Ukranian journalists visiting Daily Herald as part of Palatine trip
Ukrainian journalist Oleksandr Akymenko treated his competitors like partners in the days after popular protest felled the nation's president.
Their mission: poring through tens of thousands of waterlogged documents left behind on former President Viktor Yanukovych's compound.
Divers had fished folders of documents out of a reservoir on the extravagant estate. Akymenko, 28, and the team of about 15 journalists thought the pages were tossed into the water to destroy damaging evidence when Yanukovych deserted his base in February.
Page by page, the group dried the documents off in a race against the clock, fearing that prosecutors would confiscate the materials before they could finish the job.
With no signs of Yanukovych's security guards, the reporters had free rein of his compound, a "big territory" outside of Kiev, and worked in a guesthouse, Akymenko recalled.
"We're trying to save and to dry these documents in his sauna," said Akymenko, who visited the Daily Herald Tuesday with reporters and activists from the war-torn country as part of a weeklong trip to Palatine.
What they found was proof of "extreme corruption" and Yanukovych's lavish living, Akymenko said. The find, of course, inspired stories, but also a public archive -- Yanukovychleaks.org -- where the journalists posted the scanned documents online for anybody to read.
They quickly went from covering the corruption to covering a conflict that has killed more than 4,000 people and endangered the country's future as fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukranian forces intensified after Russia annexed the country's Crimean peninsula in March.
The journalists are visiting the suburbs until Saturday through the federally funded Open World Program, which sponsors trips to the U.S. for young political and civic leaders from nine post-Soviet countries. Robert Y. Paddock Jr., the Daily Herald Media Group's vice chairman and executive vice president, and the newspaper's editors talked about the role of community journalism with the 20- and 30-somethings, many of whom work for independent outlets that provide an alternative to state-run media.
"People don't trust even the private sources because they're owned by oligarchs," said Kristina Berdynskykh, a 31-year-old reporter for the Novoye Vremya magazine. "What they do trust is the journalist who wrote about important events truthfully."
The Palatine-based International Cultural Education Association connected them with Ukranian natives in the village who are serving as host families for the trip.
They have met with Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz and plan to meet with state Sen. Matt Murphy today.
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.