Besides its regular press releases, Reporters Without Borders is starting a Ukraine news feed in order to summarize the violations of freedom of information constantly taking place in Ukraine. — FRENCH
23.06.2014 – Mariopol editor held at anti-terrorism centre for past five days
Reporters Without Borders is concerned about Serhiy Dolgov, the editor of the newspapers Vestnik Pryazovya and Khochu v SSSR (“I want to go to the USSR”), who was abducted from his office in the southeastern city of Mariupol on 18 June. After saying nothing for five days, Sergei Spasitel, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Mariupol, announced that Dolgov was “alive and in good health” and was being held at an anti-terrorism centre in Zaporozhye.
Dolgov was abducted from the Vestnik Pryazovya office on the afternoon of 18 June by six masked men in civilian dress with automatic weapons, who took all the computers and beat Dolgov before taking him away with his hands tied. His whereabouts and the identity and motive of his abductors remained unknown for five days.
“We firmly condemn the brutality of Dolgov’s arrest, which had all the hallmarks of an outright abduction,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We urge the Ukrainian authorities to clarify the situation without delay, to follow legal procedures, and to respect this journalist’s rights regardless of his media’s editorial policies.”
Dolgov’s colleagues think his abduction was linked to his editing of Khochu v SSSR, which mainly publishes historical articles about the Soviet era and which other newspapers in the region recently labelled as a “rebel” publication.
22.06.2014 – Two TV journalists briefly detained in Crimea
Two women journalists with Ukraine’s Hromadske.TV – reporter Tatyana Kozyreva and camera operatorKarena Arzumanyana – were detained for about an hour after trying to do a live report in Nakhimov Square in the Crimean city of Sebastopol on 22 June.
While doing their report in the square, where retirees were staging a demonstration, they were accosted by some of the retirees, who insulted them and accused them of distorting what is going on in Crimea. The police came and took them to a nearby police station in the Lenin district, where they were questioned about their activities and possible links to “extremist groups” and were then released. Kozyreva said the police were reasonable and returned their equipment.
The situation has been particularly difficult for independent and Ukrainian journalists in Crimea since the peninsula’s incorporation into Russia. The Russian authorities obstruct their news gathering by, for example, not allowing them to attend press conference. Three TV stations – 5 Kanal, Kanal 24 and Novyi Kanal – have stopped operating in Crimea because of the threats to their reporters.
18.06.2014 – Journalist held overnight by rebels in Donetsk
Aleksandr Peremot, a journalist with the URA-Inform.Donbass news website, was abducted by rebels in Donetsk on the afternoon of 17 June and was held overnight. When detained, he was outside the Donetsk public prosecutor’s office, which is occupied by the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk (PRD). His news organization, which had difficulty communicating with the rebels because “it is not accredited with the PRD,” has promised to reveal the details of Peremot’s abduction shortly.
17.06.2014 – Pressure on local newspaper in Donetsk region
Maria Semenova, the editor of the Vechernyaya Makeyevka local newspaper, and Larisa Butova, the CEO of the Pressa Makeyevka printing press, were kidnapped by two men in battledress from the newspaper’s office in Makeyevka, in the eastern Donetsk region, at around 10 a.m. on 17 June and were taken for a “conversation” with representatives of the PRD, the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, who voiced their discontent with the newspaper’s editorial policies. The two women were finally released at around 8 p.m. the same day. The newspaper has so far refused to make any comment but employees said they regarded the abduction as “very serious.”
16.06.2014 – Russian TV journalists held for two days
Two journalists with Russian TV station Zvezda – reporter Yevgeny Davydov and soundman Nikita Konashenkov –, were arrested at a Ukrainian checkpoint on 14 June while on their way to Dnepropetrovsk airport to fly back to Moscow at the end of a reporting trip. Their station is a Russian defence ministry offshoot and they had “People’s Republic of Donetsk” accreditation. After being taken to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), they were held for two days on suspicion of spying and then handed over to the Russian embassy’s military attaché. Two other Zvezda journalists were arrested a week ago (see below).
16.06.2014 – Ukrainian journalist arrested on Russian border
Anastasia Stanko, a correspondent for the citizen TV station Hromadske, was about to report live from a small cross-border town called Milove (Ukraine) and Chertkovo (Russia) on 14 June when her phone connection was terminated and Russian border guards arrested her on a charge of crossing the border illegally. She was released later the same day.
13.06.2014 – Call for investigation into journalist’s torture by soldiers
Reporters Without Borders learned on 13 June that Ukrainian soldiers arrested Anton Vodian, a reporter for the Ukrainian news website Insider, during an identity check in Dolgenkoe, a village in the Kharkov region, on 3 June. They said he was not on their list of “registered” journalists although he had the required accreditation and had notified the anti-terrorism operations press attaché about his trip in advance. The soldiers used torture to interrogate him, tying him up, beating him for four hours and threatening to kill him. On his release the next day, a senior commander said he had been held for “security reasons” during an important phase of an anti-terrorist operation. The head of Insider wrote to the defence ministry demanding an internal investigation into the incident.
09.06.2014 – Two Russian journalists arrested in Donetsk region
Two Russian journalists with “People’s Republic of Donetsk” accreditation – Zvezda cameraman Andrei Sushenkov and soundman Anton Malyshev – were arrested at a Ukrainian National Guard checkpoint near the city of Sloviansk on the evening of 6 June. Zvezda is a Russian defence ministry offshoot.
They were hand over to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) for questioning on suspicion of “collecting information on Ukrainian checkpoints.” Released on the night of 8 June and put on a flight to Moscow, they said they were held for two days in a cramped and overheated cell.
09.06.2014 – Constant harassment of local media
Vasyl Serdyukov, a reporter for the local newspaper Serditaya Gazeta, and his photographer sonYevhen Serdyukov were kidnapped and beaten by militiamen in Rubizhne, a city in the Luhansk region, on 8 June. After being taken to the regional government headquarters in Luhansk, they were freed the next day at dawn.
The militia accused them of covering local news in a way that was one-sided and hostile to the separatists. The newspaper’s editor denied this categorically. Yevhen Serdyukov had to be hospitalized with concussion and bruising all over his body. The militiamen also confiscated a computer, a (legally registered) hunting rifle and a car from the Serditaya Gazeta office.
The offices of the newspaper Horniak were set on fire at dawn on 6 June in Torez, in the Donetsk region. They had already been ransacked a month ago after the editor refused to comply with “People’s Republic of Donetsk” orders.
The newspaper Donetskie Novosti announced on 6 June that it is temporarily suspending operations because of the “tense situation” in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Like Vecherny Donetsk, which suspended activities on 2 June following its editor’s abduction, Donetskie Novosti is owned by Rinat Akhmetov, an oligarch who recently announced his support for the central Ukrainian government.
28.05.2014 – Rebels hold two Ukrainian journalists for three days
Two Ukrainian journalists who had been kidnapped by anti-Kiev rebels on 25 May at a checkpoint near Shchastye (in the Luhansk region) – Vyacheslav Bondarenko of the Obzor news website and freelance video reporter Maksim Osovski – were finally released on 28 May after being held and mistreated for three days.
The two journalists had been on their way to cover the presidential election in the east of the country for the Ukrainian TV station ZIK. After the rebels found a Ukrainian flag and TV equipment in their car, they were accused of spying and were taken to the SBU building in Luhansk.
While held, they were badly beaten, tortured and threatened with being killed. After their release, they were hospitalized in Kiev with bruises all over their bodies. Bondarenko also had significant lesions. There was little media coverage of their abduction and their release was prematurely reported.
25.05.2014 – Two Russian journalists working for LifeNews freed
Marat Saychenko and Oleg Sidyakin, two journalists working for the Russian pro-government TV station LifeNews, were released on 25 May in Kiev and immediately boarded a flight for Grozny, the capital of the Russian republic of Chechnya.
Viktor Yagun, the deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU),said at a news conference that they had been freed at the request of the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In an interview for the Russian newspaper Izvestia, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said he has sent representatives to Kiev after Russian President Vladimir Putin requested the two journalists’ release. The ensuing negotiations are said to have been kept secret for security reasons.
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces arrested Saychenko and Sidyakin – along with the rebels they were filming ¬– near Kramatorsk on 18 May. They were subsequently taken to Kiev, interrogated by the SBU and accused of “providing assistance to terrorism.”
24.05.2014 – Russian journalists denied entry
More Russian journalists were refused entry to Ukraine in the run-up to the 25 May presidential election, although they had all the necessary papers. The reason often given was lack of funds or inability to confirm the reason for the visit. The Ukrainian authorities have imposed drastic restrictions on Russian males entering Ukraine.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, at least five TV crews and five individual journalists were denied entry from 20 to 24 May.
“Like the Russian authorities in Crimea, the Ukrainian authorities have often used this prior censorship method in the information war exacerbated by the different parties since the start of the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern European and Central Asia desk.
“Journalists must be able to have access to the events they want to cover as part of their work, regardless of their nationality or the editorial line of the media they work for,” Bihr added.
Those denied entry have included Ilya Varlamov, a blogger, and Ilya Azar of the independent radio station Echo of Moscow, although both are well known for providing coverage of the “Euromaidan” protests that had nothing in common with the Kremlin’s propaganda.
They were turned back on landing in Kiev on 23 May on the grounds of “unconfirmed reason for the visit.”Natalia Suvorova, a reporter for the Russian radio station Kommersant FM, was also recently refused entry.
21.05.2014 – Ukrainian authorities release Russia Today journalist
Graham Phillips, a British journalist who works for the Russian pro-government TV station Russia Today,was released on the evening of 21 May after being arrested the previous day by the National Guard at a border post on the outskirts of Mariupol, in the Donetsk region, and being taken immediately to the headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Kiev for interrogation.
Phillips said he was arrested for having a bulletproof vest. The statements by the Ukrainian authorities were contradictory during his detention. Russia Today reported his arrest immediately but the National Guard initially denied it, only to acknowledge it later.
The various parties to the Ukrainian conflict are waging an all-out information war that has been exacerbated by the approach of the 25 May presidential election. The anti-Kiev rebels in eastern Ukraine have been targeting journalists since March. Now the Ukrainian authorities are behaving with growing hostility to journalists working for Russian media.
Two Russian journalists working for the Russian pro-government news website Life News are still being held by the SBU in Kiev. They and the rebel group they were accompanying were arrested by the Ukrainian armed forces on 18 May. The two journalists are accused of assisting the “terrorist” activities of the rebels.
18.05.2014 – Donetsk Republic frees two hostages held by militiamen
Reporters Without Borders is very relieved by the 18 May release of Serhiy Shapoval, a journalist with the Volin’Post news website who was kidnapped in Sloviansk on 26 April and was held hostage for three weeks by the rebels of the self-proclaimed Republic of Donetsk in one of the city’s government buildings.
Shapoval was interrogated and mistreated while held. The rebels gave him electric shocks, lacerated the palms of his hands and forced him to say on camera that they were peaceful and had no weapons. TheAnna News and Donbas Popular Militias TV stations broadcast the videos of his statements. While held, he contacted relatives several times to say he was in Sloviansk but could not leave for the time being.
Ukrainian photo-reporter Milana Omelchuk was also freed on 18 May after being held for nearly two weeks by the rebels of the self-proclaimed Republic of Donetsk, who demanded a ransom of 50,000 hryvnia (3,100 euros) for her release on 13 May. With the help of the Open Dialogue Foundation, an NGO, Omelchuk’s sister managed to convince the rebels that the family was not able to pay such a large sum. After her release, Omelchuk was hospitalized in Kiev for malnutrition and because the rebels drugged her.
15.05.2014 – TV towers in east – targets and weapons of war
Ukraine’s interior ministry announced on 15 May that national armed forces control the broadcasting tower at Kramatorsk (which is 12 km south of Sloviansk, one of the rebel strongholds in the Donetsk region) and denied a local news site’s claim that anti-Kiev militiamen seized the tower on 14 May, when retransmission of all TV stations was interrupted.
Ukrainian special forces did however regain control of the television tower at Sloviansk on 14 May. It had been controlled for some time by anti-Kiev rebels, who had interrupted the broadcasting of Ukrainian programmes and replaced them by Russian TV stations.
Control of the region’s main broadcast retransmission centres switches between the Ukrainian army and rebel forces in accordance with the success of their operations, resulting in frequent cuts and alternation between Russian and Ukrainian stations. Aside from their strategic importance in the information war, these centres allow the warring parties to mark their territory and project their authority over the local population.
13.05.2014 – Journalist freed after two weeks as hostage in Sloviansk
Reporters Without Borders is very relieved to learn that Yuri Leliavski, a reporter for the Ukrainian TV station ZIK, was released after being held hostage by pro-Russian militiamen for two weeks in Sloviansk, the stronghold of the pro-Russian rebels. Leliavski revealed at a news conference in the western city of Lviv on the evening of 12 May that he was freed on 9 May.
Militiamen arrested Leliavski barely an hour after he arrived in Sloviansk on 25 April, as soon as they realized he was from Lviv. He spent the entire two weeks in the basement of the building of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), now the headquarters of the pro-Russian militias.
12.05.2014 – Kidnapped journalist released
Reporters Without Borders is very relieved to learn that Pavel Kanygin, a reporter for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was freed on the afternoon of 12 May after being kidnapped the previous night in Artemisk, in the Donetsk region. He had managed to send an SMS alert to colleagues during the night but thereafter remained unreachable until his release.
Pro-Russian rebels of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” had confirmed that they were holding Kanygin for spreading “negative” information and for not being accredited with them. In his coverage of the 11 May referendum on self-determination in the Donetsk region for his newspaper and on social networks, Kanygin reported a failure to respect electoral procedures. He said he was hit while being interrogated.
12.05.2014 – Journalist attacked in Kotovsk
Alexander Yaroshenko, a journalist who uses the pen-name of Sergei Levitanenko, was attacked in his home in Kotovsk, near Odessa, on the night of 11 May by masked intruders in camouflage dress, who hit him and throttled him, accusing him of “not liking Putin.”
After escaping, Yaroshenko described the attack as a “murder attempt.” When he subsequently returned to his home, he found that the room containing his work material had been torched. An investigation is under way.
12.05.2014 – Russia Today employee injured
The security situation for journalists is worsening steadily in the east of the country amid an increase in Ukrainian army operations and the emergence of more and more militias. An employee of the Russian TV station Russia Today sustained a gunshot injury during street fighting in Mariupol on 9 May. Russia Todaysaid he was evacuated to Moscow on 12 May in a serious condition.
08.05.2014 – TV crew held for several hours
A crew with the Ukrainian national TV station ICTV were held by pro-Russian rebels at a checkpoint near Slovianks on 8 May. They considered themselves lucky to be freed after being interrogated and threatened for several houses, and stripped of their equipment.
08.05.2014 – Airwaves war
A cable TV supplier was forced to drop all the Ukrainian national TV channels on 8 May at the behest of Valeri Bolotov, the self-proclaimed governor of Luganks and commander of the pro-Russian “army of the southeast,” who threatened to terminate its entire service if it did not comply.
After being threatened physically, the cable operator’s employees told clients they had been temporarily forced to drop the Ukrainian channels but pointed out that these channels could still be viewed on its website. After the fight for control of TV retransmission centres, this marks a new phase in the airwaves war being waged by the parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.