In the environment of civil unrest and ongoing separatist movements in the eastern regions of Ukraine, during March-April 2014, repeated cases of obstruction of journalists` professional activity occurred with the use of force.
Notably, media representatives found themselves victims of abduction by unknown people, threats or beatings on the part of local protestors. Quite often their property, professional equipment was damaged or destroyed. Moreover, several local broadcasters in Lugansk and Kharkiv were seized by force. However, the police did not respond appropriately to ensure safety of the media professionals in most cases.
Abduction and detention of journalists
On 14 April 2014, in Gorlivka of Donetsk region, Alexander Bilinsky, editor-in-chief of the local Gorlovka.ua website was abducted. Men in masks broke into the offices of this website and the newspaper "Kryminal-Espress", pushed the Gorlovka.ua editor out of the office and took him somewhere in a car. As it turned out, Mr Bilinsky was brought to the building of local police station, where the crowd of 200-300 people surrounded him demanding an explanation of why he had called them terrorists in the article. Some hours later the journalist was released.
Work of the Gorlovka.ua editorial office appeared blocked for some time, and due to the cyber-attacks their website is currently not running.
On Saturday, 12 April, some armed separatists that seized the building of the Police Department in Slovyansk, Donetsk region, detained journalists from Hromadske TV and Lenta.ru. The journalists were searched and then brought out of the perimeter of the police department building. With threats, armed men forbade them to cover local events.
Threatening and beatings of journalists
Oleksiy Movsesyan, a camera operator from the regional TV channel LOT, was hit on the head at the rally nearby the local state service dept. in Lugansk, on 6 April. Reportedly, the protesters applied force to the journalist because he was not a Russian reporter.
On the same day, now in Kharkiv, journalists of the TV channel "Ukraine" had to stop coverage of the Antymaydan rally, as they subjected to physical force and threats. A group of protesters surrounded the correspondent of "Ukraine" TV channel, who was broadcasting live from the square, demanding from him not to convey "false information to Kyiv." As the correspondent continued his coverage, a group of young athletic men began pushing him out from the square, causing strong kicks in the back.
Also on 6 April, participants of the pro-Russian rally at the Lenin Square, in Donetsk, treated the media representatives brutally preventing them from covering the events on the spot. The protesters attacked media reporters and photographers with curses and demanded from them to “go away!”
On 2 March 2014, the protesters that had gathered under the Russian flag at the Lenin square beat up three journalists at the rally in Donetsk city. Namely, Alexander Peremota, a journalist from the "URA-Inform. Donbas" website was hit, when attackers tried to take away his camera and demanded to remove the photos taken by the journalist. The protesters also attacked Pavlo Stepanenko and Sergiy Wolski, correspondents of the "Pershyy Dilovyy” TV channel. Journalists filed a criminal complaint to the local police on their beating and obstruction to their professional activities.
Damaging or destruction of journalists` property
The pro-Russian activists attacked a British photojournalist Frederick Paxton, from Vice News, during the seizure of a police station in Gorlivka, the eastern Ukrainian town, on 14 April 2014. As the journalist recounts, they took away his camera and destroyed flash cards.
On 12 April 2014, an unknown person set fire to the car of editor-in-chief of the online media "News of Donbass", Oleksiy Matsuka, who received some anonymous threats lately. As one can see from the video above, a man approached the car parked near the journalist`s house in Donetsk, poured on it some flammable substance and set on fire. As of today, a criminal proceeding has been launched on the fact of crime. Mr Matsuka is known as one of the founders of the "Public Service Television of Donetsk Region", aiming at operational and uncensored provision of objective and unbiased information on the political, economic and social processes to the Donetsk region residents.
Earlier, on 10 March 2014, the participants of the pro-Russian rally around the Lugansk Regional State Administration damaged equipment of reporters, namely the video cameras of two TV channels – TRK "Ukraine" and NTN. Journalists came there to provide reports from the rally, but aggressive people demanded that they turn off the camera, alleging them biased coverage of events. Then the crowd began to push the journalists and cameramen out from the area. The police failed to act appropriately, operators had to give the attackers a memory card and a tape. Media representatives filed a criminal complaint to the police on obstruction to their professional activities as journalists.
Seizure of media outlets
On 7 April 2014, unidentified men in masks seized the Kharkiv ATN TV company and demanded to provide them with live broadcast. After not getting it, they smashed some office furniture and the television studio, pushing employees and threatening them with physical violence. The police were present at the scene and acted indecisively trying to stop the attackers, and arrested none of them. According to the TV channel editorial body, this attack seems deliberate and planned in detail by those who do not want an alternative to the governmental point of view be heard.