Freedom of Speech Barometer for March 2023
In March, the IMI's experts recorded 20 crimes against freedom of speech in Ukraine. Six of such crimes against media and journalists were committed by Russia. In the year of the war, this is the first time that the crimes against media committed by the Russians were outnumbered by crimes for which the Ukrainian side is responsible.
This is evidenced by the data collected by the Institute of Mass Information for the monthly monitoring "Freedom of Speech Barometer".
Russia's crimes against media include: attacks on journalists and media offices, cybercrimes.
At the same time, IMI recorded 14 freedom of speech violations for which Ukraine's citizens are responsible. These are cases of threats, obstruction, restriction of access to public information, and cybercrime.
Oleksiy Olkhovyk was killed by Russian strike from an anti-tank grenade launcher in Bakhmut on March 13. With the start of the full-scale invasion, Oleksiy Olkhovyk joined the 241st Territorial Defense Brigade of Kyiv, but later was sent to the front line in Donetsk oblast. In September 2022, Oleksiy Olkhovyk was wounded in a mine explosion and was recovering for about a month. After recovering, he went back to the front line – to Bakhmut.
Oleksandr Tsakhniv died while defending a position on the Bakhmut axis while it was under the enemy's fire. Oleksandr had gone to fight on the front line at the start of the full-scale invasion. At "Vchasno", he covered corruption in Donetsk municipalities, conducted anti-corruption investigations.
A total of 50 media workers have died in Ukraine as a result of Russia's armed aggression. Of those, eight died while reporting, 42 died as combatants or were killed by Russian shelling, not while performing their journalistic duties.
Two filming crews came under Russian fire: a BBC crew and a Donbass.Realii one. The BBC journalists came under fire while filming a report on Ukrainian aid workers in Kherson oblast. The journalists had come to Mylove village, following the volunteers. The shelling started as aid workers were distributing supplies to residents of the de-occupied village. No one was killed during the shelling.
The Donbas.Realii journalists came under fire near Bakhmut. According to the correspondent Yehor Loginov, they were filming the work of the Ukrainian military a few kilometers away from the front line, which is when the Russian troops started shelling the positions with mortars and "Grads". "Our positions were under fire, but we made it to a dugout. We sat through the shelling and left," the journalist said. Nobody was injured.
Two Ukrainian news offices were damaged by Russian shelling. In Nikopol (Dnipropetrovsk oblast), the building and equipment of the radio station Nostalgie were damaged. All the windows were blown out by the shelling, a third of the slate roof was destroyed, the equipment was damaged. The broadcasting has been stopped, said the radio station's CEO, Valery Tereshchenko, to the IMI.
In Beryslav (Kherson oblast), the Russian military hit the building of the Mayak newspaper. According to the newspaper's editor, Dmytro Tertychny, the projectile destroyed the roof of the building. He says that without an immediate intervention, the building will soon become unusable.
Furthermore, the IMI recorded two cases of cybercrime in March:
- Russian hackers attempted to hijack the FM Halychyna radio station. The day before, calls for a hacker attack on the radio station were circulating on Russian Telegram channels. Specialists at the radio station responded to the enemy's actions in time and managed to eliminate the threat. The only thing the hackers managed to do was to temporarily stop the radio station's website from working.
- The editors of RBC Ukraine filed a statement with the cyberpolice over website forgery and a fake article criticizing the UAF Commander-in-Chief, Valery Zaluzhny.
The freedom of speech situation in Ukraine for which Ukrainian citizens are responsible
The 14 freedom of speech violations for which the Ukrainian side is responsible include: threats, obstruction, restriction of access to public information, and cybercrime.
For instance, in just one day, March 30, the IMI recorded four cases of obstruction. Of those, three took place at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The UOC MP representatives attacked journalists as they tried to ask questions about the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy Commission on the handover of the Lavra premises to the state being denied an opportunity to work.
UOC MP Metropolitan Pavlo Lebid tried to knock the microphone out of the hand of "Espreso" correspondent Valeria Pashko while speaking to journalists at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. Lebid pushed the correspondent away and tried to knock the microphone out of her hand. "I didn't invite you! I don't want to talk. This is not a state institution and I'm not a state official. I'm telling you once again, get out of here," he said.
Another UOC MP priest shoved Suspilne correspondent Daria Nematian Zolbin as she tried to ask Metropolitan Pavlo a question, and broke the camera mount of cameraman Viktor Mozgovy.
A person in a cassock damaged the phone charger cable of "Telegraf" photoreporter Yan Dobronosov in the jostling at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, involving UOC MP Metropolitan Pavlo Lebid.
In Chernihiv, on March 30, businessman and former City Council deputy candidate, Serhiy Berestovy, broke the camera of "Ditynets" journalists as they were filming at a downtown cafe. Journalists were trying to get a comment from Yuriy Tarasovets, a City Council member, with regards to his absence at the session. Serhiy Berestovy, who attacked the journalists, was at the cafe with Tarasovets.
Following the attacks in Kyiv and Chernihiv, the police opened criminal cases for obstructing the professional work of journalists.
A few days earlier, parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Russian Orthodox Church obstructed the work of Priamyi and Channel 5 film crews. They provoked the journalists, shoved them away, tried to knock their equipment over, beat them on the legs.
Access to public information was restricted by representatives of local authorities. For instance, the Volyn Oblast Administration refused to provide Center for Journalistic Investigations "Syla Pravdy" with the number of people who were issued permits to travel abroad. On March 16, the Mykolaiv Oblast Council held a meeting adopting a decision regarding the Council's leadership. No mass media representatives were invited to the meeting, which took place offline for the first time since the start of the full-scale war; there was no livestream, either. The press office said this had been due to the fact that the Council could not guarantee the media workers' safety in the event of an air raid alert.
Threats include the Poltava case, where Anastasia Matsko, a journalist at the online publication "Poltava Wave", reported that two officials threatened physical violence upon her during a City Council session, using obscene language.
Olena Mudra, an investigative journalist from Zakarpattia, was subjected to cyber pressure, reporting doxxing and pressure related to her professional work. Both journalists have filed relevant statements with the police.
Firing at journalists – 2
17.03.2023 A BBC crew – reporter Victoria Zhuhan, cameraman Kevin McGregor, and producer Claire Press – came under Russian missile fire while reporting on aid workers in Mylove village, Kherson oblast, Daily Mail reports.
The journalists were following a group of volunteers. The attack happened as the volunteers were delivering aid packages to people in the deoccupied village.
As seen in the video, the journalists took cover near a wall first, and then ran towards the car. There were several explosions.
The volunteer Kostiantyn Tytarenko, who also filmed the aid drop, revealed in a video: "We are leaving. There was an artillery attack just now. It was so strong. I've never heard anything like it."
According to Daily Mail, it was the first aid that arrived in the small village of Mylove in the Kherson region in three weeks and people were visibly desperate to get their hands on much-needed supplies. Nobody was killed in the attacks according to Ukrainian authorities.
As IMI reported, in June, a BBC filming crew came under Russian fire in the Donbas.
22.03.2023 Donbas.Realii correspondents came under Russian shelling near Bakhmut on March 22. This is reported on the project's Telegram channel.
According to the correspondent Yehor Loginov, they were filming the work of the Ukrainian military a few kilometers away from the front line, which is when the Russian troops started shelling the positions with mortars and "Grads".
"Our positions were under fire, but we made it to a dugout. We sat through the shelling and left," the journalist said.
According to Loginov, only the car was damaged. One of the fragments pierced the car door and the driver's seat and got stuck in the magazine "UAF Ground Forces", on a page depicting Valery Zaluzhny. "We can say that our Commander-in-chief can even stop shrapnel," Yehor added and showed the fragment stuck in the publication.
"Most importantly, everyone is alive," the journalist noted.
As IMI reported, RFE/RL journalists have repeatedly come under fire in the Donbas. For instance, on May 28, 2022, RFE/RL correspondent Maryan Kushnir and photographer Serhiy Nuzhnenko came under Russian fire near Bakhmut. The journalists were filming a report about the Ukrainian military's counterattack, and the positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were being shelled by Russian artillery. On March 11, 2022, Maryan Kushnir suffered a concussion as a result of a Russian attack on Kyiv oblast.
Property damage and attacks on editorial offices – 2
09.03.2023 The Russian missile strike on the morning of March 9 damaged the building of the local radio station Nostalgie in Nikopol (Dnipropetrovsk oblast).
The radio station's CEO, Valery Tereshchenko, informed the IMI representative in Dnipropetrovsk oblast about this.
According to him, all the windows were blown out by the shelling, and a third of the slate roof was destroyed.
"Today, the state of the radio station is unfit for working. The windows are gone, some of the radio equipment is badly damaged, the cable that connects the transmitter to the antenna is damaged. That's why we can't fully operate the radio station yet," said Valery Tereshchenko.
The radio station has partly stopped the broadcasting for now. They broadcast to Nikopol and the Nikopol district, as well as to a part of Zaporizhzhia oblast, namely to Enerhodar. Also, according to the CEO, the police and rescuers have performed an examination and taken the appropriate measures.
At the same time, Valery Tereshchenko cannot say whether the Russian military targeted the building of the radio station deliberately.
"I have no information as to whether they were aiming for the radio station specifically or not. But there are no objects near us that could be attacked, no military warehouses, anything like that. Maybe it was just flying somewhere else and didn't make it. If you systematically speak and provide information about the work of state services, about the events taking place in the city, maybe someone on that side dislikes it. We are six kilometers away from the spot where the shots were fired from, at point-blank range, especially since we are located on a hill," he said.
We remind you that shelling of Nikopol and Nikopol district takes place almost every day. On the morning of March 9, the head of the Dnipropetrovsk OMA, Serhiy Lysak, reported on Telegram that the Russians had fired almost 40 shells on the Nikopol district overnight – on the Chervonogrygorivka community and Nikopol city.
23.03.2023 On March 23, the Russian military shelled Beryslav city, Kherson oblast. The shells damaged an administrative building, a residential building, a museum and the office of the "Mayak" newspaper, "Most" reports.
According to the newspaper's editor, Dmytro Tertychny, the projectile destroyed the roof of the building. According to him, without an immediate intervention, the building will soon become unusable.
With the beginning of a full-scale war, the newspaper stopped working indefinitely.
"We could not work while under occupation. My family and I left because it was extremely difficult to stay in the city. I know that the Russian military were looking for me, they wanted me to work for them. They took my son to a basement and beat him up there," he said.
"Mayak" is a local Ukrainian weekly which has been in print 1932.
The newspaper covers a wide range of topics, focusing on the events in the Beryslav district. In the late 2010s and early 2020s, the newspaper was honored with various awards.
Cyber attacks – 2
02.03.2023 Russian hackers attempted a cyber attack on the air of the FM Halychyna radio station. The Security Service of Ukraine had warned the editors about the cyberattack in advance. The media reported this on Facebook on March 2.
The day before, on March 1, calls for a hacker attack on the radio station were circulating on Russian Telegram channels.
Volodymyr Kushniruk, FM Halychyna technical director, said that their specialists had responded to the enemy's actions in time and managed to eliminate the threat.
"Obviously, they decided to hack our data transmissions or even speak on our behalf on the air. The technical department of the radio station took additional security measures to prevent such a situation," Kushniruk said.
The radio station believes that hackers will try to hijack the broadcast again in the future and assures that they will do everything in their power to prevent this from happening.
"Since its conception, the radio station has never played a single Russian song, and the announcers and presenters have never voiced pro-Russian narratives. [...] We will continue to cover the events of the Russian-Ukrainian war truthfully and call the Russians our enemies, even if we are a bone in their throat. We think that this cyber attack is only the beginning, the invaders will not stop in their attempts to do damage to FM Halychyna. We have stepped up our vigilance and will make sure to repel the enemy's cyber attacks in time. The radio station's website will resume its work shortly," said program director Yula Bielska.
Yula Bielska reported on "Espreso" TV channel that the only thing the hackers managed to do was to temporarily stop the radio station's website from working. But now the website is already up again.
Radio FM Halychyna is the largest regional radio network covering 14 frequencies within Ukraine: Lviv 89.7 FM, Ternopil 102.3 FM, Lutsk 89.8 FM, Rivne 89.5 FM, Boryslav 102.9 FM, Brody 107.5 FM, Novy Rozdil 107.6 FM, Radehiv 103.6 FM, Slavske 102.6 FM, Stary Sambir 102.7 FM, Stryi 107.9 FM, Turka 105.9 FM, Chervonograd 103.0 FM, Shatsk 106.7 FM
As IMI reported, Ukraïner, an educational project about the Ukrainian society and culture, has been hacked: cyber criminals took over the project's Facebook pages. Ukraïner noted that for the time being, they will be posting content on Instagram, Telegram, Twitter and Viber. The project's founder, Bohdan Logvynenko, tweeted that hackers had gained access to the publication's pages by hacking the Meta Business Manager.
15.03.2023 The editors of RBC Ukraine filed a statement with the cyberpolice over website forgery and a fake article criticizing the UAF Commander-in-Chief, Valery Zaluzhny. RBC Ukraine journalist Dmytro Braslavsky reproted this to the IMI.
The perpetrators signed the article criticizing Zaluzhny as Dmytro Braslavsky, which he reported on Facebook.
The journalist said that neither the editors nor he has any relation to the website or the article. Braslavsky believes that this is how the Russians are waging their info war.
"They created a fake RBC Ukraine page, threw together some miserable article about Zaluzhny and signed it with my name. This, of course, is intended for people who will not be attentive enough and will think that what the article says is completely true. But no, it's a goddamn fake, which neither I nor RBC Ukraine have anything to do with," the journalist wrote.
In a comment to IMI, Dmytro said that he had already contacted the cyberpolice regarding this incident. He explained that the domain of RBC Ukraine is rbc.ua, and that of the fake resource is rbk.media.
"This is a copy of the website. As the editorial team has explained, this is not the first such occurrence. I personally forwarded the link to this propaganda to the editors, and then it was passed on to the cyberpolice. You can see the difference between the official RBC Ukraine website and this fake one by the domain. As I understand it, Russian propagandists (and maybe even Prigozhin's bot factory) do similar things all the time," the journalist noted.
As IMI reported, in September, unknown persons created a copy of the Ternopil online resource "Poglyad" and of its Facebook page. And in Snigurivka town (Mykolaiv oblast), which had been under Russian occupation since March to November, the invaders were distributing a clone of the locally known newspaper "Ridne Prybuzhzhia". The Russians used the layout, typeface, and name of the regional newspaper, having translated it into Russian – "Rodnoe Pribuzhye".
Crimea – 1
15.03.2023 Russian security forces searched the house of activist, blogger and citizen journalist Rolan Osmanov in Urozhayne village (Simferopol district) in the occupied Crimea, took him to the FSB office in Simferopol afterwards.
This was reported by the public initiative "Crimean Solidarity".
According to the initiative, the search was carried out by FSB officers following a report of a railway sabotage in the Bağçasaray district on February 23, 2023.
His wife Zemine said that while "searching" their home, officers of the Russian FSB threw some furniture over, and Rolan himself was immediately knocked down to the ground and handcuffed.
According to her, she immediately took the children to the bedroom so that they wouldn't see the "search" and get scared, and Rolan, in turn, asked the security officers to show their documents. Only one of them did so.
"The search began very rudely. They started turning everything over, very aggressively. I said, why are you turning things over like that. He said, 'You should have behaved normally.' They started turning over the wardrobes, the old chest of my mother-in-law. They turned over old chairs. Then they moved to the nursery. There they didn't poke around much – just opened the wardrobes, looked over the children's things, and left. They searched everything in the bedroom, lifting the mattress, the boards. They found some money, I took it," said Zemine Osmanova.
She noted that during the search, her mother-in-law became ill and fainted. The security officers advised them to call an ambulance on their own.
Later, Osmanov was released after spending some time in custody.
Earlier, in 2019, Rolan Osmanov has already been a subject of "operational search measures." The law enforcers said at the time that they were looking for drugs, but found nothing and left his house.
Rolan Osmanov is a participant in pickets near the Khan's Palace, protesting against its demolishing under the guise of restoration. The activist regularly attends court hearings regarding politically motivated cases in Crimea.
As IMI reported, on July 13 in the occupied Crimea, the russian security forces detained Crimean Tatar blogger and public activist Rolan Osmanov near the building of the "Supreme Court," where the trial in the case of Nariman Celal was taking place. He was sententced to three days of administrative arrest for allegedly "failing to comply with the legal demands of police officers." In September 2022, he Russia-controlled Kyiv District Court of Simferopol fined Crimean Tatar blogger Rolan Osmanov who had shared a Facebook post condemning the murder of civilians and children in Ukraine. The court found him guilty of committing an administrative offense and fined him 40,000 rubles. Osmanov intends to contest the ruling. The blogger was charged under Article 20.3.3 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation ("Public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation").
THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH SITUATION IN UKRAINE FOR WHICH UKRAINIAN CITIZENS ARE RESPONSIBLE
Threats – 2
09.03.2023 Blogger who runs local Telegram channel "Pervomaysk City" (Mykolaiv oblast), Dmytro Ivanytsky, said that Pervomaysk Mayor, Oleh Demchenko, threatened to maim him.
This is stated in the video address posted by Dmytro Ivanytsky on March 5 on the "Pervomaysk City" Facebook page.
"My name is Dmytro Ivanytsky, I am the administrator of the Pervomaysk City channel." In view of the recent events around the mayor getting a salary raise, the Pervomaysk City Council chief accountant embezzling funds, I have received personal threats about physical violence from Mayor Oleh Demchenko. These threats occurred repeatedly. The last time I managed to record the conversation... Your allegations about me breaking something or whatnot are baseless. I am ready for any inspections. This recording has been passed on to other people, I am concerned for my own safety. Therefore, if anything happens to me or the channel, people should know why that is," said Dmytro Ivanytsky.
On March 6, the Telegram channel "Multilichnosti" posted an audio recording of a conversation between two people whose voices are similar to those of Dmytro Ivanytsky and Oleh Demchenko.
"Listen to me, you fag, you little Jewish scum, I'm telling you, if this article doesn't go now, I'll f***ing tear you apart, b****... Do you hear me, fag? You f***ing bastard, you're the only one who had the password... I'll f*** your every hole, then you'll know... I'm telling you this for the last time, fag, I'll rip you apart like a dog rips a jacket," said a person whose voice is similar to Oleh Demchenko's.
Later on the same day, a post appeared on Oleh Demchenko's personal Facebook page, wherein Pervomaisk Mayor effectively confirmed that he had threatened Dmytro Ivanytsky, a former employee of the Pervomaisk City Council's press office, in the audio recording.
"This person, thanks to his former position, had access to all data, including my personal data. He was the one creating social media pages and he had all the access codes to them. Thus, even after his dismissal, he has repeatedly abused his position and 'rummaged around' these pages to obtain information to which he should no longer have access. I have talked to him about this several times, but he kept ignoring my requests to relinquish access to both my personal page and that of the executive committee, to which he had full access," Demchenko wrote.
According to the Mayor, the last conversation, an excerpt from which was posted by Dmytro Ivanytsky, who "used it for personal PR and to smear my reputation, was my 'outcry from the heart.'"
"I'm sorry, but really, we're all human and I think if anyone were in my place, they would also snap at the person who had been repeatedly asked to give up access to all the social media pages he should no longer have anything to do with, but he decided to have a different opinion," Oleh Demchenko wrote.
He went on to say that the threats were "taken out of the context" of their full phone conversation, but they in no way related to Ivanetsky's journalistic work: "These threats were taken out of the context our full phone conversation, where I repeatedly insisted on his giving away all the data to my personal page, to which he still had full access, but these threats were in no way related to the issues that he mentions in his video address, namely, the embezzlement of funds by the chief accountant of the City Council's culture department."
He noted that the internal inspection and investigation of this matter has been initiated by him personally, as soon as the chief accountant of a City Council department was exposed for illegally appropriating budget money.
Oleh Demchenko also stressed that he had no intentions to commit any illegal actions. "Everything said by me was emotional talk, and I also want to apologize to the community for using obscene language. All this dirt is intended for other political forces to distabilize my personal political standing as the Mayor," the Mayor wrote.
In his comment to an IMI representative, Dmytro Ivanytsky said that he used to work at the Pervomaysk City Council executive committee as the head of the press office. His duties included, among other things, running the official page of the city's executive committee and Oleh Demchenko's personal Facebook page. According to him, he resigned from his position about six months ago due to the tensions in the team.
According to the "Pervomaisk City" admin, he never had the password to the Mayor's page, and he used to make all the posts on Demchenko's Facebook in the Mayor's presence from his personal phone.
"When I worked as the head of the press office, I had to post addresses or other publications on his page. He used to give me his phone to just post them because he had a hard time with it. I didn't have any passwords," said Dmytro Ivanytsky.
Regarding access to the page of the Executive Committee of the Pervomaysk City Council, Dmytro Ivanytsky says that after being dismissed, he lost the admin rights to that Facebook page.
He also said that the conflict flared up after his media outlet's reports regarding the Mayor's salary raise. As a blogger, he has also been making posts on "Pervomaysk City" social media pages, and he does not understand why exactly Oleh Demchenko called to threaten him following these reports.
"There is a political war going on here in Pervomaysk. In February, there was an uproar over the salaries, the politicians opposed to the city's government were the first to speak up, and the local media were writing about it. As a blogger, I simply shared the information that others had already reported before me. But for some reason, my publications were perceived as a commissioned campaign. I don't understand why he called me, I'm curious myself. Maybe his surroundings set him up that way. When I worked at the Mayor's office, in the eyes of Demchenko, I was always guilty for all the bad Facebook comments about the Mayor. Apparently, he thinks that I run the entire Internet," says Dmytro Ivanytsky.
He said that he had spoken with the law enforcers about this incident, but decided against filing a statement about the threats he received.
"I talked to them, I realized that it will not go anywhere far, that is true, it will more likely be a burden for me than yield any result. My goal was to record this drivel, because it was not the first time. He (Oleh Demchenko – Ed.) just wanted to scare me into not writing about him anymore. This is his communication style, it's par for the course for him," said Dmytro Ivanytsky.
He reported that after he posted an address about the threats on Facebook, he no longer received any calls from the Mayor.
In the comment to an IMI representative, Tetyana Martynenko, head of the press office of the Pervomaysk City Council executive committee, said that she was not aware of any conversations about threats to journalists.
"I don't know about the Mayor threatening journalists. I do not know about any informational material about him threatening, I do not know. And if I knew anything, you understand, it is tactless, since your journalists do not follow the ethics... I cannot talk about these things. And I know that this is a provocation, I will now report to the head about the provocations that you are pushing me into. I'm recording everything, I'm not alone in the office... I don't know who you are, don't call again. All requests must be in writing. I do not know any information about the Mayor threateing journalists. I know that journalists give unreliable information, and we document everything about it," said Tetyana Martynenko.
29.03.2023 Anastasia Matsko, a journalist at the online publication "Poltava Wave", says that district council deputy, Serhiy Boyko, and the head of the welfare inspection, Maksym Malko, threatened her during the March 29 City Council session.
The media worker reported this to an IMI representative.
She said that both officials approached her during the session. Boyko started threatening physical violence upon her, using obscene language.
"As soon as the session started, Serhiy Boyko, Deputy Chairman of the Podilsky District Council, approached me and sat down next to me. Maksym Malko, head of the PCC Welfare Inspection, sat down by my other side. Boyko started threatening physical violence upon me. Like 'girl, you've been too talkative,'" said Anastasia Matsko to the IMI representative.
According to her, Malko joined in on the threats, rudely telling her to keep quiet.
The journalist asked the officials to explain their behavior, but she did not understand the accusations. Matsko added that Boyko only mentioned some videos allegedly made by her. From this, the journalist concluded that the threats have to do with her journalistic work specifically.
"He promised that he would 'explain in detail' what accusations he had against me without witnesses. Maksym Malko sided with him. They told me nothing further. And all this was happening at the City Council. The current deputy chair of the district council and the welfare director allow themselves such statements. The threats, as was clear, have to do with my job: they did not like some of the videos made by me. Or at least they thought they were made by me," Anastasia said.
The journalist also added that the threats continued after the session, in the City Council hall, with deputies and journalists present.
The journalist filed a statement to the police afterwards. "It was classified as obstruction of journalistic activity and death threats. I am waiting for a call. It is difficult to comment anything, because I am reluctant to believe that officials and communal institution directors who actually take part in running the city can freely threaten physical violence upon a journalist, in the City Council building, in the presence of deputies, the press, and the public. This is not an isolated case, but a tried-and-true communication model. I hope the police will react appropriately," said Matsko.
In his comment to the IMI representative, Serhiy Boyko denied that he had threatened the journalist.
"Everything was not as they say. These are political maneuvers by Ivashchenko and Brazhnyk (Poltava City Council deputies who approached Boyko after the session to talk to him and defend Matsko. – Ed.), they blew this clownery up into a scandal, I don't know why. There is no video of the threats, no evidence. No one was threatening them. This is all far-fetched and overblown," Boyko said.
The deputy also denied saying "girl, you've been too talkative," as per Anastasia Matsko. "Look at me and at that girl, if I said that to Ivashchenko or Brazhnyk, that would be believable. But to such a small, fragile girl... whatever she may have done to me, I couldn't possibly say such a thing to her. I respect all women. I did not threaten Anastasia Matsko," Boyko said.
The deputy added that he was ready to come to the police, if he is summoned, and give an explanation regarding the incident.
Maksym Malko also denied the threats. "We were standing in the City Council hall; Mr. Ivashchenko, Mr. Brazhnyk, this girl, I don't know who she is, were coming out, there were also some journalists. Then, they approached Mr. Boyko, started arguing, shouting. That's all. Why threaten her, what for, these are all fantasies. There were 100% no threats to her," Maksym Malko told the IMI representative.
At the same time, Yehor Rud, a "Poltavska Khvylia" journalist, witnessed the incident. He hopes that the police will take appropriate measures regarding the situation.
"I was standing a meter away from Nastya. At first I didn't understand what was happening, because I was watching the session as it all unfolded. And then I just couldn't believe that I was hearing threats. Boyko and Malko sat down to talk things out in their typical manner. This is not the first time that a journalist was attacked. But it's the first time I've seen it done so brazenly. I hope the police will take measures, Yehor Rud told the IMI.
Obstructing the legal work of journalists – 6
29.03.2023 The Pryamy filming crew faced obstruction, with its members being showed around and threatened, while working at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra on March 29 by people who called themselves the UOC MP parishioners. The channel's correspondent Andriy Solomka informed IMI about this.
According to him, he and the cameraman arrived to the Lavra in the morning: by that time, the UOC MP mass was already underway, with several hundred believers assembled.
"As soon as we entered the Lavra premises, we immediately went live from there. And it was at that moment that the UOC MP supporters noticed us. In a matter of minutes, a large crowd gathered around us, we tried to talk to the believers live, but a constructive dialogue was impossible," said Andriy Solomka.
According to him, what happened next can be described in a few phrases: "distortion of information, provocations, manipulation, and outright aggression."
The correspondent is sure that the people who surrounded the filming crew wanted to trigger emotion in him and his colleagues, so that the conversation would shift from religion to any other topic.
"At first, the aggression was only verbal, but later some believers started acting more radically, shoving us around and continuing to explicitly threaten us. Just as someone pushed me two or three times while I was recording a comment by one of their priests, I remarked: 'You shouldn't do that,'" the correspondent said.
Andriy Solomka added that there was only one such incident. He pointed out that during there were no law enforcers at the Lavra during the jostling – all of them were standing at the entrances.
"It would be good if at least the dialogue police were inside. However, as I already said, the jostling turned out to be minor, the operator and I did not receive any injuries, the equipment is also intact," Solomka added.
After the incident, the journalist said, the TV channel has filed statements to the police and provided them with all the relevant material that confirms obstruction of journalistic work: both videos by the "Pryamy" and videos by their colleagues from other media outlets.
29.03.2023 While working on the premises of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the Channel 5 filming crew faced obstruction by people calling themselves parishioners three times. This was reported to IMI by the channel's correspondent Vitaliy Zalevsky.
"One of such cases was when a crowd of believers surrounded an activist. Then I tried to get to the 'eye' of the scandal. They tried to push me out, and when I passed by, some man hit me on the legs," Zalevsky said.
The second incident, he said, happened when an unknown man tried to knock the phone out of his hands. "This excerpt is in the livestream (the camera's battery died, I was streaming from my phone)," Vitaliy Zalevsky clarified.
The third time, the filming crew was obstructed as it was filming police officers monitoring what was being taken out of the reserve. Then unknown men stood close to the camera's lens.
"There were also cases when someone would cover the lens with an umbrella during an interview. One of such vivid pictures was: I was interviewing an OCU parishioner who demanded the eviction of the UOC MP representatives. Then the believers surrounded us and started singing prayers loudly," he added.
When asked if he had contacted the police, Vitaliy Zalevsky replied: "Honestly, when you are in a whirlwind like this, you don't think about the police, you just keep recording all the moments."
30.03.2023 On March 30, Metropolitan of the UOC MP Pavlo Lebid tried to knock the microphone out of the hand of "Espreso" correspondent Valeria Pashko while speaking to journalists at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. This was reported on the channel's website.
Lebid pushed the correspondent away and tried to knock the microphone out of her hand. "I didn't invite you! I don't want to talk. This is not a state institution and I'm not a state official. I'm telling you once again, get out of here," he said.
In her comment to IMI, Valeria Pashko said that she wanted to ask Lebid why he was on the territory of the Lavra, since the UOC representatives had been supposed to leave the premises by March 29.
"In the end, we walked away from the crowd of parishioners around Pavlo, so as to avoid any further provocations. We never managed to get a comment from him. Later, he started being rude, saying: 'You look nothing like a human,' and cursed at us," the correspondent said.
She added that either Lebid's bodyguards or his parishioners pushed her away from him. During the incident, Pashko told them that they were hindering her journalistic work. The journalist said that she would file a police statement about the attack.
As reported by IMI, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy inspected the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra (men's monastery) of the UOC MP and the territory of the Lavra and discovered multiple violations on the part of the monastery.
The UOC MP was supposed to leave the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra by March 29.
30.03.2023 On March 30, at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, a UOC MP priest shoved Suspilne correspondent Daria Nematian Zolbin as she tried to ask Metropolitan Pavlo a question, and broke the camera mount of cameraman Viktor Mozgovy, reports Suspilne.
The journalist wanted to ask Metropolitan Pavlo about the work of the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy Commission on the handover of the Lavra premises to the state.
In response, the Metropolitan said that he "has not met the Commission" and offered the journalist to make a confession. After that, one of the priests shoved the journalist in the shoulder, interrupted the cameraman's filming and broke the mic mount on his camera.
Suspilne said that they would contact the police regarding obstruction of journalistic work.
30.03.2023 "Telegraf" photoreporter Yan Dobronosov had his phone charger cable damaged during the jostling involving UOC MP Metropolitan Pavlo Lebid at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra on March 30. He reported this to the IMI.
He noted that it was not accidental: a person in a cassock deliberately pulled on it and broke it.
"I didn't contact the police, it's nothing. But I do not regret journalists having their own stance that in this conflict – against Moscow," said the photojournalist.
Dobronosov explained that he does not plan to contact the police because he does not have the time, but said he believed that the police was recording such incidents.
30.03.2023 In Chernihiv, the filming crew of the local TV channel "Dytynets" got their camera broken on March 30 while filming at a downtown cafe, Suspilne reports.
According to reporter Natalia Medvedeva, this was done by Chernihiv businessman and former City Council deputy candidate from the Servant of the People party, Serhiy Berestovy.
According to her, journalists were trying to get a comment from Yuriy Tarasovets, a City Council member from Servant of the People, with regards to his absence at the session.
"We accidentally learned that Yuriy Tarasovets, is spending time at this establishment instead of being at the session. We came here to ask him why he was not at the session," Medvedeva said.
Serhiy Berestovy was in the cafe with Tarasovets.
"When we walked in with the camera, Yuriy started running away from us, and his companion or friend, I don't know, who was sitting next to him, started hitting our camera and broke it. He looked very much like Serhiy Berestovy," Medvedeva said.
With her phone, the journalist managed to record the man threatening to break their camera: "I'm asking, why are you filming me? You want me to break your camera? Throw away your camera! I'm a private individual, why are you filming me? Why are you filming me?"
Serhiy Berestovy refused to comment on the situation to Suspilne by phone, and offered to meet the next day.
Yuriy Tarasovets, who was also at the cafe at that time, got into his car and drove away without commenting on the matter.
The publication reminds that the regular Chernihiv City Council session was scheduled for March 30 and had not started by 4:00 p.m. Acting mayor Oleksandr Lomako said that before the session, four deputies had been summoned to the SBU for questioning, two deputies had been summoned to the conscription office, and Iryna Dolzhykova was taken off the train by law enforcers.
Following the attack on the filming crew, the Chernihiv police opened a criminal case for obstructing the professional work of journalists.
According to the police, the filming crew of the Chernihiv TV channel contacted the police around 1:00 p.m. The journalists said that while they were filming at a downtown cafe, one of the customers damaged their video camera. The police interviewed the participants and witnesses of the incident.
Based on this, the police opened a case under Part 1 of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("Obstructing the legal professional work of journalists"). Its sanction includes a fine, arrest for up to six months, or restriction of freedom for up to three years.
Censorship. Information access
Information access – 3
15.03.2023 The Volyn Oblast Administration refused to provide Center for Journalistic Investigations "Syla Pravdy" with the number of people who were issued permits to travel abroad.
Yuriy Horbach, director of the Center for Journalistic Investigations "Syla Pravdy", spoke to the IMI representative in Volyn oblast about this.
According to him, he sent two requests to the Oblast Administration on this topic.
"The first request, sent in early February, was simply declined, and that was it. Then I talked to the department staff to find out if the request needs to be adjusted in any way to get an effective response. After that, I sent a second request, taking into account what the OA employees told me. And I received an answer to some questions and a refusal to answer the others. At the moment, we have sent a complaint to the Human Rights Commissioner at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, we will wait for a response, and then we will see how to proceed," said Yuriy Horbach.
In the first request he sent, Horbach requested scanned copies of applications by enterprises, institutions, and organizations for drivers carrying humanitarian aid or performing other important functions for the state to leave Ukraine, filed between 24.02.2022 and 31.01.2023. The journalist also asked for scanned copies of decisions on permitting drivers carrying humanitarian aid or performing other important functions for the state to leave Ukraine, made between 24.02.2022 and 31.01.2023.
"Syla Pravdy" has requested that the copies of the warrants be issued without the confidential or classified information that may be featured in them in order to independently calculate the statistics.
However, the Volyn Oblast Administration refused to provide such documents.
"Regarding the provision of scanned copies of orders, the request is not subject to satisfaction for the following reasons. The requested documents contain personal data. In accordance with the requirements of the Laws of Ukraine "On Protection of Personal Data" and "On Information", the disclosure of such information is possible only with the consent of the subject of personal data," replied the Volyn Oblast Administration.
Journalists only managed to find out that after a year of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Volyn Oblast Administration issued 209 permits granting drivers the right to travel outside Ukraine.
Due to the introduction of martial law in Ukraine, starting February 24, men eligible for conscription were restricted from traveling abroad. Certain categories of citizens are allowed to leave, including those who have been "booked" by enterprises, certain organizations and educational institutions. Also, drivers of logistics companies who have licenses for international cargo transportation, passenger transportation, and volunteer drivers of charity organizations can receive permission to cross the border. According to "Syla Pravdy", information about such drivers must be entered into the Ukrtranssecurity's data system "Shlyakh".
"Syla Pravdy" journalist Yuriy Horbach noted that the requested information is of significant public interest, because in Volyn, the cases of illegal border-crossing by potetial conscripts, in particular with the use of the "Shlyakh" system, have been more frequent lately, which he had previously wrote about. Some men, contrary to the stated purpose of their travel and to the state's requirements, do not return.
Roman Holovenko, a lawyer at the Institute of Mass Information, noted that the names of those who left are, of course, confidential information, unless the person in question is a public figure (in which case the public interest in revealing the name and protecting the person's privacy must be equally balanced).
"If it is simply about the number of people who left, then all it would take is to count the number in each of the permits, add up the total amount and pass it to the requester. This is not creation of new information and falls under the legislation on access to public information. The OA's answer seems manipulative," the lawyer noted.
Roman Holovenko noted that copies of the permits should be provided to the editors with the classified information removed from them (which is now Part 8 of Article 6 of the Law on Access).
16.03.2023 On March 16, the Mykolaiv Oblast Council held a meeting adopting a decision regarding the Council's leadership. No mass media representatives were invited to the meeting, which took place offline for the first time since the start of the full-scale war; there was no livestream, either. The press office said this had been due to the fact that the Council could not guarantee the media workers' safety in the event of an air raid alert.
This was reported by the IMI representative in Mykolaiv oblast.
"Today, the Mykolaiv Oblast Council held a meeting. For the first time in a year, deputies gathered in one hall to elect a new leadership for the Council. The Oblast Council voted to appoint 'Servant of the People' deputy Anton Tabunshchyk first deputy of the Council, its new chair, effectively, since the current chairwoman Hanna Zamazeyeva will now be working work in the state agency for energy efficiency. The meeting was held behind closed dooes. Neither the public nor the media could attend it: the venue was kept secret, the meeting was not livestreamed," Kateryna Sereda said.
The IMI representative wrote to the press service of the Mykolaiv Oblast Council; in their response, the Council said that they could not guarantee the safety of the media representatives during the meeting in the event of an air raid. However, they noted that they would publish a recording of the session, but had been unable to livestream it due to a lack of technical capabilities.
"We will publish the recording of the session. I will send you all the links as soon as we upload them to the official channel. Unfortunately, we are currently unable to guarantee the safety of media representatives during meetings in the event of an air raid alert. And we don't have the technical capabilities to livestream the session," said Oblast Council press secretary Hanna Chepova.
23.03.2023 The Lutsk National Technical University refused to disclose information on the full 2022 salaries of the rector's staff.
The Journalistic Investigations Center "Syla Pravdy" received such a response after requesting copies of the payslips of the university's management.
"Syla Pravdy" reminded that the day before it had written about the incomes of the rectors of Volyn's largest universities, where it cited the salary information provided to the editors by Volyn's Lesya Ukrainka National University and the Lutsk National Technical University. Subsequently, the media outlet learned that the difference between the salaries of the rectors' staff in the two universities may indicate that one of them only provided data on bonuses for performing administrative functions, without taking into account the payment for teaching.
"Syla Pravdy" wrote to the National Technical University for clarification, asking for copies of payslips of the rector's staff. However, on March 14, the publication's request was declined.
"In view of Article 6 Part 6 of the Law of Ukraine 'On Access to Public Information', processing data about a natural person, which is confidential information, without their consent is not allowed, except in cases specified by the law, and only in the interests of national security, economic well-being, and human rights," reads the LNTU's response.
However, the publication notes, according with the Law of Ukraine "On Access to Public Information", the administrator should remove the personal and private data on employees from the documents and provide the copies without this information.
"Syla Pravdy" says that they have filed a complaint to the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets.
If the refusal to provide information is recognized as illegal, the employees responsible for it will be fined a sum ranging from 425 to 850 hryvnias and will be required to make the documents public.
Previously, the Volyn Oblast Administration refused to provide Center for Journalistic Investigations "Syla Pravdy" with the number of people who were issued permits to travel abroad.
Other cases of restriction of acces to information – 1
09.03.2023 On March 9, two local councils in Mykolaiv held online meetings: the City Council and the Oblast Council. While the Mykolaiv City Council, whose meetings are held as conference calls, livestreams them on YouTube, the Oblast Council's meeting was effectively held in secret. This was reported by the IMI representative in Mykolaiv oblast.
The decree on convening the session starting March 6 had appeared on the official website of the Mykolaiv Oblast Council the day before. It says that the fifteenth unscheduled session of the Oblast Council will be held on March 9 at 11:00 a.m. remotely, in the conference call format.
21 issues were to be considered at the session. In particular, early termination of deputies' mandates, amendments to comprehensive programs, approving the jury lists of two district courts, approving the regional budget use report for 2022, hearing reports on the results of the Prosecutor's Office's work in 2022 by the Mykolaiv Oblast Prosecutor General.
The head of the Oblast Council, Hanna Zamazeyeva, announced the adopted decisions on Facebook. She noted that during the meeting, the deputies adopted several decisions, namely, amending to the "Turbota" program, approving the regional budget use report for 2022, supporting the creation of a Mykolaiv Oblast Development Agency, hearing reports on the results of the Prosecutor's Office's work in 2022 by the Mykolaiv Oblast Prosecutor General.
Clause 3 of Article 70 of the Regulations of the Mykolaiv Oblast Council specifies that the executive apparatus of the Oblast Council must inform the public about the procedure for accessing the livestream of the Oblast Council's remote meeting no later than 24 hours before the remote meeting.
Roman Holovenko, a lawyer at the Institute of Mass Information, noted that in legal terms, the regulation of the openness of remote meetings of local councils is not very clearly outlined, but if we base our conclusions ob the Regulations of the Mykolaiv Oblast Council (Clause 3 of Article 70), then the public should really have access to the livestream.
Cyber crimes – 2
08.03.2023 Unknown persons tried to hack into the e-mail of investigative journalist agency Chetverta Vlada. The publication believes this has to do with their work.
The publication reported the attempted hacker attack on Facebook and posted a notification from the Google security. The notification says that "government-backed criminals attempted to steal your password."
"As cyber security experts told us, one of the 'hackers for a salary' tried to hack the editorial email. Apparently, someone is having income problems due to their shady procurement practices. We can even guess who," says Chetverta Vlada in their post.
Chetverta Vlada deputy editor-in-chief, Antonina Torbich, told IMI that break into the email was impossible. According to her, the inbox was protected by two factor security.
"It was not possible to break it. At the same time, when we saw this notification, we consulted with digital security specialists and once again took a number of steps to strengthen the protection of editorial emails," said Antonina.
She added that the editors unequivocally believe that this hacking attempt has to do with their journalistic work.
"We write a lot about high-ranking officials of various levels abusing their power. Last month, such reports covered: potential violations committed by the Rivne Council administration in the procurement of macaroni, potential violations by the Zdolbuniv City Council in the purchase of generators, violations by the regional Center for Social Services in the procurement of candy, and the Rivne Council and the prosecutor's office withholding information about the housing issued to prosecutors by the state and agreements with a developer," she noted.
13.03.2023 Olena Mudra, an investigative journalist from Zakarpattia, reported doxxing and pressure related to her professional work. She has already filed a complaint with the police. She informed IMI about this.
According to Olena, the pressure began following her article about staff changes at the State Environmental Inspection in Zakarpattia oblast, which was published in Zakarpattia Online on March 6 under the headline "Former head of the Economy Protection Office and heir to an illegal construction project in Bukovel, Mykhailo Bank, is now head of SEI Zakarpattia."
Before the release of the article, the had journalist sent requests to the Zakarpattia SEI, asking the newly appointed head of the state eco-inspection to comment on the legal proceedings regarding his involvement in the acquisition of property and arbitrary construction on land illegally removed from communal and state ownership near the Bukovel resort. She also asked for the staff list of the state body's employees, which recently underwent significant personnel changes.
According to Olena Mudra, on March 9, after the article was published, an unknown Facebook user began posting discrediting content about her in the communities "Uzhhorod" and "Vynohradiv". The journalist says that the posts featured a distorted description of her professional work and details of her family life – namely the lives of her parents – which cannot be obtained from open sources.
Fearing for her life and health, Olena filed a complaint with the police for harassment intended to influence her and prevent her from performing her legal professional activities. On March 10, the inquiry sector of the Uzhhorod District Police Department of the National Police in Zakarpattia oblast submitted the report to the URPTI, classified under Article 171 Part 2 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Article 171. Obstructing the legal professional activity of journalists).
Later, Olena Mudra added that the Facebook posts had been deleted. However, she provided IMI with screenshots of the posted text.
The journalist noted that she wanted to make the situation public, as her personal data and that of her parents had been collected by professionals to be shared with third parties. The latter exploited and distributed them to smear her reputation and intimidate her. "I want to draw people's attention to the problem that arises when those involved in investigations cross the reasonable line in their efforts to make a journalist shut up, give up their job or make them loyal. During the last year, to a lesser extent, and while meeting with the protagonists of my reports after their publication (to take a comment or upon their initiative), I have already experienced, let's say, 'softer' forms of pressure. However, after this incident, I am starting to worry that the next time might come to threats or violence," said Olena Mudra.
Defending freedom of speech
The authorities' response to freedom of speech violations – 3
28.03.2023 The Prosecutor's Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea have submitted a court indictment against two Russian FSB officers who persecuted Ukrainian journalist Hanna Andrievska in occupied Crimea. The Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol reported this on Facebook.
According to the Prosecutor's Office, the accused persons, who used to work at the Main Office of the Security Service of Ukraine in the AR of Crimea, broak their oath and sided with the enemy after the peninsula was temporarily occupied in February 2014. They were appointed senior forensic investigator and 1st rank specialist (expert) at the "FSB of Russia in the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol" branches formed by the occupation authorities.
According to the investigation, the defendants persecuted the journalist due to her professional work, namely, the publishing articles objectively covering the events on the peninsula after its occupation. They fabricated a "criminal case" and in March 2015 illegally broke into the apartment where the victim lived with her parents (Krasnogvardiysky district of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea).
"Against the home owners' will, threatening violence in case of resistance or non-compliance, they unlawfully searched the apartment, demanding to see items and documents which the victim did not possess. They also seized items and documents that were in the journalist's personal possession and could have been related to her professional work," the report says.
As a result of the unlawful actions of the occupying law enforcers, the victim's entry to the territory of the peninsula is restricted.
The actions of the accused are classified as persecution of a journalist for performing their professional duties, carried out by a group of persons upon prior conspiracy (Part 2 of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine), illegal entry into a home, illegal search with threats of violence (Part 2 of Article 28; Part 2 of Article 162 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine) and treason (Part 1 of Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). The sanction of the most severe article provides for up to fifteen years in prison.
As the IMI reported, on March 13, 2015, officers of the Russian FSB searched the apartment of Crimean journalist Hanna Andrievska's parents as part of a criminal case initiated following her report about the Crimea Battalion volunteers, published on the website of the Ukrainian news agency "Center for Journalistic Investigations".
The Russian FSB opened a criminal case against Hanna Andrievska under Article 280.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (public calls for violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation).
The journalist said that the report had been published back in December 2014. The article is about the volunteers of the Crimea Battalion, what kind of organization it is and how they work. Andrievska stated that the report did not contain any calls for the peninsula's secession.
In 2019, the Solomyansky District Court of Kyiv obliged Russia to pay over 1 million hryvnias in redress to journalist Hanna Andrievska, who was forced to leave occupied Crimea and had been persecuted by the FSB.
29.03.2023 The Poltava police opened a case over threats to a journalist from the online publication "Poltavska Khvylia", Anastasia Matsko.
This was reported by the Poltava police press office.
They noted that the journalist contacted the law enforcers herself. According to her, two men verbally threatened her in the session hall of the Poltava City Council in order to prevent her from fulfilling her professional duties.
The police opened the case under the article "obstructing the legal professional work of journalists, influencing a journalist in any form with the aim of preventing them from fulfilling their professional duties, or persecuting a journalist due to their legal professional work."
We remind you that Anastasia Matsko, a journalist at the online publication "Poltava Wave", has said that district council deputy, Serhiy Boyko, and the head of the welfare inspection, Maksym Malko, threatened her during the March 29 City Council session.
30.03.2023 The Kyiv police has opened a case for obstructing the work of journalists on the territory of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra today, March 30. This was reported on the website of the Main Office of the National Police in Kyiv.
According to the report, the reporters filed a statement with the Pechersk police department regarding the obstruction of the legal professional work of journalists.
"The applicants reported that as they were filming a story, a Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra priest damaged the cameraman's equipment. The video recording of this incident has also been posted by various Telegram channels," the police report.
The district unit's investigators have opened a case under Part 1 of Art. 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("Obstructing the legal professional work of journalists"). The article provides for either a fine of up to 50 tax-free minimum incomes, up to six months of arrest, or restriction of freedom for up to three years. The pre-trial investigation is underway.
As the IMI reported, on March 30, Metropolitan of the UOC MP Pavlo Lebid tried to knock the microphone out of the hand of "Espreso" correspondent Valeria Pashko while speaking to journalists at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.
Also, a UOC MP priest shoved Suspilne correspondent Daria Nematian Zolbin as she tried to ask Metropolitan Pavlo a question, and broke the camera mount of cameraman Viktor Mozgovy.
A person in a cassock damaged the phone charger cable of "Telegraf" photoreporter Yan Dobronosov in the jostling at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, involving UOC MP Metropolitan Pavlo Lebid.
The journalistic community's response – 7
02.03.2023 The Media Movement says the amended UAF Commander-in-Chief's Decree No.73 regarding journalist accreditation rules raises a lot of questions, "Detector Media" reports.
On March 1, the Ministry of Defense announced amendments to the UAF Commander-in-Chief's Decree No.73 "On the organization of cooperation between the Armed Forces of Ukraine, other components of the Defense Forces, and mass media representatives under martial law."
The changes were made in accordance with Decree No. 49 dated February 27, 2023. The report by the Ministry of Defense said that they had taken into account the recommendations by the NUJU and media organizations.
However, the Media Movement representatives informed the DM that despite the UAF, the General Staff, and the President's Office having held two workshops with journalists and specialized NGO's after the scandal around many international and domestic media being stripped of accreditation for working in de-occupied Kherson, most of their suggestions were not taken into account.
The head of the Supervisory Board of the National Public Television Company of Ukraine, "Detector Media" deputy editor-in-chief Svitlana Ostapa noted that she had attended both meetings. At them, "all the issues that formed the basis of the Media Movement's statement were once again laid out." "Representatives of the authorities and the UAF promised us constructive cooperation to fix all these issues. They even wanted to create a joint task force. But in the end, today we are reading the new accreditation rules, and journalists have many questions again. Media experts believe that these rules will be detrimental to the work of the media. I think that if a disease is not completely cured, it can turn into a chronic one. We must respect each other's work, we must not allow confrontation between journalists and the military. We are all working for Victory," Ostapa said.
The executive director of the Institute of Mass Information, Oksana Romaniuk, believes that even the amended Decree No.73 lacks a key point – a distinction between permission to film and permission to publish.
"I have many questions that I believe should have been discussed before the amendments to this order were published. It is a pity that only one of our proposals was taken into account – the creation of the green, yellow, and red zones, albeit not in the way that we had proposed. I did not see one of the key points which we had discussed with the military: the separation of the permission to film and the permission to publish. A journalist should not be sanctioned for collecting content, but for publishing it in violation of the established procedure. If this issue were fixed, most of the difficulties in the interaction between the media and the military would be resolved," Romaniuk said.
In her opinion, the criteria and mechanisms for the new decree's functioning raise a many questions.
"How will the zones be outlined? Going back to the six-month deadline for issuing accreditations, which is the way it used to be before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, also raises questions. Back then, the front line looked different and there were much fewer journalists. We need a clear deadline for issuing accreditations, because now journalists are waiting a month and a half to get it," said Romaniuk.
The IMI executive directorsays that a task force at the PO is needed to fix the issues of journalists working under martial law – a need for which has been voiced by the media community repeatedly, both in public and in private.
Natalia Humenyuk, the head of the OC "South" press center, refused to comment on the amendments to Decree No. 73.
"Since this is a decree by the Commander-in-Chief, it is better you get an explanation or comment at the appropriate level – from the General Staff or the Strategic Committee of the Armed Forces. Because we just got it and are just starting to implement it. I can't comment on it yet, as I don't know how it will work yet, and not all issues have been agreed upon yet," Humenyuk said.
As IMI reported, on February 27, amendments were made to UAF Commander-in-Chief's Decree No. 73 regarding engagement with the mass media during martial law. According to the amendments, journalists will only receive accreditation for a period of up to six months, and the frontline area will now be divided into three access zones for media workers: green, yellow, and red.
Earlier, representatives of the media community proposed to create a task force at the President's Office to improve the way their engagement with the military is regulated, and submitted their proposals on improving communication between journalists and the military to the UAF General Staff.
06.03.2023 Multiple public organizations and media demand that the authorities open state registers and restore access to public information, according to their statement published on March 6 on the "Chesno" movement's website.
The signatories recall that after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a number of state institutions made some public information classified, namely open data about their work, closed state registers, and stopped reporting on their work.
The alleged primary reason for this was security, although analysis shows that such an justification is not applicable to all information and that that has been classified for other reasons, the statement says.
Such a policy, the public believes, has significantly decreased the transparency of the state bodies and local self-government's work, and citizens have lost easy access to open data of significant public interest.
The signatories stress that the state registers being closed and lack of access to socially significant data leads to corruption, lack of accountability and responsibility and, most importantly, to the loss of trust in key state institutions.
"In wartime, the consequences of this would be devastating, because the war did not put a halt to corruption, and public information being closed enables it to grow. We have recently seen multiple anti-corruption investigations that expose the most high-ranking politicians and officials abusing their power. Acts of corruption occur are being investigated despite the data being closed, with the help of one's own sources and journalists. And total closure can make the public believe that these investigations are being carried out behind closed doors, that both the parliament and the state leadership may be covering up corruption, since it is these authorities that have a say in the data access policies," the statement reads.
Furthermore, the authors of the statement remind that public organizations and mass media have repeatedly stressed that there is a line between security and the accountability of the state and local self-government bodies.
"After all, some politicians, officials, and judges took the war as an opportunity to close acess to data and to prevent the public from monitoring their work – as they had done with Covid. Only in certain and clearly defined cases can limiting access to information be justified during war," the statement says.
At the same time, the signatories point out that open data is an effective aspect of resisting the aggressor, an important factor that does not disrupt, but, on the contrary, enhances the work of our state bodies as organization and management structures.
"It is thanks to open data that citizens can aptly analyze the situation in the country and in their communities, promptly influence the decision-making, and increase the transparency, accountability, and efficiency of the state and local self-government bodies, even under martial law," the statement says.
Also, the authors stress that access to open registers and databases for private persons is critical for checking the integrity of contractors, clients, partners and potential employees, and therefore is a guarantee of security and economic stability of both specific companies and the state in general.
In addition, according to the statement, open data enables entrepreneurs to take more active participation in anti-corruption monitoring and control over the actions of the government, as well as to help with implementing the sanctions policy in the fight against the terrorist state.
"Open data helps save taxpayers' money, develop the business environment, and prevent corruption. Therefore, a way to balance national security and defense with openness and accountability must be found, as has been discussed at the Lugano international conference in particular," the statement says.
In view of the above, the signatories believe that the state should immediately restore:
- mandatory income declarations for politicians and officials for the public to compare their fortunes and lifestyle with their salaries;
- mandatory reporting by parties on the funding they receive from the state;
- access to full information about the work of people's deputies and the work of parliamentary committees on the VRU website;
- access to the Unified Register of Legal Entities and Individual Entrepreneurs and other registers of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, while taking into account the legal restrictions and providing valid justification for non-disclosure;
- step up control over compliance with the Law "On Access to Public Information", as a number of authorities and local self-government bodies are abusing the martial law and deny information to citizens;
- restore access to the information in the court register that has been classified in violation of the Law "On Access to Court Decisions";
- the register of seized assets administered by the ARMA;
- Prozorro auctions and publication of procurement agreements;
- to start working on the release of public information by state bodies in accordance with Resolution #835, and, in case some data may not be made public, to release the results of the three-part check to substantiate that.
The statement was signed by:
CHESNO movement, Anti-Corruption Center, "Nashi Hroshi", Institute of Legislative Ideas, Anti-Corruption Staff, StateWatch, ZN.UA, Anti-Corruption Research and Education Center (ACREC), DEJURE Foundation, All-Ukrainian association "Automaidan", "Glavkom", Bihus.Info, LIGA.net, Sonya Koshkina, "Livyi Bereh" editor-in-chief, "Ukrainska Pravda", "Detector Media", Smart Media, Public Control. Openness. Transparency. Accountability, Zaporizhzhia Investigation Center, Nadia Babynska-Virna, open data expert, Electronic Democracy, Center for Political Studies, "Integrity UA", Joint Action Center, All-Ukrainian public association "The Republic Institute", Actyvna Hromada, YouControl, Public organization "Open Data Association", Ukrainian Voters Committee, Center for Economic Strategy, UNIC, Bureau of Social and Political Development, NGO "Center for Journalistic Investigations 'Syla Pravdy'", Information Access Center, the Institute of Mass Information, Coalition "Zaporizhzhia Reforms Council", Clarity Project and Clarity App, NGO "Public Holding 'HRUPA VPLYVU'", GO "Automaidan Vinnytsia", Anastasia Rudenko, editor-in-chief of the online publication "Rubryky", NGO "Successful City Institute", GO "Skhidny Variant", BRDO Effective Regulation Office, Investigative Journalism Agency "Chetverta Vlada", NGO "EcoZaporizhzhia", GO "STAN", Innovation Development Center, "Dostup do Pravdy", Human Rights Platform, VOX Ukraine, Institute of Economic Research and Political Consulting, NGO "Cycling Zaporizhzhia", RISE Ukraine, Center for Political and Legal Reforms, UPLAN network of public law and administration, Law and Democracy Foundation, Odesa Institute of Social Technology, NGO "Local Democracy Foundation", NGO "Dnipro Center for Social Research", NGO "Volyn Institute of Law", Center for Local Government Studies.
06.03.2023 Zaporizhzhia journalists complain that the new head of the Zaporizhia Oblast State Administration and of the Oblast Military Administration, Yuriy Malashko, who has been assigned this position on February 9, has never met with them and avoids giving any comments about events in the city to local mass media.
Journalists of several regional media and correspondents of some national media spoke to the IMI representative in Zaporizhzhia oblast about this.
Alyona Natalukha, editor-in-chief of the Suspilne Zaporizhzhia news bureau, says that ever since being appointed, Yury Malashko has not found enough time for a press conference that would give journalists a chance to introduce the head of the military administration to the public.
"The public still does not know who Yuriy Malashko is, because there is little open source information about him. He refuses to communicate at joint outings and mass events. Journalists do not receive up-to-date information about shelling attacks on the city and the oblast and thus are unable to inform the locals. Suspilne has formally invited Yuri Malashka for an interview multiple times. The discussion is supposed to be the situation on the battlefield, the prospects for de-occupation, the regional budget and other socially important topics. We still have no response," she said.
Alyona Natalukha noted that since the March 2 attack on a residential building in downtown Zaporizhzhia, the OMA head has been avoiding local journalists.
"What happened on March 2 was a shock. The shelling destroyed a residential building in Zaporizhzhia, burying people under the rubble. Mr. Malashko has not visited the site of the incident at night and did not talk to journalists about it. But he is the source of information about the injured, the dead, the evacuation, etc. When journalists turned to the press office to get an official comment, we were denied," she said.
"Ukrinform" correspondent Olha Zvonaryova confirms the communication crisis, too. According to her, the situation with the March 2 shelling of a residential building in Zaporizhzhia showed a very serious problem regarding communication with the military administration.
"The attack happened around 1:30 am on March 2. The first information about the impact, the first photo from the site of the incident, appeared on the ZOVA's Telegram channel within an hour. To be honest, I thought that we would finally see timely reporting from the authorities. But no. The OVA head visited the site of the incident in such a way that neither he nor any of the journalists saw or recognized him. Data about the victims and the situation at the site was quickly provided by the State Emergency Service and the police. And then the mess started: the acting city mayor Anatoliy Kurtev appeared on the national telethon in the morning, all structures started mentioning different figures regarding the number of dead, injured, and missing persons. The Mayor's office said that the city has issues with the resettlement of people affected by the Russian aggression, and right at that time, the OVA gathered for a prayer. We have not received any 'live' comments from the authorities. None. And this despite the fact that the enemy hit a multi-story building, destroying it completely, and that is a thing that we should be shouting about not just to the whole country, but to the whole world," said Olha Zvonaryova.
061.ua website correspondent Elmira Shagabuddinova also pointed out the crisis in communication between the authorities and the media.
"The latest story with the residential building being hit was revealing: apart from the State Emergency Service and the police, the authorities made no official comment to local journalists. What's more, the law enforcers, the city council, and the OVA could not provide a single figure regarding the injured persons. As a result, there is no information on what kind of assistance the families of the dead and the affected need, in what condition the damaged multi-story building is, where the injured persons are being resettled to, and what is the aid mechanism," the journalist said.
"SLM Novyny" (STB, ICTV) correspondent, Andriy Pochtev, specified that othing really changed since Oleksandr Starukh, during whose office the government's communication with the mass media hit the lowest possible point, was replaced by a new OVA head.
"It would not be an exaggeration to say that the majority of Zaporizhzhia journalists barely recognize Yury Malashko on the street, because they have only seen his photos at best. In almost a month since his appointment, the ZOVA head apparently has given no comments to local correspondents. Although there have been grounds for doing so. A press conference where the official would at least voice his principles and his vision of life and defense of the partially occupied oblast, is not yet in sight in the foreseeable future. It is also unclear who is his press secretary who would have the authority to provide comments on the OVA's behalf and coordinate the OVA's work with media representatives," the journalist explained.
According to "Pershyi Zaporizkyi" editor Andriy Vavilov, as of 18:00 on March 2, there has only been one relevant post about the rocket attack on a residential building in Zaporizhzhia on the Zaporizhzhia OMA website – an interview with the head of the administration, Yuriy Malashka, on the "United News" telethon. There are only two substantive posts on Telegram and on Facebook and a repost of the address by the head of state.
On March 3, information about the missile attack, complete with detailed data on the dead and affected appeared on the ZOMA website in a summary of Russian attacks on cities and towns of Zaporizhzhia oblast.
On March 3, the IMI asked ZOMA representatives to comment on the situation with the oblast head's communication with regional mass media. During the phone conversation, ZOMA representative Margarita Nikonova asked the IMI to file an official request for comment. IMI has sent its questions to the ZOMA and another copy to Vladyslav Moroko, head of the culture and information policy department at the ZOMA.
The head of the department, Vladyslav Moroko, told the IMI representative that he would comment on the situation after communicating with the head of the OMA.
We remind that in November 2022, the editors of five Zaporizhia media appealed to the Zaporizhia City Council with a demand to resume the live streams of City Council sessions.
In 2021, Zaporizhzhia journalists issued an open address to the central authorities with a request to intervene in the situation around journalists being systematically denied access to Zaporizhzhia City Council sessions and meetings of permanent deputy commissions.
17.03.2023 Multiple public organizations call on the Verkhovna Rada to reject draft bill No.7033d, which provides for restricting access to the court register, and draft bill No.8359, which allows courts not to record their sessions.
This is said in the organizations' statement regarding the Parliament's attempt to baselessly limit the right to information.
According to the authors of the statement, these draft bills are detrimental to the justice system and freedom of speech, as well as the public's access to information, especially during the war and after it is over.
"We believe that the amendments proposed by these draft bills pose a risk of disproportionately limiting society's access to important information and the right to a fair trial, that they will conflict with legal requirements and contradict the values of a democratic society," the statement reads.
The organizations recalled that the Unified State Register of Court Rulings was created in 2006 by the Law "On Access to Court Rulings" and that it was as an important part of bringing the Ukrainian legislation in line with the European laws for the subsequent accession of Ukraine to the European Union.
Draft bill No. 7033d proposes a number of dubious amendments for both the martial law pariod and peacetime, according to the statement.
In particular, the organizations cite the following amendments:
- An expected significant expansion of the list of information that cannot be disclosed in the court rulings. Namely, this concerns the names and locations of critical infrastructure facilities. The problem with this is that the list of such facilities is incomplete and prone to changes, and information on most facilities is already available in open sources (for example, data on the pension and social protection bodies, local self-government bodies and, finally, on the courts). "It makes no sense to hide information 'from the enemy', when the enemy has already known it and had access to it for years. However, withholding it in this way will make it significantly harder for the public to monitor court rulings," the statement reads.
- It is proposed to limit the access to court rulings in cases of special public interest (namely, crimes against the foundations of national security, state secrets protectin, inviolability of the state borders, conscription and mobilization, as well as military service) or the duration of martial law and a year after it is lifted. "Such a restriction is disproportionate and does not meet the society's needs. After all, journalists, lawyers, scholars, public activists will not be able to learn the case details and the court-assigned punishments for state traitors, collaborators, those who assisted the occupiers, etc. Hiding the court rulings will definitely increase tension and mistrust towards the authorities in the Ukrainian society," the statement reads.
- It is planned to give judges the right to arbitrarily remove information stated in rulings in open hearing cases from the court register, which contradicts the general principle of transparency of the judicial process and poses corruption risks.
In its turn, draft law No. 8359 provides "room for abuse in terms of recording the judicial process." According to it, during a war or state of emergency, in the event when fully recording the court session is "objectively impossible," so the secretary effectively only records the key points of the case in the minutes.
"Any judge can interpret what objective impossibility is as they please. The law should have a consistent approach to restricting access to information, so public information should not be classified in court rulings. Otherwise, it jeopardizes the functioning of the Unified State Register of Court Rulings, which is a democratic achievement of Ukrainian society," the statement reads.
The public organizations note that restricting the access to court rulings will set Ukraine back decades in terms of democratic progress – to the level of Russia and Belarus – and will pose a danger to Ukraine's further integration into the European Union. "Currently, the People's Deputies of Ukraine plan to disproportionately restrict Ukrainians from freely receiving information that is of significant public interest, in particular informations about decisions and evidence in cases, as well as about persons accused and convicted of committing crimes," the statement reads.
The statement was signed by: ZMINA Center for Human Rights; Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center; DEJURE Foundation; Institute of Peace and Understanding; Kharkiv Institute of Social Research; Educational House of Human Rights – Chernihiv; NGO "Ivano-Frankivsk Progress Group"; Institute of Mass Information; Media Initiative for Human Rights; Anti-Corruption Center; UMDPL Association; Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group; CHESNO movement; National Association "Automaidan"; Institute of Legislative Ideas; Center for Civil Liberties; KOF Public Alternative; NGO "Invisible"; Democratic Initiatives Incubator; NGO Expert Group "Sova"; Regional Center for Human Rights; NGO "Human Rights Platform"; Anti-Corruption Staff; CF "Gender Zed"; Transparency International Ukraine; Laboratory of Legislative Initiatives; LGBT Human Rights Center "Nash Svit"; CO "CF 'Vostok-SOS'"; NGO "Blakytny Ptakh"; NGO "Authorities Monitoring Center"; Bihus.Info; NGO "Donbas SOS"; NGO "Kyivsky Kotyky"; NGO "SVIZHA KROV"; NGO "Tsegla"; NGO "KrymSOS"; Anti-Corruption Research and Educational Center, Institute of Legislative Ideas, Crimean Human Rights Group.
Bills No. 8359 and No. 7033d were registered by deputy factions on January 13, 2023.
20.03.2023 Members of the Media Movement and other Ukrainian and foreign journalists call for no new excessive restrictions on the work of the media during martial law. "Zoning" as it has already been introduced by the Operational and Strategic Military Commands makes it practically impossible for journalists to work not only along the entire front line, but also in more peaceful areas.
The zoning principle suggests: "red" zone - where the work of journalists is prohibited in general, "yellow" zone - where the work of journalists is possible only if accompanied by a press liaison, and "green" zone - where media are free to work without restrictions.
Alas, according to previously published information, the "red" zone includes the entire frontline area, as well as de-occupied settlements. It would be worth highlighting that during the counter offensives last summer and fall, only certain areas affected by active operations were closed to the media, not the entire frontline.
The so-called "yellow" zone has already included numerous locations where local media outlets and regional journalists are working, and the regional capitals of Kherson and Mykolaiv may also be included. The Armed Forces of Ukraine lack a sufficient number of press officers to escort all journalists and all film crews in the "yellow" zones, including regional ones, which are often not aimed at covering the activities of the Ukrainian Defense Forces or do not require access to military facilities. In most of the areas mentioned above, media outlets have not been provided with logical reasons for the restrictions imposed.
We warn against excessive restrictions on the work of journalists and call for immediate resolution of the situation with access to coverage of the hostilities and their consequences, and for all those involved in covering the war to be made aware of the principles and mechanisms of "zoning" through established professional communication channels.
The work of the media and journalists is especially important now that the world's attention to Ukraine is gradually fading. Any reckless moves to introduce "zoning" or other restrictions and disregard the principles of democracy and freedom of speech will negatively affect the reputation and further support of Ukraine globally, as these changes will hit both Ukrainian and foreign journalists who risk their lives to tell Ukrainians and the world about Russian aggression and its terrible consequences.
For reference: Media Movement is a community that brings together journalists from leading Ukrainian media, investigative journalists, and experts from media NGOs. The Media Movement for Conscious Choice was launched on February 5, 2019. The first signatories of the Media Movement memorandum were UA: Pershyi, Ukrainian Radio, Hromadske Radio, Ukrinform news agency, Interfax-Ukraine news agency, Liga.net, Dzerkalo Tyzhnia. Ukraine", NV, "Censor.net", Channel 5, "Ukrainian Week", Opinion, a number of regional media, NGOs Independent Media Council, Detector Media, Institute of Mass Information, Internews Ukraine, Center for Democracy and Rule of Law, Suspilnist Foundation, National Association of Media, Donetsk Institute of Information, Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy, Zmina Human Rights Center. Later, other organizations and individual journalists joined the event, bringing the total number of participants to over 70.
22.03.2023 Multiple human rights organizations are calling for the immediate hospitalization of the citizen journalist Iryna Danilovych, who is imprisoned in the occupied Crimea and has received no medical care in the pre-trial detention center in five months. This is said in the statement issued by the human rights organizations, which was signed by the IMI among others.
"All this time she has been going through suffering and physical pain. Without urgent and comprehensive treatment, Danilovych's disease may lead to her death, as was the fate of Crimean political prisoners Kostyantyn Shyring and Cemil Gafarov.
"We demand that illegally convicted journalist Iryna Danilovych be released and the politically motivated persecution of her caused by her public and journalistic activities cease," the statement reads.
We remind you that on March 21, Iryna Danilovych wrote a letter announcing she was going on a dry hunger strike until "the treatment begins or until biological death." In the letter, she reported on the deterioration of her health: hearing issues and a possible microstroke.
Here is the full statement:
On March 22, 2023, Iryna Danilovych, citizen journalist living in Russian-occupied Crimea, went on a hunger strike due to being denied medical assistance. The day before, the journalist had fainted while being transported to the Feodosia City Court for reviewing of the case material. On December 28, 2022, the occupation authorities sentenced Iryna Danilovych to seven years in prison and fined her 50,000 rubles under falsified charges of "storing explosives."
Iryna Danilovych is a nurse and civil activist from Feodosia who has worked with "INjir Media" publication and the human rights project "Crimean Process", defended the rights of healthcare workers on the peninsula: she joined an independent trade union, wrote a lot about the violation of their rights, such as being underpayed for working with COVID-19 patients.
After being kidnapped on April 29, 2022, imprisoned and prosecuted as part of a falsified case, Iryna Danilovych almost lost her hearing, is experiencing constant headaches, movement coordination issues, and suspects that she has suffered at least one microstroke in prison. This is making her unable to finish reviewing the material of the court hearings, wherein she had previously discovered several forgeries and falsifications.
Danilovych said that she equates the court's intent to complete the review of the material urgently, without taking the state of her health into account, to torture. The journalist demands an end to the abuse, refused to review the case material until she recovers, and formally announced she was going on a dry hunger strike.
According to the father of the imprisoned journalist, Bronyslav Danilovych, the administration of the pre-trial detention center issued documents stating that his daughter had been examined by a specialist and that the state of her health did not prevent her from participating in the reviewing of the case material.
On March 21, 2023, Iryna Danilovych fainted while being transported to the Feodosia "City Court", but no ambulance was called to assist her. Also, in December 2022, during a debate in the "court", she felt ill, but the emergency medic who came upon being called falsified his verdict, noting that Danilovych voluntarily refused to be hospitalized.
We call for the immediate hospitalization of citizen journalist Iryna Danilovych, who has received no medical care in the pre-trial detention center in five months. All this time she has been going through suffering and physical pain. Without urgent and comprehensive treatment, Danilovych's disease may lead to her death, as was the fate of Crimean political prisoners Kostyantyn Shyring and Cemil Gafarov.
"We demand that illegally convicted journalist Iryna Danilovych be released and the politically motivated persecution of her caused by her public and journalistic activities cease.
The address was signed by: ZMINA Center for Human Rights; Crimean Process; Diya Human Rights Center; KrymSOS; the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights; Association of Kremlin Political Prisoners' Families; the Crimean Human Rights Group; Platform for the Release of Political Prisoners; the Regional Human Rights Center, the Kharkiv Social Research Institute; the Ivano-Frankivsk Progress Group; the Institute of Mass Information; the Institute of Peace and Understanding, the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine; the Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group; PEN Ukraine; Human Rights House "Crimea"; the Kharkiv Human Rights Group.
27.03.2023 Ukrainian war reporters say there is censorship and selectivity in terms of who among journalists is allowed into the "red" zones of the front line. They demand that the authorities give them the opportunity to continue working.
This is stated in a video address published on Facebook by Radio Liberty journalist Maryan Kushnir on March 27.
The journalists claim that there is a "list of exceptional journalists from selected media outlets", who are the only ones to have privileges when it comes to accessing the "red" zones.
"We are correspondents covering the Russian-Ukrainian war. We film. We take photos. We write articles and record audio reports. Since 2014, and not since February 24, 2022, we have been talking about the soldiers on the front line and civilians in frontline towns and villages. And it is more than just a job for us. This is our contribution to Ukraine's future victory. And our chance to avenge those whom the enemy took away from us forever," the address says.
Journalists point out that they always insisted on having an opportunity to fulfill their mission.
"The Russian-Ukrainian war has been going on for over nine years. We never asked for benefits, awards or insurance from the state. Instead, always and everywhere, we insisted on having an opportunity to fulfill our mission. We have accreditation from the Ministry of Defense, the relevant skills and experience, the safety gear, as well as the trust of the military and volunteers, which has been built up over the years and is simply invaluable and fundamental for journalists to work in wartime.
"But instead of fighting with the Russians, we have to fight the Ukrainian government, which has decided to censor the war. The prohibition to work in the 'red' zone, where civilians still remain. The additional permits for getting into certain places. Creating exception lists for journalists from selected media, which for some reason are the only ones to have preferential access to the 'red' zones. And the main thing is the lack of any dialogue, any explanations or arguments. The main problem is that most of the front line is off limits for all journalists," the war reporters say in the address.
At the same time, the journalists note that they understand the wartime necessity of certain restrictions, but "the existing ones are taking away any opportunity for us to work." "At the moment, we are having a significant problem work on the front line, because journalists effectively can only film the artillery and the rear. Certain sections of the front line remain completely off limits for the press. Freedom of speech is a value we are fighting for. Photo and video recording is an important part of the information war, as well as our future information heritage, because the photo and video chronicle for future generations is being created right now. We do not want to be on the list of the 'trusted' ones. We wish there would be no such lists in Ukraine at all. We do not ask for preferences. But we demand that our work be respected and that we be able to keep doing it," said the war reporters.
The video address was recorded by: Anna Kudryavtseva, Channel 5; Kostyantyn Melnykov, "Fakty", ICTV; Maryan Kushnir, Radio Liberty; Anastasia Fedchenko, "Novynarnia"; Stas Kukharchuk, "Inter"; Yulia Kiriyenko, TSN, "1+1"; Tatyana Nakonechna, "Fakty", ICTV; Ihor Levenok, "Inter"; Yehor Loginov, "Donbas. Realii" (Radio Liberty project); Olena Maksymenko, freelance journalist; Ruslan Smeshchuk, "Inter"; Oleh Kornienko, "Fakty", ICTV; Yevhenia Kinasiva, Channel 5; Olha Omelyanchuk, Radio Liberty; and Natalia Nahorna, TSN, "1+1".
In a comment to the IMI, "Novynarnia" journalist Anastasia Fedchenko noted that she had learned about the lists from her colleagues.
"I believe that the very existence of such lists is nonsense that should not occur in a democratic country, even amidst hostilities. The front line should be open for journalists," the journalist said.
She noted that the "traffic light", i.e., the introduced zoning, is a normal practice around the world, and that journalists do understand the military in terms of the expediency or lack of such in letting media work in places where the fighting is going on.
"But the 'traffic light' may give room for manual control: if some commander simply does not want to cooperate with journalists, he will be able to 'change' the zoning of his own will. He may say: you can't work here because it's a 'red' zone," the journalist emphasized.
In his comment to the IMI, ICTV journalist Kostyantyn Melnykov reported that they had heard reports that the journalists allowed into the prohibited zones will mostly be TV journalists from the "United News" telethon.
"We learned that the military had received a list of 'trusted' people who would be allowed to work in the off-limits zones! Mostly, these are journalists from TV channels partaking in the 'United News' telethon. But not everyone there, either. The goal of our address is there would be no lists at all. We understand how important the work of the army is. And sometimes it should be happening in complete silence. We are in favor of everyone having the chance to work and being in equal conditions. So that no one is 'equaler' than others. We are for clear and understandable working conditions!" the journalist stressed.
He added that he had learned from his own sources that he was not on the list. "For what reasons and what motives – unclear. I can not talk about refusal now, because my business trip is in a week. Previously, there were problems with certain areas. But not along the entire front line," Kostyantyn Melnikov said.
The IMI has written to the UAF General Staff for a comment on the media restrictions at the front line and on the existence of a list of selected journalists.
As the IMI reported, on February 27, UAF Commander-in-Chief's Decree No. 73 regarding engagement with the mass media during martial law was amended. According to the changes, journalists will only receive accreditation for a period of up to six months, and the frontline area will now be divided into three access zones for media workers.
Earlier, representatives of the media community proposed to create a task force at the President's Office to improve the way their engagement with the military is regulated, and submitted their proposals on improving communication between journalists and the military to the UAF General Staff.
On March 20, the Donetsk Oblast Military Administration outlined the three zones for journalists of accredited media outlets in region – the "red", the "yellow" and the "green".
The three zones were also outlined in the areas under the jurisdiction of the operational and strategic group of troops "Odesa".
On March 20, the Media Movement, as well as Ukrainian and foreign journalists called the new excessive restrictions on the work of the media during martial law unacceptable and called for an immediate resolution of the situation with access to coverage of the hostilities and their consequences.
The international human rights organization "Reporters Without Borders" called on the Ukrainian authorities to lift the restrictions on journalists' access to covering the hostilities as well.
Later, liaison officers explained that the division of the front line and the border areas into three working zones for journalists will be revised weekly. The issue of granting the media access to any specific spot in the "red zone" for covering a situation that requires it will also be considered promptly.
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