Attacks on Journalists Persist in Regions of Ukraine

April 14, 2014

In the environment of civilunrest and ongoing separatist movements in the eastern regions of Ukraine, duringMarch-April 2014, repeated cases of obstruction of journalists` professionalactivity occurred with the use of force. Notably, media representatives foundthemselves victims of abduction by unknown people, threats or beatings on thepart of local protestors. Quite often their property, professional equipmentwas damaged or destroyed. Moreover, several local broadcasters in Lugansk andKharkiv were seized by force. However, the police did not respond appropriatelyto ensure safety of the media professionals in most cases.  

·        Abduction and detention of journalists

On 14 April 2014, in Gorlivkaof Donetsk region, Alexander Bilinsky, editor-in-chief of the local website was abducted. Men in masks broke into the officesof this website and the newspaper “Kryminal-Espress”, pushed the  editor out of the office and took himsomewhere in a car. As it turned out, Mr Bilinsky was brought to the building oflocal police station, where the crowd of 200-300 people surrounded himdemanding an explanation of why he had called them terrorists in the article. Somehours later the journalist was released.

Work of the editorial office appearedblocked for some time, and due to the cyber-attacks their website is currentlynot running.

On Saturday, 12 April,some armed separatists that seized the building of the Police Department in Slovyansk,Donetsk region, detained journalists from Hromadske TVand The journalists were searchedand then brought out of the perimeter of the police department building. With threats,armed men forbade them to cover local events.

·        Threatening and beatings ofjournalists

Oleksiy Movsesyan, a cameraoperator from the regional TV channel LOT, was hit on the head at the rally nearbythe local state service dept. in Lugansk, on 6 April. Reportedly, theprotesters applied force to the journalist because he was not a Russianreporter.

On the same day, now in Kharkiv, journalists of the TV channel”Ukraine” had to stop coverage of the Antymaydanrally, as they subjected to physical force and threats. A group of protesterssurrounded the correspondent of “Ukraine” TV channel, who was broadcastinglive from the square, demanding from him not to convey “false informationto Kyiv.” As the correspondent continued his coverage, a group of youngathletic men began pushing him out from the square, causing strong kicks in theback.

Also on 6 April, participantsof the pro-Russian rally at the Lenin Square, in Donetsk, treated the mediarepresentatives brutally preventing them fromcovering the events on the spot. The protesters attacked media reporters andphotographers with curses and demanded from them to “go away!”

On 2 March 2014, theprotesters that had gathered under the Russian flag at the Lenin square beat upthreejournalists at the rally in Donetsk city.Namely, Alexander Peremota, a journalist from the “URA-Inform.Donbas” website was hit, when attackers tried to take away his camera anddemanded to remove the photos taken by the journalist. The protesters alsoattacked Pavlo Stepanenko and Sergiy Wolski, correspondents of the”Pershyy Dilovyy” TV channel. Journalists filed a criminal complaint tothe local police on their beating and obstruction to their professionalactivities.

·        Damaging or destruction ofjournalists` property

The pro-Russianactivists attacked a British photojournalist Frederick Paxton, from Vice News,during the seizure of a police station in Gorlivka, the eastern Ukrainian town,on 14 April 2014. As the journalist recounts, they took away his camera anddestroyed flash cards.

On 12 April 2014, anunknown person set fire to the car of editor-in-chief of the online media “News of Donbass”, OleksiyMatsuka, who received some anonymous threats lately. As one can see from thevideo above, a man approached the car parked near the journalist`s house inDonetsk, poured on it some flammable substance and set on fire. As of today, a criminal proceeding has been launched on the fact ofcrime. Mr Matsuka is known as one of the founders of the “Public Service Television of Donetsk Region“, aiming at operational anduncensored provision of objective and unbiased information on the political,economic and social processes to the Donetsk region residents.

Earlier, on 10 March2014, the participants of the pro-Russian rally around the Lugansk RegionalState Administration damaged equipment of reporters, namely the video camerasof two TV channels – TRK “Ukraine” and NTN.Journalists came there to provide reports from the rally, but aggressive peopledemanded that they turn off the camera, alleging them biased coverage ofevents. Then the crowd began to push the journalists and cameramen out from thearea. The police failed to act appropriately, operators had to give theattackers a memory card and a tape. Media representatives filed a criminalcomplaint to the police on obstruction to their professional activities asjournalists.

·        Seizure of media outlets

On 7 April 2014, unidentified men in masksseized the Kharkiv ATN TV company and demanded to provide them with live broadcast.After not getting it, they smashed some office furniture and the television studio, pushing employees andthreatening them with physical violence. The police were present at the sceneand acted indecisively trying to stop the attackers, and arrested none of them.According to the TV channel editorial body, this attack seems deliberate and planned in detailby those who do not want an alternative to the governmental point of view beheard.

On10 March, pro-Russian young men seized the building of the Lugansk TV company”IRTA” and did not let thejournalists out. Aggressive men demanded fromthe media workers to go on air, get on their knees and beg forgiveness for a”biased coverage”, and then begin broadcasting of the Russianchannels. Also, personal belongings of journalists were stolen. In themeantime, the police arrived to the crime scene on the call, but provedinactive.