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IMI records 19 crimes against freedom of speech in Ukraine in April

03.05.2024, 10:00
Illustration by IMI
Illustration by IMI

The Institute of Mass Information experts recorded 19 freedom of speech violations in Ukraine in April, according to the monthly IMI monitoring “Freedom of Speech Barometer”.

Russia’s crimes (14 cases) include abduction, bodily harm and death threats to journalists, shelling strikes on a TV tower, which resulted in Ukrainian broadcasting being disabled, damage to media offices, and cyber attacks.

The Russian aggression resulted in the deaths of four media workers who were defending Ukraine from occupation. The death of one was only reported in April, as he had been considered missing:

  • Oleh Shemchuk – a journalist investigator from Zaporizhzhia who went missing in action near Bakhmut, Donetsk oblast, in September 2022. Declared dead on April 3, 2024.
  • Andriy Topchiy – "Fakty" journalist, UAF soldier, rifle battalion combat medic. Killed on April 20, 2024, while performing a combat mission in Zaporizhzhia oblast, near Robotyne village. Andriy Topchiy was 38 years old.
  • Alla Pushkarchuk (call sign "Ruta") – a soldier, former journalist, was killed by shelling in Donetsk oblast on April 25, 2024.
  • Yuriy Siliuk – a soldier, videographer from Lutsk. Died on April 26, 2024, while performing a combat mission in Arkhangelske (Pokrovsk district, Donetsk oblast).

Freedom of speech violations in Ukraine in April 2024

As of May 3, a total of 79 media workers have died in Ukraine as a result of Russia's aggression, with 10 dying while reporting.

At least four journalists were injured by Russian shelling strikes on Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia in early April. They all came under “double tap” strikes while filming the aftermath of the previous attacks.

Two journalists were injured while filming the aftermath of a Russian mass drone strike on Kharkiv on the night of April 4:

Victor had a concussion. Yulia Boyko was diagnosed with barotrauma and a mild concussion. They were saved by the State Emergency Service car parked nearby, which shielded them from the shock wave.

In Zaporizhzhia, two journalists were injured:

  • Kira Oves, TSN (1+1) journalist (she had her temple stitched);
  • Olha Zvonaryova, Ukrinform correspondent (leg injury). She was hospitalized in a serious condition with severe trauma and blood loss and remains in the hospital now. She had surgery; her state has stabilized.

Furthermore, a Russian strike on Zaporizhzhia damaged the office of the media outlet RIA Pivden, which had relocated from Melitopol. After the start of the full-scale war and the Russian occupation of Melitopol, the team and the chief editor, Svitlana Zalizetska, faced persecution.

The Russians keep pressuring RIA Melitopol journalists. In April, they urged the administrators to surrender as prisoners in a Telegram post. Namely, they offered the journalists to "go out into the Victory Square" in "liberated Melitopol" and surrender. The post with the call featured a World War 2 era photo of German Nazi occupiers surrendering as prisoners, and contained hate speech towards Ukrainians.

Moreover, in April it was reported that RIA Melitopol (RIA Pivden) journalist Anastasia Hlukhovska, who was detained by Russia together with the administrators of the Telegram channels RIA Melitopol and “Melitopol is Ukraine” in August 2023, has been in detention for almost eight months.

The journalist's name had not been revealed until now out of safety considerations, as requested by her mother. To date, the family's attempts to find Anastasia have yielded no result. The occupiers give out no information on the whereabouts of the Melitopol journalist.

On April 22, the Russian troops targeted a TV tower in Kharkiv, destroying it. The TV tower was the tallest building in the city – 245 meters high. It should be noted that TV towers are civilian objects and destroying them is a war crime. The shelling strike on the Kharkiv TV tower resulted in digital broadcasting disappearing in the city and the nearby municipalities.

Russia continues to target Ukrainian media with cyber attacks. In March – April, the IMI recorded at least five such cases. The enemy was attacking Ukrainian TV channels on the Astra4A and Hot Bird 13G satellites, jamming their signal, interrupting their broadcasting and streaming their own propaganda. The 1+1 Media’s channels, Freedom, and others were affected.

In addition, the Russians attacked the Poltava news website “Zmist” for several days. The website was running slower and asking visitors to confirm if they are human.

IMI also recorded five freedom of speech-related violations committed by citizens of Ukraine. These include restrictions on access to public information, political and legal pressure, as well as surveillance of journalists.

The political pressure included attacks on Suspilne by deputy Maryana Bezuhla, as well as plans to remove Suspilne Broadcasting from the evening slots of the joint telethon. The pressure began shortly after it was reported the US State Department had included the national telethon "United News" in its report on human rights violations in Ukraine in 2023. The report noted that the telethon provided the government with an "unprecedented level of control over primetime television news."

IMI also recorded a case of Slidstvo.Info journalist Yevheniy Shulhat facing surveillance, when employees of an enlistment office tried to hand him a call-up notice. This happened right before the release of his investigation into the fortunes of the wife and mother of Illya Vitiuk, chief of the SBU Department of Counterintelligence and National Information Security.

The journalists said that the enlistment office representatives may have been instructed by an SBU employee to deliver a draft notice to the Slidstvo.Info journalist. In this way, the special services wanted to punish the man for exposing Illya Vitiuk for owning elite real estate.

The Media Movement demanded that a case against SBU and TSC employees be opened over the Slidstvo.Info journalist incident. On May 1, President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed Vitiuk from his post.

Read the full monitoring here.

The Institute of Mass Information (IMI) is a Ukrainian public media organization that has been operating since 1996. The IMI defends the rights of journalists, analyzes the media field and covers media-related events, fights propaganda and disinformation and has been providing media outlets with safety gear for trips to the combat zone since the start of the Russo–Ukrainian war in 2014.

The IMI carries out Ukraine's only freedom of speech monitoring and keeps a list of high quality and sustainable online media outlets, documents Russia's crimes against the media committed in the course of the war on Ukraine. The IMI has representatives in 20 oblasts of Ukraine and a network of "Mediabaza" hubs to provide journalists with continuous support. The IMI's partners include Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House; the organization is a member of the International Organization for the Protection of Freedom of Expression (IFEX).

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