Is the UMH Media Exodus Continuing?

Ukrainian multimedia conglomerate UMH Group may be continuing to bleed reporters.  Less than three weeks after 13 journalists left Forbes Ukraine, a subsidiary of UMH, rumors of two dozen staff members departing from Korrespondent magazine have surfaced.

Former Korrespondent journalist Kristina Berdinskikh posted online that 24 people were planning to leave the publication, including top staff members Vitaly Sych who edits the print magazine and Julia McGuffie who edits the website.  Korrespondent's acting chief editor Andriy Ovcharenko said that the numbers of departures was actually 17, although that total is still higher than that of Forbes Ukraine.

Details from Korrespondent have been scarce, but the Kyiv Post and media watchdog Telekritika say that journalists are leaving due to a takeover in management at UMH.  The journalists who left Forbes Ukraine had confirmed the new management as their reason for leaving, with investigative reporter Sevgil Musaieva saying that she could not work for a man she spent six months investigating, a reference to new owner Serhiy Kurchenko.

Kurchenko sits in a skybox at the Metalist stadium in Kharkiv.

The pro-government Kurchenko, who is 28, rose to wealth quickly in Ukraine and was recently named the country's seventh richest man.  Musaieva reported being intimidated, "in a panic," and was told by her sources to stop her investigation into how Kurchenko amassed his wealth.  When the young billionaire purchased UMH in June, Musaieva and her colleague, OCCRP partner Oleksandr Akymenko, announced their resignation.

Akymenko described the takeover as a "personal tragedy."

Several months later, more than a dozen journalists left the publication citing concerns of censorship.  Employees reported stories being blocked without explanation, including a piece focused on First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov.

Ex-staff members at the publication said that some journalists were forced to leave.  One journalist was reportedly fired for not "speaking positively about the new owner."

Kurchenko denied allegations of censorship, but he was rebuked by Telekritika who said that the new management brought a "censorship department" to Korrespondent.

According to the Kyiv Post, UMH publications have already begun to suffer as staff members resign en masse.  "The new strategy appears to be bad for business," the Post says, saying that some readers have already refused to renew subscriptions and vowed to stop visiting the website.