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Freedom of Speech Barometer for March 2024

05.04.2024, 11:14
Illustration by the IMI
Illustration by the IMI

The Institute of Mass Information experts recorded 16 freedom of speech violations in Ukraine in March, according to the monthly IMI monitoring “Freedom of Speech Barometer”.

Russia’s crimes (seven cases) include cyber attacks, strikes on TV towers in the Kharkiv and Sumy oblasts, damaging a media office with shelling and Ukrainian broadcasting being disabled as a result of Russian strikes.

The Russian aggression resulted in the deaths of four media workers who were defending Ukraine from occupation. The death of two, Dmytro Sinchenko and Oleh Shemchuk, was only reported in March and April, as they had been considered missing:

  • Dmytro Sinchenko – soldier and journalist who wrote for "Tyzhden" and Radio Liberty. His death was only reported on March 8, 2024. He had been missing since late August 2023.
  • Petro Tsurukin – had been considered missing for over half a year. His death was reported on March 18, 2024. He was a soldier, TV host, and editor who worked for STB TV as the chief editor of the "One for All" project and was a host at the channel Kyiv Live.
  • Mykola Oransky – soldier and formerly a TV studio engineer at hromadske. Died on March 22, 2024 during a combat mission near Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia oblast. Mykola was a UAV operator in the separate mechanized brigade No. 118.
  • Oleh Shemchuk – journalist investigator and UAF soldier, went missing in action near Bakhmut in September 2022. His family has been searching for him all this time. However, on April 3, 2024, they were informed that Oleh had been declared dead.

According to the IMI, as of April 5, a total of 76 media workers have been killed by the Russian aggression, 10 of whom died while reporting.

Freedom of speech violations in Ukraine in March 2024

Russia has resumed the shelling of Ukraine’s TV and radio infrastructure; previously, the IMI recorded such incidents back at the beginning of the full-scale invasion in 2022 (back then, 16 cases of the Russians shelling TV towers, which are civilian objects, were recorded).

In March 2024, the Russian troops deliberately struck TV infrastructure in Kharkiv oblast with drones. They also carried out missile and air strikes on the radio facilities in the Sumy oblast, leaving some municipalities without TV or radio signal. Later, Suspilne reported that due to the strikes their T2 TV channels and radio channels were temporarily unavailable in both oblasts.

In Sumy oblast, the office of the newspaper "Vorskla" was once again damaged by a Russian shelling strike on Velyka Pysarivka. On March 14, around 1:00 p.m., the Russian troops dropped a guided aerial bomb (UAB) on the Ukrposhta office in the very center of the village. The office suffered significant damage and is no longer fit for work.

Russia also targeted the Ukrainian media. For instance, the website of the digital news aggregator FREEDOM was attacked. The website received 33 million requests in a short time, but continued to work with minor complications. Furthermore, Suspilne Ukraine recorded an attempt to jam their Astra satellite signal from Russia. The signal was being jammed from the space communications center "Medvezh'i Ozera", located in the Moscow suburbs. The attack lasted for an hour and resulted in the television and radio channels being unavailable on the satellite. The broadcasting has since been restored.

The IMI also recorded nine freedom of speech violations committed by Ukrainian citizens. These include beatings, death threats, limiting access to public information, indirect pressure and cyber attacks.

The cases of journalists being denied access to public information were the most numerous (four). Some outlets decided to sue the information holders. For example, and the Khmelnytsky media outlet ZHAR.INFO are suing the Verkhovna Rada Apparatus for their refusal to provide the public information they had requested. The journalists submitted their requests to the VRU Apparatus three times, asking for information on the overseas business trips taken by deputies since the start of the full-scale invasion.

Sumy TV channel “Vidicon” reported pressure by the Oblast Council deputy Mahomed Halayev. The editors believe the pressure has to do with their recent story about land allocation issues, which mentioned the deputy's wife, Natalia Halayeva. After the story was released, the deputy called the TV channel’s director Natalia Bratushka and threatened her, promising a war and informational “bullying” by all media in the Sumy oblast. The deputy himself assured the IMI that there had been no threats coming from him.

The websites of two media outlets, Rivne’s “Chetverta Vlada” and Lutsk’s “Syla Pravdy”, came under cyber attacks. "Chetverta Vlada" suffered an intense DDoS attack following the release of an article about the Rivne City Council deputy Svyatoslav Stelmashchuk. The article was about the deputy's luxurious lifestyle which his official income hardly covers.

The "Syla Pravdy" team received a phishing email in their inbox, which claimed that the outlet’s Facebook page was to be temporarily suspended. The journalists were asked to click the attached link to “confirm they owned the page.”

Read the full monitoring below:


Cyber attacks – 3

1. FREEDOM news aggregator website sustains a mass DDoS attack

13.03.2024 The website of the digital news aggregator FREEDOM (part of the state-owned "International Multimedia Broadcasting Platform of Ukraine") sustained a mass DDoS attack, the company's press office reports to the Institute of Mass Information.

The hackers attacked the website in the evening and at night on March 12 to 13. The website received 33 million requests in a short time, but continued to work with minor complications.

"The attack, which was apparently Russian hackers' doing, happened in several waves in the evening and at night. DDoS requests were coming from the US, Colombia, Brazil, India, Argentina, and the Netherlands," the press office notes.

The company's technicians quickly resolved the problem. The digital news aggregator FREEDOM continued to work, but accessing it from the countries where the attack was coming from was difficult.

The websites of the TV channels FREEDOM and Dim, as well as the digital portal The Gaze, which are part of the IMBPU, worked as usual.

On January 29, two websites of the state-owned "International Multimedia Broadcasting Platform of Ukraine" – those of the FREEDOM TV channel and the FREEDOM digital news aggregator – were subjected to a massive DDoS attack. The company believes that Russian hackers could be behind the incident.

On January 25, the websites of the TV channels "Dim" and "FREEDOM", which are part of the state enterprise "International Multimedia Broadcasting Platform of Ukraine", crashed due to a large-scale cyber attack on a data center.

2. Russians target Suspilne's satellite signal

13.03.2024 Suspilne Ukraine recorded an attempt to jam their satellite signal from Russia, reports Suspilne on their website.

The attack took place on March 13. The signal was being jammed from the space communications center "Medvezh'i Ozera", located in the Moscow suburbs.

This is the second time Suspilne faces an attempt to jam their signal on the Astra satellite. The targeted TV channels include "Pershiy", "Suspilne Culture", "Suspilne Crimea", "Suspilne News", "Suspilne Sport", as well as the radio stations. 

The attack lasted for an hour and resulted in the television and radio channels being unavailable on the satellite. The broadcasting has since been restored.

In November 2023, Russia attempted to interfere with the work of five Suspilne TV channels via satellite by trying to jam them and change their content.

3. Russian hackers attack Ukrainian TV channels, show propagandist Panchenko

28.03.2024 The Russians staged a large-scale interference in the Ukrainian TV broadcasting on the satellite Astra4A. At around 9:30 a.m., the Russians tried to jam the broadcasting the 1+1 Media and partner channels on the reception frequency 11766H (the affected channels include 1+1 Ukraine, 1+1 Marathon, TET, PLUSPLUS, Bigudi, 2+2, UNIAN, etc). Instead of the United News telethon and other broadcasters' content, for some time Ukrainian viewers could only see Russian propaganda, reports the 1+1 Media Holding press service.

As of 11:00 a.m., the problem has been resolved and the satellite broadcasting has been restored.

"However, this is not Russia's last attempt to silence the content of Ukrainian TV channels in order to mislead the society and promote hostile narratives, especially in the territories bordering the temporarily occupied cities and villages," the media holding notes.

They recommend their viewers, if possible, to ensure they can receive the TV channels' signal from various alternative sources such as T2, cable, OTT, or the Internet (TV channels's websites, YouTube).

The Russians replaced Ukrainian content with a video of propagandist Diana Panchenko, according to the photos released by the Center for Strategic Communications.

On January 15, 2023, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi signed into effect the National Security and Defense Council's decision to introduce sanctions against the former host of "Medvedchuk's channels" Diana Panchenko and others.

On January 24, 2023, the SBU notified pro-Kremlin propagandist Diana Panchenko of suspicion under Part 3 of Art. 436-2 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (production and distribution, in particular repeatedly and through mass media, of materials justifying the Russian Federation's armed aggression against Ukraine).

In October 2023, SBU investigators notified the pro-Russian propagandist Diana Panchenko of suspicion of high treason committed under martial law.

Diana Panchenko is a pro-Russian journalist and TV host of NewsOne, Pershiy Nezalezhny and Ukrlive. In February 2021, after the channels NewsOne, ZIK and "112 Ukraine" were sanctioned, she left for Pershiy Nezalezhny, a channel which is part of Viktor Medvedchuk's media holding. After the start of the full-scale invasion, she supported the Russian occupiers and visited the temporarily occupied Donetsk in August of last year.

Strikes on TV towers – 2

1. Russia mass strikes Kharkiv TV infrastructure with drones

14.03.2024 The Russian troops struck the television infrastructure facilities in the Kharkiv oblast with drones en masse on the night of March 14, reports the head of the Kharkiv Oblast Military Administration, Oleh Synehubov.

"Tonight, the enemy carried out a mass drone attack on the television infrastructure objects in the oblast. Some of them are being restored," he wrote in his Telegram channel.

Synehubov reported that about 15 municipalities of the Kharkiv oblast were hit by Russian artillery and mortar shelling: Synkivka, Ivanivka, Berestove, Hraniv, Strilecha, Borysivka, Vovchanski Khutory, etc. The enemy also targeted Vovchansk with air strikes. There are no casualties.

The Institute of Mass Information is looking into the details of the situation.

In the two years of the full-scale invasion, the IMI recorded 16 cases of Russians shelling TV towers, which are civilian objects. This caused television and radio broadcasting in nine regions of Ukraine to disappear completely or temporarily.

2. Sumy oblast left without TV or radio signal due to Russian shelling

14.03.2024 The Russian troops carried out missile and air strikes on the radio facilities in the Sumy oblast, reports the Sumy Oblast Military Administration.

The shelling temporarily disabled the TV and radio transmitters in Sumy, Shostka, Bilopylla and Trostyanka, clarifies the OMA.

"Due to the damage, part of the oblast is (temporarily) unable to receive Ukrainian TV and radio signals. There may be problems with mobile connection," OMA noted.

The head of the Sumy oblast military administration, Volodymyr Artyukh, urged the people not to panic and to switch to alternative communication channels.

"The enemy is waging an informational war, destroying the Ukrainian broadcasting. We will not let them win. The impact is currently being assessed and restoration plans are already in development. Do not give in to panic and provocations. Switch to alternative means of communication, only trust verified sources of information," he said.

In her comment to the regional IMI representative, the representative of the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting in the Sumy oblast, Larysa Yakubenko reported that Russia was deliberately targeting such objects.

"The enemy is purposefully shelling the critical infrastructure of the Sumy oblast and civilian objects, including the information infrastructure. Namely, this year, the feeders on the Druzhba tower were damaged by the early March shelling. The day before yesterday, on March 12, it was the ones on the Krasnopillya tower. Both towers were built last year as part of the Roadmap for the Development of the Sumy Oblast Information Landscape," she said, adding that the repair work was done by specialists from the Sumy Technical Center at the Kharkiv branch of the BRTC, and that the broadcasting has already been restored.

As the IMI reported, the Russian troops struck the television infrastructure facilities in the Kharkiv oblast with drones en masse on the night of March 14.

In the two years of the full-scale invasion, the IMI recorded 16 cases of Russians shelling TV towers, which are civilian objects. This caused television and radio broadcasting in nine regions of Ukraine to disappear completely or temporarily.

Damaged media offices – 1

1. Russia damages "Vorskla" office in Sumy oblast again

14.03.2024 The office of the newspaper "Vorskla" was once again damaged by a Russian shelling strike on Velyka Pysarivka, reports the representative of the Institute of Mass Information in the Sumy oblast.

On March 14, around 1:00 p.m., the Russian troops dropped a guided aerial bomb (UAB) on the Ukrposhta office in the very center of the village.

The "Vorskla" office is located in a neighboring building; the office suffered significant damage.

"Now it was the windows on the opposite side that were blown out. I left less than a minute before it happened. I was loading up newspaper binders. The archive..." said the editor-in-chief, Oleksiy Pasyuha, to the IMI representative.

The regional IMI representative also notes that the safety situation is deteriorating as the civilian population is being encouraged to evacuate and people are being moved to safer places in an organized manner.

This is not the first time that the newspaper's office has been damaged: the previous two times it was shelled with "Grad" missiles in February 2022 and 2024. After today's damage, working in the office is impossible.

On February 16, 2024, a Russian shelling strike damaged the office of the "Vorskla" newspaper in Velyka Pysarivka village (Sumy oblast). The team was unharmed.

Disabling Ukrainian broadcasting – 1

1. Suspilne broadcasting disabled in Sumy and Kharkiv oblasts due to Russian shelling

14.03.2024 The broadcasting of Suspilne's T2 TV channels and radio channels is temporarily unavailable in the Sumy oblast and the Kharkiv oblast due to Russia's March 14 strikes on radio communications facilities, Suspilne reports on their website.

There is no Suspilne TV broadcasting in T2 in Sumy and some cities of the Sumy oblast. In Bilopillya and Shostka, there is no TV or radio broadcasting by Suspilne.

In the Kharkiv oblast (Izyum, Kehychivka and Lozova) T2 broadcasting of the Suspilne TV channels and radio is unavailable.

You can listen to Ukrainian Radio online on, Suspilne Sumy or Suspilne Kharkiv, as well as in the mobile applications and Diya.

Sumy oblast news from Suspilne are available on the following digital platforms: Suspilne News, Telegram, Facebook, Instagram, channels on YouTube and Viber.

News updates from Suspilne Kharkiv are available on the Suspilne News website and on social media: Telegram, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

On the night of March 14, Russian troops struck television infrastructure facilities in the Kharkiv oblast en masse with drones. Russia also carried out missile and air strikes on radio engineering facilities in the Sumy oblast, which left some municipalities the Sumy oblast without television or radio signal.

In 2022, Russian troops fired at TV towers in Kharkiv and Izyum.

In the two years of the full-scale invasion, the IMI recorded 16 cases of Russians shelling TV towers, which are civilian objects. This caused television and radio broadcasting in nine regions of Ukraine to disappear completely or temporarily.


1. Russian court in Crimea arrests citizen journalist Rustem Osmanov

06.03.2024 The Russia-controlled Kyivsky District Court of Simferopol arrested "Crimean Solidarity" citizen journalist Rustem Osmanov until May 4. The ruling was passed on March 5, reports Krym.Realii.

The journalist will be held in a PTDC. The hearing was held behind closed doors.

On the morning of March 5, a wave of mass searches took place in the homes of Crimean Tatars in Crimea. The police targeted "Crimean Solidarity" activists in Bağçasaray and religious figures in Canköy district. Houses of 10 Crimean Tatars were searched in total.

Following the searches, the Russian FSB detained at least five people, including former imam Remzi Kurtnezirov, who has a grade II disability.

Russian security forces charged all Crimean Tatars detained on March 5 with participating in a terrorist organization.

Rustem Osmanov regularly attended court hearings, helped the families of the Kremlin's political prisoners. He has previously been detained by Russian police and prosecuted under administrative law for showing solidarity with his fellow Muslim convicts.

On February 22, 2024, the Russian police searched the home of "Crimean Solidarity" activist, citizen journalist Lutfiye Zudieva. After the search, she was taken to the counter-extremism center, but later released.

2. Russian court in Crimea fines journalist Lutfiye Zudieva

21.03.2024 The Russia-controlled Kyiv District Court in Simferopol fined the human rights activist and journalist Lutfiye Zudieva 2,500 rubles (UAH 1,000) for "abuse of freedom of mass information," Crimean Solidarity reports.

Roman Filatov of the Russian Counter-Extremism Center (CEC) charged her with "distributing information about foreign agents or content they produce in the mass media without mentioning their foreign agent status."

According to Zudieva, the judgement was issued without her participation and the court did not review the written objections of the defense. She believes that she is not an offender and as a natural person was not obliged to comply with the requirements, and that the head of the Crimean CEC department Ruslan Shambazov essentially treated her personal Facebook page as a registered media outlet.

"I was a few minutes late due to an accident on the road and a traffic jam. I warned the judge through the defense attorney, but for some reason she considered it as contempt of court. I will list all the arguments I had prepared for the hearing and could not present in the appeal," Zudieva said.

She said that only an editorial office of a media outlet, the founder, editor-in-chief or another official of an outlet can be sued under part 2.1 of Art. 13.15 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation (Code of Administrative Offenses).

During the meeting, lawyer Emil Kurbedinov filed a motion to recognize the administrative protocol as inadmissible evidence, as well as to terminate the administrative proceedings.

According to the law, the CEC officers had no right to initiate this case under this part of Article 13.15 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation. "It is the body authorized in the field of mass media supervision that should open such cases and hand them over to judicial authorities for consideration," Kurbedinov said after the meeting.

The Kyiv District Court disagreed with the defense's arguments. The meeting lasted 8 minutes.

On February 22, 2024, officers of Russia's Center for Combating Extremism searched Lutfiye Zudieva's house. After the search, she was taken away to the counter-extremism center, but later released.

The police opened an administrative case against her under Parts 2 and 2.1 of Art. 13.15 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation (abuse of freedom of mass information). The investigation was triggered by her Facebook post about the unlawful persecution of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members, as she did not mention that Hizb ut-Tahrir is considered a terrorist organization by Russia, and also cited a Radio Liberty article without noting that the media outlet is considered a "foreign agent" by Russian law.

Several Ukrainian human rights organizations call on the Ukrainian authorities to investigate the unlawful search and detention of public activist, human rights advocate, and citizen journalist Lutfiye Zudieva in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Lutfiye Zudieva is a public activist, human rights advocate and journalist covering trials and mass searches in Crimea and supporting the families of political prisoners.



Beatings – 1

1. Journalists assaulted in Kyiv, police opens case

11.03.2024 The Kyiv police opened a case over an assault on a journalist in Pechersk, as reported by the police press office on March 8.

They noted that the journalists had received reports about an illegal call center operating in one of the offices in the district.

"The journalists arrived at the address, and a conflict arose as they were talking to the people in the office, which resulted in one of the mass media representatives being injured," the police said.

The law enforcers entered the case information into the Unified Register of Pretrial Investigations under Art. 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – threats or violence against a journalist.

On the same day, March 8, the media outlet "Stopcor" reported that their employee Ihor Dotsenko was beaten.

The editors say that the journalists visited the business center "Almaz", where, as they heard, a fraudulent call center operated. According to the journalists, the unknown persons "guarding" the office attacked them and initiated the fight.

"The attackers tried to knock the equipment out of the journalists' hands and struck one of the reporters in the face," writes Stopcor.

The media outlet noted that the people at "Almaz" first tried their best not to let the journalists inside, but they still managed to get into the building.

According to "Stopcor" representative Ihor Dotsenko, the journalists called the police to the scene, but by the time the law enforcers arrived, the "call center" employees managed to remove equipment and documents from the office.

"While the police team were filling out the documents, four unknown persons attacked the Stopcor reporters. Later, a fifth person joined them. The attackers tried to snatch the phone from the hands of a Stopcor journalist, which he was using to record everything that was happening in the business center, and hit another journalist in the face, breaking his nose," the editors noted.

Death threats – 1

1. Sumy's Vidicon TV reports pressure by Oblast Council deputy; the deputy denies

25.03.2024 The Sumy TV channel "Vidicon" reported facing pressure by Oblast Council deputy Mahomed Halayev due to their reporting, the channel writes on their website.

The editors believe the pressure has to do with their recent story about land allocation issues, which mentioned the deputy's wife, Natalia Halayeva.

On February 27, "Vidicon" released a story about the prosecutor's office appealing the decisions of the Sumy City Council regarding the allocation of land plots for construction. One of the plots in question is located near the Druzhba Square and is rented by Natalia Halayeva. A nine-story building is to be built there. According to the oblast prosecutor's office, the development plan affects protected landscape.

"After the story was released... the acting deputy of the Sumy Oblast Council, Mahomed-Sharip Dzhamalovych Halayev, elected from the All-Ukrainian Union Batkivshchyna, threatened the director of the regional TV channel, Natalia Bratushka, by phone. In particular, he said that the 'Vidicon' editors and the director personally would regret crossing his family, and promised a war and informational 'bullying' by all media in the Sumy oblast... In this way, they want to silence us when it comes to land disputes", the channel noted.

In his comment to the IMI representative Mahomed Halayev said that he had no questions, claims or conflicts with "Vidicon" or with the director Natalia Bratushka personally. He also assured that there were no threats coming from him.

According to "Suspilne Sumy", in 2021 Mahomed Halayev said he was an investor in the building near Druzhba Square. Back then, the start of the construction was planned for 2022. In October 2023, the Sumy District Administrative Court satisfied the prosecutor's office's lawsuit and declared the January 26, 2022 decision "On the approval of urban planning documentation" by the City Council as invalid. The defendant appealed to the Kharkivsky Court of Appeal, says lawyer Rodion Abidov.

"Vidicon" was founded in 2002 and is owned by the ex-chair of the Sumy Oblast State Administration, Volodymyr Shcherban. Director Natalia Bratushka, who has been in charge of the outlet for over 10 years, assured the IMI representative that the channel has an editorial policy independent of the owner, and is not financed by the owner. Last year, the channel independently applied for a content analysis by "Detector Media".

In 2022, "Vidicon" started broadcasting on the satellite AMOS-7. The National Council noted that this was done in order for "Ukrainian viewers to have access to objective information about the wartime events in Ukraine."


Access to information – 4

1. Poltava journalists say the City Council gives incomplete answers to requests

"Poltavshchyna" editors say that the Poltava City Council provides them with incomplete answers to their requests for information. The journalists also reported this to the regional IMI representative, Nadia Kucher.

According to them, the city authorities gave them incomplete answers to three requests and failed to answer one other request.

On March 10, the media outlet posted the article "The UAH 23 mln food reserve created in Poltava 2 years ago: what came of it", reporting that the official responses received by the journalists were incomplete. Such responses, in the editors' opinion, give ample space for very varied interpretations.

In February 2024, "Poltavshchyna" sent a request for information to the City Council to monitor the food reserve situation.

"We wanted to know what products were purchased for the food reserve over the past two years, whether goods from it were issued to someone in this time, how many people received aid, how many products remained in the reserve and whether they planned to replenish it. In response, we received two different letters from two different executive committee subdivisions," the media outlet writes.

On March 5, the Poltava City Council's Administrative Services Department provided a list of goods and reported that they had "given the above-listed material goods from the local food reserve away irrevocably and free of charge."

The Poltava City Council's Administrative Services Center did not provide the rest of the information nor even the minimal specifics, because "it did not exist as a ready-made document."

On March 8, the Education Department of the Poltava City Council sent them an additional reply, reporting that the food reserve had been handed over to educators for safekeeping and that they did not have the rest of the information.

"We still have many questions to the City Council. Seeing as requests for information proved to be an unsuccessful communication method, we suggest that Kateryna Yamshchykova and her deputies publicly communicate the issues related to the reserve, its distribution and possible replenishment," the media outlet says.

In addition, "Poltavshchyna" complains that the City Council provided incomplete answers to their other requests:

  • the request for information about the owner of a small clock-shaped structure on Kashtanova Avenue was met with a non-reply;
  • the request on rock salt for road de-icing, submitted by the editors last December, was redirected to the Department of Housing and Communal Services, followed by three months of silence;
  • the request on the expected cost of drones was received in a month, but without any details.

Another request, where "Poltavshchyna" was asking for a list of Poltava addresses with dysfunctional elevators, received no reply.

The IMI representative reached out to the Poltava City Council for an explanation. The head of the Council's press office, Maryna Serova, responded as follows:

"If any of the departments, offices or other managers do not respond to a written information request in a timely manner, please write to me immediately."

The Poltava City Council secretary, Kateryna Yamshchykova, promised that "Poltavshchyna" would soon receive an answer to the elevators request and also noted that she would review each of the requests which were met with an incomplete answer.

2. Slidstvo.Info to sue the Verkhovna Rada

12.03.2024 The investigative journalism agency Slidstvo.Info filed a lawsuit the Apparatus of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on behalf of the journalist Ihor Yushchenko on March 12, 2024, for refusing to provide the public information he requested, the media outlet announced on their website.  

"Slidstvo.Info" journalists sent requests to the VRU Apparatus on January 2, 1, and 8, 2024, asking about the overseas business trips that the deputies went on after the full-scale invasion.

The editors received two identical replies saying that the requested information needed to be summarized and analytically processed, and as such was missing from the Verkhovna Rada Apparatus.

"...The document that would contain the information you requested is not created in the Apparatus of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and is not in its possession, but can only be obtained by summarizing and analytically processing data. According to subparagraph 3 of paragraph 2 of the May 11, 2011 Decree No. 393 of the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, 'The Apparatus of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is not the manager of information if the requested information... must be obtained by generalization, analytical data processing or needs to be created in another way,'" reads the reply to the journalists' request.

In their third reply, the Verkhovna Rada Apparatus abandoned their previous claims, instead saying that the dissemination of information about the work of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, its bodies and deputies was limited under martial law. The letter also says that the deputies' foreign visits have gained considerable importance.

"The negotiations and consultations with international partners resulted in an increase in the military and humanitarian aid, which is important for the country, as well as in laying the groundwork for economy stabilization and Ukraine's post-war reconstruction," the VRU said.

The Apparatus also remarked that sharing the requested information could be harmful to national security, which would significantly outweigh the public interest.

"Restricting such information is a proportionate measure to protect Ukraine's national security interests at the expense of the public interest that may arise in the society. The significant harm to national security caused by the dissemination of such information will significantly outweigh the public interest in receiving it," added the VRU Apparatus.

Slidstvo.Info reminds that in July 2023, their sources reported that Yuriy Aristov, 48, deputy chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence, "Servant of the People" MP, was in the 5-star hotel Waldorf Astoria Maldives on the private island Ithaafushi, Maldives.

The journalists sent a request to learn how the deputy had crossed the Ukrainian border and whether his trip to the Maldives was a business trip. Despite the promise of the deputy's press secretary to answer the request within a few hours, the assistant and the deputy himself ignored the journalists' attempts to get answers to their questions.

Following the release of the "Slidstvo.Info" report, Yuriy Aristov submitted a resignation letter.

3. State Audit Service ignores information request by Kropyvnytskyi journalist

18.03.2024 The State Audit Service of Ukraine left without reply an information request emailed by journalist and Institute of Mass Information representative in the Kirovohrad oblast, Pavlo Lisnychenko, to its official inbox.

As Pavlo told the IMI, in the five days prescribed by the law he received neither a response nor a notification about the extension of the request consideration period.

"While collecting material for a journalistic article, I first contacted the auditors by phone. However, they refused to comment, so on March 5 I wrote an information request and emailed it to the State Audit Service. A PDF letter is sufficient for most information managers, but I also sent a signed and scanned copy just in case. It has already been nine business days, but I still haven't received a reply," the journalist commented.

Pavlo Lisnychenko is preparing a second request. If this one is also ignored, he will appeal to the Verkhovna Rada's Commissioner for Human Rights and, if necessary, sue.

4. Khmelnytskyi outlet to sue the Verkhovna Rada Apparatus over access denial

20.03.2024 On March 20, Khmelnytskyi media ZHAR.INFO filed a lawsuit against the Apparatus of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on behalf of their journalist Alyona Bereza for refusing to provide public data on the overseas business trips by the deputies representing the Khmelnytskyi oblast, the outlet reports on their website.

As the editors note, Bereza sent several requests to the VRU Apparatus: on November 28, 2023; January 10 and February 7, 2024.

The Apparatus altogether ignored the first request, which the journalist sent by e-mail only. The next two requests, which were submitted both by e-mail and through her own cabinet on the official VRU website, were processed but the requested information was denied, the Apparatus claiming that they could not create a document containing the requested information.

"A document that would contain the information you requested can not be created in the Apparatus of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and is not in its possession, but can only be obtained by summarizing and analytically processing data. According to subparagraph 3 of paragraph 2 of the May 11, 2011 Decree No. 393 of the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, 'The Apparatus of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is not the manager of information if the requested information... must be obtained by summarizing, analytical data processing or needs to be created in another way,'" reads the response by the Apparatus.

Disagreeing with this argument, the editors decided to file a lawsuit with the Khmelnytskyi District Administrative Court. In their lawsuit, the media outlet asks that the reply by the VRU Apparatus be declared unlawful and the Apparatus is ordered to provide the requested information as well as the above-mentioned decree by the VRU Chairman.

"The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine considers the data on the deputies' reports to not be public information, as it requires additional analysis; however, we do not think so, so we ask the court to defend our rights and restore them," explains Yevheniy Vorobyov, a lawyer at the NGO "Human Rights Platform", who is assisting the editors in this case.

The Khmelnytskyi District Administrative Court opened the proceedings on March 21 and will consider the case according to the rules of simplified legal proceedings. The court will also demand from the VRU Apparatus the files regarding their review of the February 7, 2024 request.

On March 12, 2024 the investigative journalism agency Slidstvo.Info filed a lawsuit against the Apparatus of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for refusing to provide the public information about the overseas business trips that the deputies went on after the full-scale invasion.


Other types of indirect pressure – 1

1. "Espreso" and "Holka" report censorship, takedown attempt

28.03.2024 "Espreso" and the public initiative "Holka" reported attempts to take down an article related to the work of the "Servant of the People" party chair Olena Shulyak and the deputy prime minister Oleksandr Kubrakov from the website.

The statement was posted on the "Holka" website.

The column "'Servants of the People' leader Shulyak and Deputy Prime Minister Kubrakov arrange an inspection of the KMA: what's wrong with that?" was written by "Holka" analyst Heorhiy Mohylny.

It was posted to the "Insight" section on the website on March 26.

This material features a quote from the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (KMA) rector Serhiy Kvit, who mentions Shulyak and Kubrakov while discussing an urban planning "reform":

"Those who lobbied for the scandalous urban planning 'reform' No. 5655, which did not provide for proper cultural heritage protection, decided to whitewash themselves in the media and show the public that they are steadfast defenders of this heritage. And it is crucial to record one more detail here: when the chair of the leading party write the request (about the KMA cells restoration. – Ed.)? On December 21 last year. It was on that day that we at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy openly submitted the documents. And our experts also included those working on an alternative to No. 5655, the Urban Planning Code. A week before that, the Ministry of Regions failed to pass a a clone of the urban planning 'reform' which was criticized by the European Parliament, the European Commission, and recently by the Chatham House. But no one will allow politicians to exploit the KMA reputation to whitewash themselves," says Kvit.

On March 28, an intermediary contacted "Espreso's" commercial department, which deals with advertising, offering the channel money for taking the column down from the website, says the "Espreso" producer general Anastasia Ravva.

"The standards of our editorial team not only prohibit us from money for cleaning up the media landscape, but also oblige us to inform the society of such incidents in order to prevent further attempts to interfere in editorial policies," Ravva said.

Iryna Fedoriv, head of the public initiative "Holka", stresses that this is not the first attempt to purge the information field when it comes to the scandalous urban planning "reform" (No. 5655) or the work on the alternative initiative, the Urban Planning Code:

"Big reconstruction is big money. And big money is big players who want to create unfair rules for the game. The Royal Chatham House Institute, which drew on the analysis of the government's clone decree to the urban planning 'reform' by our KMA expert to develop their paper 'Building long-term resilience in Ukraine. The battle with corruption in wartime', emphasized that there are risks of a construction cartel emerging. Does anyone still doubt that we are looking at a cartel conspiracy? Big real estate developers want such rules for themselves, which suit them and allow them to quickly absorb funds for reconstruction. They don't need too much noise here. Previously censorship occurred in the 'Uryadovy Courier'. 'Espresso' is not the government's outlet. They cannot find administrative grounds to take down the column, so they are trying to solve it with money. It didn't work," Fedoriv said.

According to her, "over the past two years everyone is already used to the whole ordeal with the legislative initiative No. 5655 and the behavior of its lobbyists."

"Now in view of all this, the attempt to discredit the KMA looks most shameful. Following this column, an assistant to a Kyiv City Council deputy from 'Servant of the People' accused the RMA rector... of what? Of buying journalists! And who is it who really is trying to purge the media space for money? These cases have to signal to our international partners. As for the central government, certain staff decisions should be passed there after such unprincipled lobbying which slows down the country's development for years," Fedoriv added.


Cyber crimes – 2

1. "Chetverta Vlada" website under attack following an investigation into a deputy's income

22.03.2024 The website of the investigative journalism agency "Chetverta Vlada" suffered an intense DDoS attack following the release of an article about the Rivne City Council deputy Svyatoslav Stelmashchuk, "Chetverta Vlada" reports.

The attack happened on March 22 (immediately after the article was published) and lasted for 30 minutes. The article was about the deputy's luxurious lifestyle which his official income hardly covers.

During the attack, following the link would yield users a server error message.

According to the administrator, Natalya Onishchenko, the attack on the website was very intense.

"At its peak, the main page was receiving 14,000 requests per second from various IP addresses. The server could not withstand such a load, so the website was temporarily suspended," the administrator explains.

The "Chetverta Vlada" website has already been subjected to DDoS attacks in 2021, after reporting on the wedding of the "Rivne Razom" deputy Svyatoslav Stelmashchuk and his alleged involvement in embezzlement.

The website was also attacked in the fall of 2020, after an investigation into Victor Shakirzyan, a mayoral candidate from the party "Rivne Razom". On October 22 and 28, 2020, the website received many automated requests from the same IP address.

2. Lutsk's "Syla Pravdy" receives a phishing email

23.03.2024 The Investigative Journalism Center "Syla Pravdy" received a phishing email in its inbox.

The Center's chief editor and director Yuriy Horbach reported it to the IMI representative in the Volyn oblast.

According to him, the email was sent to the editorial inbox on March 23. The message was similar to a notice from Facebook, ending with a phishing link.

The letter claimed that the "Syla Pravdy" page on facebook would be blocked for 24 hours for verification, and asked to click the button below to confirm that the page administrator was really the owner.

Yuriy Horbach noted that he had received two or three such letters.

Currently, he can not say whether this phishing email was sent due to the content published on the website.

"We have had a lot of material on various topics recently. The last investigation was about a network of companies in Lutsk issuing medical certificates without proper examinations, and the letter arrived eight days after it. Maybe it's just a coincidence, we can only guess," Yuriy Horbach said.

Previously, the administrators of several Facebook groups received messages from scammers offering them to follow a link to prevent the page from being blocked.


The authorities' response to freedom of speech violations – 2

1. Court acquits the policeman charged with attacking KyivPost journalist

08.03.2024 The Sviatoshyno District Court of Kyiv acquitted the policeman accused of assaulting KyivPost journalist and documentarist Taisia Kutuzova.

The judgement was passed on March 4, Taisia Kutuzova told the Institute of Mass Information.

On October 6, 2020, a group of police officers used force against Taisia Kutuzova in Hatne village, Kyiv oblast. She was reporting on a village election commission meeting. The commission planned to disqualify a candidate for community chairmanship. Three policemen twisted the journalist's arms, took her camera and damaged the microphone.

Although the attack was committed by a group, the judgement only mentions one policeman, the journalist noted.

The police officer was charged under Part 3 of Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("Preclusion to the legal professional activity of journalists"). The judgement, which the journalist provided to the IMI, says that he was acquitted "due to the lack of a corpus delicti in his actions."

According to the indictment, the police arrived at the polling station in response to a report about some muscular men in tracksuits appearing there. Kutuzova approached the police and asked why the men were detained. Not understanding the police's reply, she started filming the detention. In turn, the police began to demand she leave and stop filming.

At the same time, the policeman who was acquitted by the court, who had neither introduced himself nor shown his badge, grabbed Kutuzova by the arm, took her camera away and pushed her away – all despite Taisia having introcudec herself as a journalist. After that, he left, according to the indictment. Two of his colleagues also took part in the conflict, but they stood before the court as witnesses.

The prosecutor asked for the defendant's imprisonment for four years and to revoke his right to office or to perform certain work for three years.

The defendant's attorney believed that Kutuzova forged her KyivPost ID, pointing out an error in it, and claimed it was inadmissible evidence. Kutuzova's representative noted that her KyivPost certificate contains a technical error: the publisher's name is spelled incorrectly, "Business Group LLC" with one "p" instead of the correct two. According to the defense, this in no way affects the legal status of his client as a journalist.

The court ruled that the defendant did not intentionally obstruct Kutuzova's legal professional activity, as the prosecution failed to provide "convincing and indisputable evidence that the defendant intended to obstruct the legal professional activity of a journalist, and this was not established during the trial." The court also claimed that the policeman had taken no active action aimed at obstruction.

The court added that during the hearing, the prosecutor failed to adequately prove that Kutuzova was engaged in professional reporting and is a journalist. This claim, the court says, is only supported by copies of Taisia's ID, which say she worked with "Kyiv Post" as a freelancer. The court also noted that the technical error in the journalist's certificate made it inadmissible.

In the comment to the IMI, Taisia Kutuzova said that she considered the ruling unfair and would appeal against it.

"It is very unfortunate and sad that the court listened to the defendant's lawyer about the spelling error on the ID, which they say proves that I do belong to the journalist field, but ignored the editors' evidence regarding the validity of this ID and the 10 years of my journalistic experience, which can be supported by the articles in many media outlets you can see just by typing my name into Google Search," she commented.

She also added that she and her representative asked the court to watch the footage of the incident while questioning of the witnesses, "because their words contradicted what actually happened, but the court did not allow it."

The ruling can be appealed to the Kyiv Court of Appeal within 30 days.

In 2020, KyivPost freelance journalist and documentarist Taisia Kutuzova faced obstruction of her work three times while filming the documentary "Shut Up!" about the local activist Serhiy Chaharov.

All three incidents occurred in Hatne village (Kyiv oblast). On June 1, the village council security guards physically restricted her access to the village council hall, citing the quarantine. On August 14, the guards barred Kutuzova from entering the village council.

On October 6, the police used force against Taisia Kutuzova. They twisted her arms, took her camera away and damaged the microphone.

Later, the Kyiv oblast police started proceedings over a group of police officers using force against a journalist under Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("Preclusion of the legal professional activities of journalists"). The attackers were suspended from work.

On October 15, the State Bureau of Investigation opened a case following Taisia Kutuzova's statement on obstruction by police officers.

2. Rivne prosecutors submit the Vlad Isayev funeral wreath case to court

28.03.2024 The Rivne Oblast Prosecutor's Office submitted to court an indictment against a Rivne resident who is suspected of having left a funeral wreath at the door of a journalist's apartment, reports the Rivne Oblast Prosecutor's Office.

According to the investigation, in July 2023, the suspect left a funeral wreath next to the door of a local news agency's chief editor, writing "Eternal memory, bright memory... from grateful readers" on the ribbon.

The prosecutors note that despite the careful planning and conspiracy, the police identified and tracked the cars and traffic routes of potential culprit, their communication circle and mobile traffic.

They also added that during the pre-trial investigation they analyzed hundreds of posts on social media and in Telegram channels, questioned a large number of witnesses, carried out multiple undercover investigative operations, authorized searches and forensic examinations.

The suspect did not cooperate with the investigation, pleaded not guilty and tried to feign an alibi. However, the prosecutors note, in December 2023 the police obtained enough evidence to notify one of the men of suspicion, now submitting an indictment against this person to the Rivne City Court. Currently, the law enforcers are looking into the involvement of other persons in the crime.

The indictment defines the crime as death threats or violent threats to a journalist due to the journalist's legal professional work by a group of persons upon prior conspiracy (Part 2 of Article 28, Part 1 of Article 345-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

The maximum punishment stipulated by the article is up to three years in prison.

According to the IMI, the journalist in question is Vlad Isayev. On July 3, 2023, unknown persons in Rivne placed a funeral wreath at his front door.

Vlad Isayev told the IMI that he was the editor of the news agency "Zakhidny Argument", though the agency's website no longer exists. The last post on the media outlet's Facebook page is from September 21, 2021. Isayev was also a journalist with "Rivne Vechirne", a website editor at "Press Center", and the founder of the Telegram channel "Stierlitz", which posts revealing information about the government.

On December 19, 2023, a court in Rivne arrested a local man aged 25 for two months on the suspicion of leaving a funeral wreath at the front door of journalist Vlad Isayev's apartment.

Earlier, on June 14, Isayev's car was set on fire. He believed this had to do with his reporting. Back then, the police opened a case for deliberate damage to property by way of arson (Part 2 of Article 194 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

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