Banner Image for Comments from 2024 Lyons Award winner Yuriy Nikolov
From left: 2020 Nieman Fellows Oliver Roeder and Ana Campoy; CPI’s Carla Minet and Omaya Sosa Pascual; 2020 fellows Selymar Colón and Andras Petho. Martha Stewart

Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism

Comments from 2024 Lyons Award winner Yuriy Nikolov

Presented on April 29, 2024

Dear colleagues!

The first thing I would like to thank you for is the support that Ukraine has received from the United States and other democratic countries. I would not be here, talking to you today, if it weren’t for your weapons and money. During the occupation of the Kyiv region, the Ruscists [Russian fascists] were clear in who they captured and killed first – local activists (politicians and journalists) and people with links to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

My brother and nephew are currently fighting on the front line. I am fighting internal enemies – corrupt officials. My fate would have been decided a long time ago if not for the support from the West.

I am very grateful for the Lyons Award. This recognition is not just for me, but for the entire team that has worked on extraordinary changes to Ukrainian legislation related to procurement for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and on reducing the degree of corruption in state procurement in general. This is also a signal to all our enemies that we are not alone. The world is looking at us. And it is judging Ukraine based on what is happening.

The war that Russia has unleashed is far from over. Unfortunately, our democracy is still looking death in the face. Our freedom is threatened by both external and internal enemies.

It so happened that in the past three years, the three classic branches of power in Ukraine have been monopolized by one group of people. The executive branch ended up in the hands of Volodymyr Zelensky organically, through an election. The legislative branch was added also organically, also through an election. The judiciary, unfortunately, ended up being loyal to the presidential office based on the principles of “telephone law”, which all Ukrainians have been familiar with since the Soviet times. One phone call from the deputy head of the presidential office, Oleh Tatarov, can solve any issue.

Under these circumstances, the hopes of Ukrainian society are pinned on the fourth branch of power – media. Because when things in the country go in the wrong direction, someone needs to tell people about it. In this field, Ukraine has suffered losses too. News bulletins from the most popular TV channels have merged into a United TV Marathon. This is a Ukrainian novelty. The biggest broadcasters receive state funding and broadcast as if they were one channel. They produce news in a tone of voice that is beneficial to those who pay their bills.

As a result, not that many news organizations are left in Ukraine that are truly independent of the presidential office. Practically all of us have recently been pressured, one way or another, by provocateurs and security agencies.

Our only defense in this historical moment is freedom-loving people. These are Ukrainians who want to live in a free world and spill their blood fighting for this right. And these are Americans who have long served as a backbone of democracy across the world. If it had not been for the attention to events in Ukraine from American politicians and journalists, we would have already been defeated by external and internal fans of autocracy. Because the worst things happen in darkness.

I want my 11-year-old son to have a bright future. Together with my wife, he has been in Germany for two years, in a place safer than Ukraine. And I will continue working to ensure that Ukraine becomes safe for all Ukrainians, including for my family.

Thank you for your support in this fight!