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IMI records 20 crimes against freedom of speech in Ukraine in March

04.04.2023, 10:00
Cover by IMI
Cover by IMI

In March, the IMI's experts recorded 20 crimes against freedom of speech in Ukraine. Six of such crimes against Ukrainian 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.

In March, two media workers who had gone to defend Ukraine were killed at the front line near Bakhmut: Suspilne cameraman Oleksiy Olkhovyk and Vchasno reporter Oleksandr Tsakhniv.

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.

Learn more here.

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