyiv Post in 2018.

“I highly value the work of Kyiv Post journalists and intend to preserve editorial independence,” Kivan said at the time.

Today, we asked him to sell the paper or to hand over the Kyiv Post trademark to the newsroom. He did not agree.

We call upon our readers and advertisers, businessmen, diplomats, international organizations, and everyone else who believes in independent journalism to support us. The Kyiv Post staff.”