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Meet the Journalists Exposing Yanukovych's Deepest, Wettest Secrets

When he hastily fled Kiev on Saturday, Feb. 22, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych left behind a monument to corruption: his lavish Kiev mansion filled with a private zoo, a Spanish galleon, and a collection of rare cars. Photographs of his private home, hidden behind imposing gates, were beamed around the world, a vindication of the claims levied by anti-government protesters that they had been doing battle with a fundamentally corrupt regime.

But the most damaging artifacts found at Mezhyhirya, the mansion, were not the peacocks but a huge trove of documents found at the bottom of a nearby reservoir. Since protesters took over the mansion on Saturday, divers have extracted thousands of papers documenting shady money transfers, huge outlays on Yanukovych's personal security, and receipts for extravagant purchases -- such as a $16,000 set of six forks.

A group of Ukrainian investigative journalists are now working to preserve these documents, which constitute crucial archival evidence of the period leading up to last weekend's revolution. More than a dozen journalists, both from the country's top newspapers and international outlets, have now taken up residence in the palace, where they have joined forces to salvage, organize, and publish the documents on a website called YanukovychLeaks.org.

According to Natalie Sedletska, a journalist with Radio Free Europe who is working on the files, the stash now includes some 200 folders, each containing 200 to 600 documents, putting the total somewhere above 40,000 pages. The journalists who first examined the documents "immediately understood that this was incredibly important to get these [documents], if we wanted to prove that Yanyukovych was corrupt," Sedletska told Foreign Policy.

Archivists and librarians advised the journalists to dry the wet documents by putting plain sheets paper on top of them and later provided heaters to expedite the process. Additional investigative journalists were called in as reinforcements to sort the material.

But some of the journalists who came to the mansion tried to make off with documents and score a quick story. "Some journalists came to try to find something catchy and go back to their editorial offices," Sedletska said. But most, she said, kept the greater good in mind and took it upon themselves to salvage and archive the documents.

After beginning to pick through the material, the journalists have developed what Sedletska called an "algorithm" to wade through the trove, taking an hour to look through each folder, picking out the most important documents, and arranging them all to dry. By Tuesday, Feb. 27, all the documents had dried, but the group has since stumbled on many more papers -- "bags of documents" in Sedletska's formulation -- lying around the residence, some of them partially burned.

Among other things, the newly discovered documents include information about Yanukovych's security detail. According to Sedletskha, newly discovered documents show that he used as many as "600 people working as security to guard Yanukovych getting from point A to point B." Many in Ukraine knew Yanukovych felt constantly threatened, she said, but not that he was quite so afraid.

Until they complete uploading the entire trove to the Internet, the journalists working on the documents have agreed to hold off writing stories based on the material. More than a dozen journalists are filing and documenting the papers. At first they photographed the documents, then they moved to digitally scanning them using equipment brought by volunteers. "We are looking forward to writing stories," Sedletska said. "But we agreed among us that we have to scan everything, put it online, and then we can start writing stories," she added.

The team plans to tag the documents to make them searchable on the website. Among the tags: Mezhyhirya, Cash, Luxury.

Expecting that law enforcement will eventually seize the documents, Sedletska said that "it's a race" to get them all online, a job that has the journalists working day and night. "This has to go to law enforcement, so the guilty will be punished. It is incredibly important to save this for history."

EPA/YAROSLAV VAISS

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Thailand's Protests Spur Talk of Dividing the Country

With the political confrontation between Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and anti-government protesters intensifying, pro-government supporters are considering an alternative resolution to the four-month crisis: Splitting the country in two. "Some pro-government leaders have called for the country to be divided, along north-south political lines," Reuters reported on Feb. 26. The chatter from Yingluck-backers comes as the prime minister faces renewed pressure to step down. "I never thought that this idea would be taken seriously," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies. "But it seems that a number of people have supported the idea of splitting the country into two."

While extremely unlikely, the idea at least has a basis in geography. The anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), led by former opposition Democrat Party politician Suthep Thaugsuban, is comprised primarily of southerners and urban elites, while Yingluck's base, known as "Red Shirts," are mostly poor, rural voters from the country's northern regions. 

Many Red Shirts believe the anti-government protesters are "using street protests, thuggery, armed militants, obstruction of election, judicial intervention, and a threat of military coup to cripple and eventually oust their elected government," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. As a result, the Red Shirts "are thinking about splitting the country," he said.

The murmurings of secession come amid escalating street fighting. Attacks on protest sites in Bangkok and eastern Thailand last weekend killed five people, including four children. The violence, carried out by unidentified armed assailants, came just a few days after clashes between police and protesters in the capital left four dead and at least 60 injured. After four months of relatively peaceful protests, both the movement's leaders and pro-government groups have signaled a new willingness to use force to achieve their goals.

At the same time, the protesters' efforts have been bolstered by a series of decisions by the country's judiciary. On Feb. 19, the Civil Court affirmed a previous ruling by the Constitutional Court that, despite evidence to the contrary, the protesters were unarmed and peaceful, limiting the government's ability to contain the demonstrations. On Thursday, Yingluck will face graft charges that could force her resignation. 

To be sure, the likelihood of any real move to secede is infinitesimal. The rhetoric seems to be more tactics than strategy, emboldening pro-government supporters to mobilize in support of the elected leadership. But whether the country actually splits in two or not, the divide is very real.

Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images