In my previous article on the Kyiv Independent, I touched on the Media Development Foundation (MDF), a “media accelerator” founded in 2013 by the CEO and CFO of the Kyiv Independent, Daryna Shevchenko and Jakub Parusinski.
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA offshoot that tries to advance U.S.-style democracy and capitalism in foreign nations, provided the seed funding, and provides about one-quarter of its overall funding. The remainder comes from either North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) affiliated agencies or right-wing groups.
This predates the Kyiv Independent by almost a decade and is, I believe, the real linchpin of what it does. The goals of the organization are quite comprehensive.
First, to train and network armies of freelance journalists (most of whom are interns) who work as a content mill for papers large and small throughout Ukraine. This ensures a constant stream of pro-NATO and pro-U.S. propaganda spread throughout the Ukrainian press. According to the MDF, they have been quite successful in this, writing thousands of articles for partner papers as of 2018, a number that has certainly increased subsequently.
Second, to provide McKinsey-style consultancy for these papers. MDF can offer advertising support, foreign grants and search-engine optimization, along with experienced web designers and marketing. This, along with the access to their content mills, can greatly improve the fortunes of a news outlet. Many of the papers they have worked with are, or have become, very successful. This comes with strings attached, of course, and those strings lead back to Washington.
Third, to launch new media platforms. They did not seem to have a lot of success with this up until they hit the jackpot with the Kyiv Independent.
In order to understand the magnitude of this NED operation, it is necessary to examine the network of partnerships the MDF has created. This is not a complete list, as it appears that much of the information on MDF’s previous activities was scrubbed, intentionally or not.
The MDF’s regional champions program is one that aims to find small news agencies which they can build up. Beyond the training seminars, ad support and marketing assistance, MDF assists the regional champions in securing NED and other foreign grants. This is a competitive process and only a few will be selected each year. While they make mention of the application process, it would be reasonable to assume NED also requires a certain level of commitment to American foreign policy goals.
According to Parusinski’s medium post, the MDF has worked with these papers, among others. It would appear that this program is, or at least was, supposed to be a yearly venture. This list is not exhaustive and I have picked only the most notable examples.
Tvoe Misto: A Lviv paper with more than 200,000 Facebook followers and 25,000 YouTube subscribers this “regional champion” of the MDF runs lovely articles comparing Russians to Orcs and paying tribute to neo-Nazis.
Hromadske TV: A spin-off of Hromadske International, a media NGO funded by a real rogue’s gallery of NATO government and intelligence agencies, such as the NED, the British, German and French Embassies, USAID, the World Bank and even NATO itself. More on them later.
Nakipelo: A Kharkiv outfit, this one is yet again openly NED-funded. This one seems to have a smaller profile than most of the others, probably because Kharkiv is mostly Russian and so has been less receptive to the Maidan regime.
6262.com.ua: This Sloviansk-based paper has a little bit of everything. Beyond news, it also runs classified ads and a radio show. This one will be more important later, as its owner is heavily involved in MDF activities.
Vchasno: Based right on the front lines in Krasnoarmeysk, this one is only really notable for once again being openly NED-funded.
Tribuna: Switched from a paper to an aid organization during the war. Not terribly notable beyond the question of why a Ukrainian aid organization would have its entire site in English.
The Core of it all?
In keeping with their mission, the MDF launched another project, called CORE, in 2021. According to its site “CORE is a brand new initiative of unprecedented scale. Not only we would like to help the existing local publishers bring their operations and sustainability to a totally different level, but also to catalyze new local media projects and ventures. There is a generation of new local media leaders and we want to help them prosper in the new digital-first and audience-first environment.”
They claim 100 local media brands, 15 million unique visitors and 2.2 million subscribers, so their reach is considerable in a nation of 44 million. The difference here from the “classic” MDF, as far as I can tell, is mostly scale. This also feeds into their goal to launch new media enterprises, as one of CORE’s stated goals is to connect publishers (with whom they have worked, vetted and trained) with local communities which have a need for their services.
Their funding came from the sources you would expect:
This is also the arm through which the MDF does its McKinsey-style consulting work, referred to as “Consultancy and Mentorship.”
The team here is a mix of some familiar characters with some new ones. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Andrey is a journalist and editor for “Radio Svoboda,” which is Radio Free Europe’s Russian service. Radio Free Europe was founded by the CIA and is operated by the U.S. Government. Andrey focuses on the Donbas region in particular, where CIA-sponsored death squads have been carrying out countless war crimes for eight years. CORE does not disclose this, naturally. Instead, they list only his stint at Realnaya Gazeta.
Andrey is their content and editorial consultant. There is no real mystery as to what sort of consulting a CIA agent would give your newsroom, only how to remove the smell of sulfur after he leaves.
Galgis was the executive producer for hromadske.ua, a news agency funded almost entirely by NATO governments and their cutouts. He also worked alongside fellow MDF co-founders Daryna Shevchenko and Jakub Parusinski at jnomics media, yet another media consultancy firm. Jnomics has a detailed breakdown of how they “transformed” hromadske, even dedicating a section to their assistance from NATO governments and NGOs. Mr. Geldiyev has also done some work for VOA, although it does not seem to be anywhere near the scale of Andrey’s.
Now that we have found the spooks and their money, let us see some of what they have done with it.
Hromadske is a very good place to start.
Hromadske.ua is a large digital media outfit, with nearly one million followers on Twitter. I have already revealed its NATO funding above, so we can look at some of its current staff.
Their current editor-in-chief, Yevheniia Motorevska, works two jobs. First with Hromadske, and second with the Public Integrity Council, a UK and U.S.-funded Ukrainian government agency tasked with ferreting out corruption. While corruption is a serious problem in Ukraine, it is also a very good cudgel to use against your enemies.
Prior to that, she worked for Slidstvo.Info, one of the most shameless propaganda outfits of this war. Currently, their focus seems to be doxing Russian soldiers and “collaborators,” although prior to that they focused on (anti-NATO) oligarchs. This is controlled directly by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a U.S.-based NGO which receives the lion’s share of its funding from the U.S. government as you can see on page 25 of this document.
Not related to the original Pravda, this was founded in 2000 by Georgiy Gongadze, a Georgian right-wing terrorist. One of the most popular news outlets in Ukraine, they now have nearly one million followers on Twitter.
As is fitting for their history, they are unbelievably far-right. Indeed, the site has an entire section dedicated to historical revisionism. They worship Bandera and the OUN, alternate between denying and justifying genocide, and defend the SS Galicia division, war criminals responsible for many atrocities, I am still surprised from time to time how brazen the Ukrainian far right can be, in this country which the press tells us has no Nazi problem.
Their executive director, Andrey Boborykin, works for CORE. The editor-in-chief, Andrey’s wife Sevgil Musayeva, got somewhat famous back during the Maidan coup for founding Crimea SOS, an NGO founded with NED cash working for the return of Crimea to Ukrainian control, mostly by offering what they call “verified information” but given their funding, is likely anything but.
RIA Media Group
No dramatic NATO ties here; however CEO Oleg Horobets runs papers in Vinnitsa, Zhytomyr, Ternopil, Khmelnytski and Koziatyn. Between these cities, there is a population of more than 1.5 million, which is yet more evidence for just how much reach CORE (and its NED paymasters) have within Ukraine.
Horobets and RIA Media are proudly displayed as clients on the front page of CORE’s site, and Mr. Horobets works as a consultant for CORE.
There is more. CORE brags about its 100 brands and 15 million users a month. I will not pretend that this list is comprehensive, but I hope I have demonstrated that there is a long-running, lavishly funded and shockingly widespread Western propaganda operation running throughout the Ukrainian press. With time and further research, I hope that others and I can uncover even more connections between the MDF, NED and Ukrainian media, as I am sure they exist.
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About the Author
Evan Reif was born in a small mining town in Western South Dakota as the son of a miner and a librarian.
His father’s struggles as a union organizer, and the community’s struggles with de-industrialization, nurtured Evan’s deep interest in left-wing politics. This, along with his love of history, made him a staunch anti-fascist.
When not writing, researching or working, Evan enjoys fishing, shooting, and Chinese cooking.