Reporting from Ukraine’s separatist areas is becoming more difficult


Ukrainian post control before separatist zone (Credit: Geoffrey Froment/Flickr)

Ukrainian post control before separatist zone (Credit: Geoffrey Froment/Flickr)

Soon after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, full-scale fighting began between Ukrainian troops and separatists supported by Russia in the east of Ukraine. During active fighting in 2014, it was relatively easy for journalists to access to territories controlled by separatists.

“Accreditation was given quickly and without delay,” a Ukrainian producer who worked with international TV channels said. The producer, who requested anonymity because of ongoing work in the area, admits the risk for journalists was high because of the chaotic situation on the frontline and many of them faced detention by separatist militants. “I, like many, was detained and placed in a basement, but, fortunately, it only lasted for several hours,” he added.

Anna Nemtsova, a correspondent for Newsweek magazine and The Daily Beast, told Mapping Media Freedom that in 2014 she was abducted twice – firstly in the Luhansk region and secondly in the city of Donetsk.

“These were classic abductions,” Nemtsova said. “In Luhansk region, near Krasny Luch, armed militia wearing masks took our cell phones away from us and drove us in an unknown direction. In Donetsk, it happened near the morgue, where, according to our information, the militia had brought some of the bodies of passengers of the downed Boeing MH-17. Both detentions lasted for a few hours.”

Soon the situation with journalists’ access to uncontrolled territories would change for the worse. In February 2015, the Minsk agreements were signed and a ceasefire was established. The ceasefire agreement prompted the authorities of the two self-proclaimed republics to start monitoring journalists’ reports from the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

“If they did not like the angle of coverage or some term, for example ‘separatist republics’, the name of a journalist was immediately added to the list of undesirable persons. The press service began to summon such journalists to ‘talks’ to express their dissatisfaction,” source who works as a local TV producer told MMF.

Nemtsova also faced similar difficulties. In summer 2015 she was told that the DPR press service did not like her reports and threatened to ban her, which later they said they did. “Their complaints were unreasonable, they were not about any errors in my report, but about the term ‘separatists’, which they claimed I used in my stories,” she said.

Thus, the monitoring of publications about the separatist zone in the media has led to the fact that from the summer of 2015 many journalists who tried to obtain accreditation from the self-proclaimed authorities began to receive refusals. Some reporters who managed to enter the territory of the self-proclaimed republics were detained and deported. On 16 June 2015, separatists from DPR captured Novaya Gazeta special correspondent Pavel Kanygin and handed him over to Russian security services (FSB). According to the journalist, they checked his documents and released him “in the middle of a field.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color=”black” align=”align_left”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Ukraine” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in Ukraine and 41 other European area countries.

As of 17/07/2017, there were 282 verified reports of violations connected to Ukraine in the Mapping Media Freedom database.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”94239″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=””][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black” align=”align_left”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Over the past year, arbitrary refusals to enter the territory of the self-proclaimed republics have been quite frequent. In December 2016, Deutsche Welle’s correspondent Christian Trippe and his crew were barred from entering the territory of the self-proclaimed DPR. Journalists were trying to get to the territory controlled by DPR at a checkpoint near Marinka. Journalists had to wait an hour in a neutral zone between two fronts, while they were not allowed to return to the territory controlled by Ukrainian forces. The crew had received an authorisation from DPR press centre and had scheduled an interview with a spokesperson for the separatists. The journalists planned to visit Donetsk with Principal Deputy Chief Monitor Alexander Hug of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. However, the militants did not let them through the checkpoint with the OSCE, citing the decision of DPR special services.

In 2016, the self-proclaimed authorities continued the practice of detentions and expulsions of journalists. In November, special forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic detained and expelled two journalists working for Russian TV channel Dozhd. Correspondents Sergei Polonsky and Vasiliy Yerzhenkov were detained by intelligence agencies on the evening of 25 November in Donetsk. Polonsky said that members of the self-proclaimed Ministry of State Security went to their apartment and took them to the main building of the ministry where they were interrogated. “Three employees of the Ministry of State Security were involved in the interrogation. They watched videos and deleted them. They also blocked Polonsky’s phone, broke Yerzhenkov’s phone and destroyed his notebook,” Dozhd reported. According to Dozhd, the journalists were not physically abused. “We experienced psychological abuse, but nothing more,” Polonsky said. Later, employees of the Ministry of State Security explained to the correspondents that their detention was a consequence of “false information” in the accreditation, which turned out to be a wrong phone number.

The Dozhd crew were accredited to work in Donetsk by the Security Service of Ukraine and by the Ministry of information of DPR. Journalists entered the DPR border on 24 November from Russia to interview Alexey Khodakovsky, former secretary of DPR’s Security Council. Previously, the self-proclaimed Ministry of State Security of DPR said the cause of the journalists’ expulsion was “biased” and “provocative” coverage of the situation in the DPR.

Local journalists and bloggers often find it even more risky to work in the separatist territories. In 2014, many journalists were forced to leave the territory, and are now working elsewhere in Ukraine. Over the past year, a number of arrests by separatists have been reported. The latest one is an incident with blogger and writer Stanyslav Aseev who disappeared in Donetsk. The blogger was reportedly detained by militants of the self-proclaimed DPR. Aseev uses the alias Stanislav Vasin and contributes to a number of news outlets including Radio Liberty Donbass Realities project, Ukrayinska Pravda, Ukrainian week and Dzerkalo Tyzhnya. He also runs a prominent blog via Facebook.

Donbass Realities project editor-in-chief Tetyana Jakubowicz said their contact with Aseev was lost on 2 June. That day, Aseev filed the latest report from territories held by separatists for Radio Liberty. Aseev’s relatives and friends confirmed that they also lost contact with the blogger. They questioned the self-proclaimed Ministry of Public Security of the DPR, but didn’t receive any answers. The journalist’s mother found evidence that his flat was broken into in Donetsk and noticed that some of his belongings were missing, including a laptop. On 12 July, Amnesty International reported that it learned that Aseev was being held by the de-facto “ministry of state security”.

Recently, several bloggers have been arrested in the self-proclaimed LPR. In October 2016 Vladislav Ovcharenko, a 19-year old blogger, who runs the Twitter account Luhansk Junta, was detained by separatists. Later, armed representatives of the self-proclaimed Ministry of the State Security raided his parents’ apartment, taking his mother’s computer. In December 2016, Facebook blogger Gennadiy Benytskiy was arrested in Luhansk. The blogger, who is known for his pro-Ukraine views, was accused of distributing of “extremist materials” online.

Journalists take risks even when they get accreditation from the separatist authorities. A leak by the website Myrotvorets in May 2016 led to the personal data of more than 5,000 journalists becoming available online. The link to the leak was published by some Ukrainian politicians, calling journalists who received accreditation “traitors.” Some of the journalists then received threats.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Ukraine: Poroshenko win a sign of national unity but not a final remedy

Petro Poroshenko at a polling station (Photo: Oleksandr Ratushniak/Demotix)

Petro Poroshenko at a polling station (Photo: Oleksandr Ratushniak/Demotix)

Petro Poroshenko has won the Ukrainian presidential election in the first round, as preliminary results and exit polls show he received over 50% of votes. A billionaire, sometimes dubbed “the Chocolate Oligarch” (his main asset is Roshen, the largest confectionery manufacturer in Ukraine) gained his popularity during the Euromaidan protests in November 2013 – February 2014. Many in Ukraine consider Poroshenko to be a controversial figure as the head of the country; he represents a revolutionary, pro-European, but still old, oligarch-driven elite, and a system the Euromaidan protests were aimed against. Yet, the huge support he received shows Ukrainians are tired of the period of uncertainty, and united to give their country a new legitimate leader who can deal with unrest in the south-east regions, where pro-Russian militants continue their attempts to destabilise the situation.

Poroshenko’s first-round victory is a sign of national agreement, but is hardly a final remedy for all the problems Ukraine faces, both externally — like the military threat from Russia, including the occupation of Crimea — and internally. The latter applies not only to economic difficulties, but also to the necessity of extensive reforms that deal with the whole system of interrelations between the state and the society, ensuring real rule of law and putting end to corruption and human rights abuses.

Events in Ukraine over the last six months have made the country one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world. According to the Institute of Mass Information, there have been 218 cases of physical attacks against reporters in Ukraine in 2014. Viacheslav Veremiy, a reporter for Ukrainian Vesti newspaper, was shot during events on Maidan on 19 February. Vasily Sergiyenko, a journalist and a civic activist, was tortured and then killed in Cherkassy in April. The death toll continued to rise even on the eve of the election, as Andrea Rocchelli, an Italian photo reporter, and his interpreter Andrei Mironov, a Russian human rights activist and a Soviet-era political prisoner, were killed on 24 May near Slovyansk, in the Donetsk region.

“It is still difficult to say if the free speech situation will improve after the election, especially in the east of Ukraine. It will depend on effectiveness of work of the new president and development of relations with Russia,” Tetiana Pechonchyk, the head of the Human Rights Information Centre, told Index on Censorship.

But it is not only the areas of military conflict that are dangerous for journalists. Sergiyenko’s murder and the case of Evgen Polozhiy, the editor of Panirama newspaper from Sumy, who was severely beaten, show reporters’ work is becoming increasingly risky business in Ukraine.

“There were quite a number of journalistic investigations before the Euromaidan, but they led to no official reaction or criminal cases about corruption revealed. Now that the society has changed, corrupt officials and criminals are especially afraid of critical reporting as they can lose their positions or even go to prison; they choose different methods to silence investigative journalists,” Pechonchyk says.

Another important aspect of a media reality around events in Ukraine is the massive information war, launched by Russia. The aim is to show a distorted picture of a modern Ukraine as a state where right-wing extremists and “fascists” seized power, in spite of the fact that the leader of the notorious “Right Sector” organisation got less than 1% of votes during the presidential election. They also aim at perplexing the foreign audience by mixing the terms “Russian-speaking” and “Russian”, for instance to justify invasion of Crimea or actions of pro-Russian militants in Donetsk region.

“That’s what you expect Russia to do — blow the country over with lots of stereotypes, lies and myths. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian government lost this information war. But what is great is that civil society, bloggers, ordinary young people on Facebook confronted Putin’s lies with their activity and creativity, with websites that disprove Russian TV channels’ propaganda or fake news,” says Michael Andersen, a journalist who made a documentary for Al Jazeera about typical stereotypes around Ukraine and Ukrainians.

The latter still have a long way to go to ensure the Maidan changes a lot more than just the name of the president and the faces of the governmental officials. Civil society and the media have a vital role to play on this path to future reforms.

This article was published on May 27, 2014 at