[Editor’s note: Co-founders of The Fix, Daryna Shevchenko and Jakub Parusinski, both worked in the Kyiv Post in the early 2010s. They are both helping the Kyiv Independent team manage the operational and financial aspects of the transition as acting CEO and CFO, respectively].

The former team of the Kyiv Post – abruptly shut down on Nov. 8 – announced today they were launching a new publication titled The Kyiv Independent. The team simultaneously launched a Patreon to gather member support.

The Kyiv Post shut-down came as a shock to many in the regional media community. For 26 years, the Kyiv Post was a pillar of Ukraine’s independent journalism scene. The publication had faced legal battles with oligarchs, two revolutions, attempts to censor and fire the chief editor (both failed) and many other challenges. 

The latest challenge proved to be too much. Kyiv Post owner, real estate tycoon Adnan Kivan, a Ukrainian citizen of Syrian origin, decided to temporarily close the publication after a conflict erupted internally over a Ukrainian edition to be headed by a loyalist (about which the staff learned via social media). The former editorial team described this as an “act of vengeance”.

More from The Fix: Ukraine’s Kyiv Post shut down by owner for “relaunch”, team calls it act of vengeance

Old values, new vision for Kyiv Independent

The team of the new Kyiv Independent announced the new name on the morning of Nov. 22 in a message to subscribers: “Ukraine needs on-the-ground English-language journalism of the highest quality and our community needs a news source it can trust. That is why we are launching a new media outlet, The Kyiv Independent.”

“We will continue to tell the truth about Ukraine: the truth about policy and reforms, war and culture, entrepreneurship and scientific discoveries. We will conduct hard-hitting investigations to hold those in power accountable”, the message continued.

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The Kyiv Independent is being gradually rolled out, starting with a newsletter launch and audience survey last week. According to the newsroom leaders, the new publication aims to build on the spirit and values of the Kyiv Post, but also address some of the former media’s shortcomings and look forward in terms of products and formats. 

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According to it’s Chief Editor Olga Rudenko, formerly the Deputy Chief Editor of the Kyiv Post, the new publication is especially important at this time. Ukraine suffers from constant disinformation attacks and needs objective reporting to keep pressure on the ongoing reform process that is aimed at tackling the country’s endemic corruption.

“We are here to provide the community in Ukraine and abroad with high-quality reporting about Ukraine. We will engage in watchdog journalism in the interests of the community”, Rudenko told The Fix.

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Kyiv Post closed till Christmas, drops paywall

Last week also saw an announcement from the new Kyiv Post team hired by Kivan. The incoming CEO Luc Chenier – who previously served as Kyiv Post CEO between August 2016 and February 2018 – sent a newsletter to subscribers outlining his plans.

“The Kyiv Post plans to be back in time for the Christmas holidays! I ask for your patience and understanding over the coming weeks as we prepare for the next chapter in the history of this venerable media institution”, the email read.

“Editorially, my priority will be to make sure we are in a position to deliver balanced and factual news. I regard the BBC as the gold standard in this regard, as does Mr. Kivan”, Chenier noted.

He thanked outgoing Chief Editor Brian Bonner, who first took the reins in 2008, and wished the former team good luck in their new venture. Commenting on the dispute, Chenier blamed miscommunications and tensions around the Ukrainian-language version, noting “the chief editor and the owner of the Kyiv Post decided the time had come to part ways”.

Chenier also announced Kyiv Post would be dropping its paywall. It was the first Ukrainian media to launch a paywall in 2013 and had around 3,000 paying subscribers before the shutdown. Noting there had been “mass cancellations” due to “technical problems”, Chenier said he would be personally contacting subscribers.

Kyiv Post was long the country’s only media to use reader revenue. The club expanded in 2020 when 20 Minutes, a regional site from central Ukraine, launched a paywall. Soon after came national outlet Novoe Vremya, followed by close to a dozen media trying to counter the COVID-induced decline in ad revenue.

More from The Fix: Innovate or die: reader revenue revolution in Ukraine

A regional press freedom crisis 

The Kyiv Post crisis comes amid a worrying decline in press freedom across the region. Ukraine’s neighbours – Poland, Belarus, Hungary and Russia – have all seen substantial declines in press freedom. Meanwhile, Ukraine seemed a relative oasis. 

But it, too, has seen worrying signs. Last month there were reports of pressure on the public broadcaster by the president’s office. The shutdown of the Kyiv Post was also linked to political pressure on owner Kivan, according to a post by Ukrayinska Pravda Sevgil Musaieva. The President’s Office has denied any pressure against media.

More from The Fix: Poland, Hungary, Belarus attacks on media freedom

Photo from SaveKyivPost Facebook page