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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukrainian Journalist Found Dead

ReutersMykhailo Kolomiets, left, speaking with a reporter in Ukrainsky Novyvny's Kiev office in 2000.
KIEV -- Ukraine and Belarus launched a police investigation into the apparent suicide of a director of a leading Ukrainian news agency Tuesday, saying they had little idea what he had been doing in Belarus before his death.

Ukrainsky Novyvny, which specializes in economic news, said Monday it had been told by Ukrainian authorities that its founder and director, Mykhailo Kolomiets, had been found hanged in Belarus.

Kolomiets, 44, went missing in late October and reporters at the agency then expressed fears that his disappearance had been connected to its "policy of providing independent information."

Eighteen Ukrainian journalists have been killed since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and reporters frequently complain of harassment and attacks by unknown assailants.

But Belarussian police said the death was most likely suicide and the body still had to be formally identified. "The corpse has yet to be formally identified, therefore by law we cannot confirm that it is him. But we are 90 percent sure it is Kolomiets' body. ... The body was found hanged in a forest in Molodechno [about 100 kilometers from Minsk]," said Interior Ministry spokesman Dmitry Parton. "There are records that he stayed in a hotel in Molodechno, and there are other signs that the body is his. We assume this is suicide. ... But it is unclear why he came to Minsk and why from Minsk he went to Molodechno."

Ukraine's Interior Ministry said it would work closely with the Belarussian authorities on the case and that Kolomiets' family was traveling to Minsk to identify the body.

Belarus has also come under criticism about freedom of expression, with Western diplomats and opposition parties saying President Alexander Lukashenko muzzles the media. In Ukraine, the opposition has linked President Leonid Kuchma to the unsolved murder of Georgy Gongadze, a reporter whose headless corpse was found in 2000. Kuchma denies the charges.