How a team of Ukrainian journalists rescued documents from Yanukovych’s house

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is "The World", a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. It's an investigative journalist's dream - a trove of thousands of sensitive documents found in the wake of a toppled leaders. That's what Ukrainian reporters discovered inside the hastily-abandoned luxury compound of ousted-president Viktor Yanukovych. For the past five days, a group of journalists has been going through all the documents, then scanning and uploading them to the internet. But there's a twist. Many of the documents were found floating or submerged in water, so salvaging the waterlogged papers has become the focus of this project dubbed "Yanukovych Leaks". Natalie Sedletska is a journalist with Radio Liberty in Ukraine and one of the journalists working to save these documents. Natalie Sedletska: So divers, they had information that there is documents, folders, just floating in the river. It's an artificial reservoir called "Kiev Sea" here and Mezhyhirya is on the bank of it. So probably someone was just trying to destroy papers and documents before leaving. Werman: So Mezhyhirya? That's the name of the estate of Yanukovych Sedletska: Yes. Werman: So your job now, along with the other journalists, is to read these documents and figure out what might be incriminating. But the divers get them out of this lake, this Kiev lake, they're soaking wet, they could easily disintegrate. How did you physically save them? Sedletska: So we decided that we are coming together with a team of investigative journalists from different media outlets and just staying here, trying to put all our connections to try to rescue these documents. So we called people from libraries and people from libraries brought us special heaters for these documents and it was like that. The journalist has to take the folder and put on each wet page one separate piece of dry paper and do it with every single page from the wet folder, but while he was doing it he had to take a picture of it right away. So if somebody will come and take these documents, we at least had some pictures. After that we decided that it's time already to put these documents into a sauna because in this house where we were staying there was a sauna. Werman: A sauna bath? Sedletska: Yes. So they're in the sauna now. And we created a website called "Yanukovych Leaks" and now we are uploading folder by folder to this website. Werman: I mean from beginning to end. It sounds like a really sophisticated operation. How many journalists are taking part in this effort? Sedletska: It's up to fifteen journalist, but other many interesting things are going on. For example, we've got access to an archive of other documents. Werman: Other documents that were not in this lake? Sedletska: Yes, Yanukovych's home is a huge, huge territory and so we found an office and we came to this office and we saw the whole archive of documents. And from the beginning we saw that those documents in the lake, they were most important, but now we've found something more interesting even in these archives. Werman: So, Natalie, what are some of the documents that you're suspicious about at this point that you combed through? Sedletska: You can divide documents in a few sections. One of them are something about big corruption, some of them are just very funny, and some of them are like ridiculous. We have found here incoming checks [??] hundred thousand euros by unknown investor in cash. And we have like, I don't know, maybe like one hundred, at least one hundred, this income in checks. Of course this is a bribe. Werman: Well, it is hard to know what exactly it is, but it does seem like something of a smoking gun. What is the oddest letter or document that you found in this trove? Sedletska: Oh yeah, last night we were sitting here in this office where we found a big archive of documents and one of my colleagues was reading an internal investigation concerning the disappearance of kangaroo. Werman: Kangaroo? Sedletska: And it was said in documents like, kangaroo, yes. Werman: Wow. Sedletska: President Yanukovych had a kangaroo, but it disappeared. Werman: Was this part of his notorious zoo? Sedletska: Yes, kangaroo was here, but it disappeared. Werman: Natalie, you've been investigating corruption in Ukraine for some time now, so a lot of this might not be surprise. But suddenly to have all these documents before you and be in the presidential residence looking at them, what does this feel like? Sedletska: First I felt like it's a dream, but I haven't slept for a few days, so it's not a dream definitely. Also I feel satisfied, to be honest, because we were fighting for these documents, for every single document we were filing requests, like where the president lived because he was hiding that he lives here on this huge territory. He was showing just a small house. We were fighting for this information for so long and now we have it all, and we just want to show everything. That's why we created a website and I’m really looking forward to that moment when we will upload the last document and we will start to do our job. This is investigative journalism and we will publish our investigative stories. I believe in that. That's why I'm so looking forward to come to this moment. Werman: Natalie Sedletska, a journalist with Radio Liberty in Ukraine. She's part of the Yanukovych Leaks team saving and publishing the documents left behind in the ousted Ukrainian president's house. Wild story, Natalie. Thanks for telling us. Sedletska: Thank you, Marco.