A Ukrainian blogger popular for his pro-Russia views was charged with treason on Tuesday, as Kiev ramps up efforts to stamp out what it says is Kremlin propaganda.
The post-Soviet country says it has become a regular target of Russian misinformation since 2014 when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Former journalist Anatoliy Shariy, 42, is suspected of treason and fuelling national, ethnic or religious tension, Ukraine’s SBU security service said in a statement.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Shariy, who now lives in Spain, left Ukraine in 2012 after being accused of attempted murder when he shot a customer in a fast-food restaurant a year earlier.
He has faced regular criticism from numerous opponents who accuse him of espousing anti-Ukrainian views and spreading misinformation via his website and YouTube channel.
“Shariy has assisted the Russian state and non-governmental agencies in carrying out special information operations against Ukraine,” the SBU said.
Shariy was a frequent guest on three Ukrainian TV channels that were banned this month after being deemed tools of Russian propaganda.
“I’m not afraid. I don’t care,” Shariy said on YouTube Tuesday in response to the allegations.
He added that he believes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is personally behind the charges.
Shariy’s YouTube channel has more than two million subscribers, and he has nearly 350,000 followers on Facebook.
In 2019 he founded a political party called “the Shariy party”, which won two percent of the vote in parliamentary elections that year, failing to meet the threshold required to enter parliament.