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Pro-Russian separatists intimidate journalists covering Ukraine crisis

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Journalists working in Ukraine are being intimidated by pro-Russian separatists on a daily basis, and not only in the country’s eastern region. It’s also tough for Ukrainian journalists who try to work inside Russia.

Here is a catalogue of incidents so far this month involving the media, courtesy of a summary compiled by the Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, and reports on the website of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

On 20 July, pro-Russian separatists detained 10 journalists outside the morgue in Donetsk while reporting on the aftermath of the MH17 tragedy.

They included Kevin Bishop, a BBC reporter, Anna Nemtsova, a Russian reporter for the Daily Beast, Simon Shuster, a US reporter for Time magazine, Italian journalist Lucia Sgueglia, and two reporters for the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, Paul Hansen and Jan Lewenhagen.

They were released after questioning by the security service of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk. A Russian TV crew with Russia Today, who arrested the day before, were held overnight before their release. (See also CPJ report)

On 18 July, Ukrainian reporter Yevgeny Agarkov, who works for channel 2+2, was convicted of “working illegally as a journalist” in Voronezh, in southwestern Russia. He was sentenced to spend 10 days in solitary confinement and ordered to pay a small fine (£30). He will then be expelled from Russia and banned from the entering country for five years.

Immigration officials told the administrative court that Agarkov was not accredited by the Russian foreign ministry.

He went to Voronezh to cover the case of Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot who is being held for alleged complicity in the deaths of Russian journalists Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin, who were killed by mortar fire in eastern Ukraine on 17 June.

On 17 July, police in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, received anonymous hoax messages about bombs having been planted in the offices of two national TV stations.

Searches of Inter and 5 Kanal, which is owned by President Petro Poroshenko, proved fruitless. It was the third false bomb alert at 5 Kanal in July.

On 11 July, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a Ukrainian organisation partnered with Reporters Without Borders, released figures for media freedom violations during the first half of 2014.

According to its tally, six journalists were killed in connection with their work; 249 were injured or attacked; and at least 55 were taken hostage or detained.

IMI’s director, Oksana Romanyuk, said: “Physical attacks against journalists and other media workers currently pose one of the main challenges for the media profession… Ending impunity and defending the public’s right to information should be one of the main items on the new president’s agenda.”

On 10 July, pro-Russian rebels seized all the computer equipment and video cameras from the offices of the Luhansk-based news website Politika 2.0.

Its editor, Serhiy Sakadynski, said the raid took place after a Politika 2.0 reporter was accused by separatists of spying because she took photos of Luhansk railway station.

Sakadynski was beaten up during the raid and detained by the gang. They released him the following day after “influential persons” intervened. The equipment was not returned.

On 10 July, a Luhansk-based TV station, Luhansk Cable Television (LKT), announced that it had suspended broadcasting because it could no longer guarantee the safety of employees.

The station’s owner told employees he was placing them all on leave until further notice. The wife of LKT’s legal adviser, Igor Zazimnik, was killed by a stray bullet on the balcony of her apartment the same day. Two other local TV broadcasters, IRTA and LOT, have also had to suspend operations.

On 8 July, a TV crew working for the Ukrainian national TV channel, Inter, came under mortar fire in a village near Luhansk.

Reporter Roman Bochkala was taken to hospital after breaking his arm while scrambling for shelter. His cameraman, Vasyl Menovshchikov, was unhurt.

They were covering operations by the Ukrainian army’s 30th regiment in which two soldiers were killed.

On 5 July, about 50 masked men attacked the Kiev headquarters of the Russian-language newspaper Vesti. They pelted it with stones and set off teargas.

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Oles Vakhni, an ultra-nationalist who served a six-year jail term on charges of armed robbery and violence.

Vesti’s owner, Igor Guzhva, linked the incident to a demonstration staged outside the newspaper the week before with the aim of “ending the dissemination of anti-Ukrainian propaganda.”

On 4 July, armed separatists in combat fatigues representing the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Luhansk stormed the headquarters of the Luhansk region’s state radio and TV broadcaster.

After they had taken control of the premises, one of the rebels said the broadcaster’s various channels were now “closed” and would remain so until they resumed “under a different format.”

The previous week, local cable TV operators, LKT and Triolan, replaced most of their Ukrainian TV news channels with Russian alternatives.

On 2 July, two TV journalists working for Ukraine’s citizen channel, Hromadske, were released after being held for two days by separatists.

Reporter Anastasia Stanko and her cameraman, Ilya Beskorovayny, had paid money to a “security unit”, which promised to protect them. But they were detained by another unit. They were accused of spying and threatened with decapitation.

Their release was negotiated after the heads of Russia’s three leading pro-government broadcasters – Pervy Kanal, VGTRK and NTV – intervened. (see also CPJ report)

On 1 July, Denis Kulaga, a staff reporter with Russia’s REN-TV, and his cameraman, Vadim Yudin, were treated for shock in hospital after a mortar shell exploded close to them while they were reporting near the Russian border.

Sources: Reporters Without Borders / Committee to Protect Journalists

The Guardian.

#MH17: Dutch experts arrive at crash scene as heavy fighting breaks out

Investigators say train being loaded with bodies will soon be moved as Ukraine launches offensive near Donetsk station.

OSCE inspectors, part of the monitoring mission to Ukraine, document bodybags from MH17 in a refrigerated wagon at Torez train station, near the crash site, on Sunday. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPAOSCE inspectors, part of the monitoring mission to Ukraine, document bodybags from MH17 in a refrigerated wagon at Torez train station, near the crash site, on Sunday. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

As Dutch forensic experts arrived at the scene of the Malaysia Airlines crash on Monday and promised that the train being loaded with the victims’ bodies would be moved before the end of the day, heavy fighting broke out between the Ukrainian army and rebels on the outskirts of Donetsk, the main regional city and the hub of the insurgency.

There has been widespread international anger that the rebels have failed to allow proper access to the crash site to investigators, and suspicions that they have seized the black boxes and are attempting to destroy evidence.

But it was the Ukrainian army that seemed intent on disrupting expert work on Monday, as they apparently launched an offensive against rebel positions close to Donetsk railway station1, as well as in other towns across the region.

“There is work on clearing approaches to the city, on destroying checkpoints of the terrorists. If there are explosions in the middle of the city, then it is not Ukrainian soldiers,” said Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s national security council, in Kiev.

Adding to the chaos, Lysenko denied that the Ukrainian army was responsible for explosions in central Donetsk but said a “self-organised group” of partisans could be engaging the rebels.

We have strict orders not to use air strikes and artillery in the city. If there is fighting in the city, we have information that there is a small self-organised group who are fighting with the terrorists,” he said.

Vladislav Seleznev, spokesman for Ukraine’s anti-terror operation, said the action was “a planned offensive” to push rebels away from Donetsk airport, and insisted that aviation and artillery were not being used against civilian residences.

However, there were reports of civilian casualties. The Guardian saw one 18-storey building where a shell had hit the courtyard, smashing all the windows on the first nine floors and destroying parked cars.

Trucks of rebels could be seen travelling past the station as reinforcements. Gunfire and artillery rounds were audible. One rebel fighter claimed the Ukrainians had tried to take the area around the train station with tanks but the rebels were fighting back.

The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, ordered a ceasefire across a 40km (24-mile) radius from the crash site, but this does not include Donetsk, which is further out.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have arrived at the crash site, where they appear to be observing the situation under the watch of the rebels. So far the observers are still being confined to the main path into the fields where most of the debris is. They do not appear to have been allowed to move from the main path. The rebels have cordoned off the press into a separate section to allow the observers to do their work.

In the town of Torez, where bodies of the crash victims are being loaded on to refrigerated train carriages, OSCE monitors and the small team of Dutch forensic experts viewed the body bags in the three train carriages and said the train should be moved on Monday. Peter Van Vliet, one of the experts, said the storage of the bodies was acceptable.

“I just want the train to move as soon as possible to a place where we can do our technical work,” he said, adding that it was not possible to do in this location. He was unable to confirm the number of bodies because they would have to walk on them and, he said, that would show no respect.

In a conversation between the investigator Alexander Hug and one of the rebels escorting the officials, Hug said: “We need to get the train out of here today. To wait any longer than today will not be good for anything – for the experts, or for the families.”

Ukrainian authorities say they have prepared for the bodies to be brought to Kharkiv, a major city in the east of the country. However, the fighting at Donetsk railway station could complicate any transfer of the bodies by rail.

There has been a flurry of international criticism of Vladimir Putin over Russian support for the rebels and claims that MH17 was shot down using a missile system provided by Russia.

In an unusual video address, Putin said on Monday that “nobody should – and no one has the right to – use this tragedy to achieve selfish political ends. Such events should not divide people but unite them.”

The Guardian.

  1. Is the train with the bodies in Donetsk train station? or Torez train station?, the news networks have yet to make this clear,  or are they deliberately worrying the relatives of victims unnecessary to sell more papers. 

The Guardian: Russian media is covering up Putin’s complicity in the #MH17 tragedy

In Russia, errors like shooting down a Malaysia Airlines jet could not have happened, so they simply won’t have happened.

A pro-Russian fighter holds up a toy found among the debris at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) Photograph: Dmitry Lovetsky/APA pro-Russian fighter holds up a toy found among the debris at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) Photograph: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

On Thursday in eastern Ukraine – where Russian-supported separatists have declared an autonomous state – a plane with civilians on board was shot down.

The plane did not crash and it did not “collapse” – as was written by some of the Russian media – it was shot down from the ground. We in Russia know this – if not from our own news organizations, then from several video commentaries, including one in which a little boy says, “Look! A junta plane has been shot down! Well done, DPR!” (The DPR is the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, and the “junta” is the legally elected government of Ukraine – the typical way for Russian propaganda to refer to the present government in Kiev.) This child does not know – and may never find out – that the downed aircraft had children like him on board.

In their reporting on the tragedy, the Russian media defined the accident scene as “east of Ukraine”, forgetting the terms such as “New Russia”, “DPR”, “LPR” – the Lugansk People’s Republic, another separatist territory in Ukraine – for the evening. In the new Russia, such errors could not have happened, so they simply won’t have happened. Our government, and its collaborators in the media, will see to that.

The people do not need to see tragedies, they seem to believe – only victories of the Russian soldiers, the heroes of their homeland, and the brave patriots in eastern Ukraine that we should support.

The alleged Vkontakte page of Igor Strelkov, “patriot” and leader of the pro-Russian army in Donetsk, bragged that the DPR’s army shot down a Ukrainian AN-26 aircraft about a half hour after the tragedy. “We warned them not fly ‘in our skies’”, it said, without any photographs to prove it was a military plane. A few hours after going viral, the statement was removed. Friday, the author claimed that the dead bodies – reportedly seen falling through the air as the plane disintegrated – were already dead, another claim parroted by the media

Alexander Boroday, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed DPR (who was added to the US sanctions list a day before MH-17 was taken down) simply declared: “If it really was a passenger airliner, we did not do it”. This statement is a concise version of the position often adopted by Russian authorities: do not admit to anything, whatever happens, however obviously untrue.

Almost immediately after the tragedy, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko officially announced that Ukrainian troops were not involved in the attack on the airplane, noting that they didn’t even have weapons capable of shooting down a plane at that range. Russian President Putin responded to Poroshenko five hours later by accusing Ukraine of responsibility for the disaster – though all of Russian television media seem to have beaten him to that, at least after they finished repeating that it was a Ukrainian military transport plane that was shot down.

By this weekend, the international media will likely stop using the term “militia members” and nobody outside of Russia will call the Donetsk army representatives anything other than “terrorists”. Here, though, Putin will continue his support for the people that the West will call terrorists. The DPR’s anti-aircraft missiles – which everyone believes were used to shoot down the plane – were probably transferred from eastern Ukraine back to their Russia owners under cover of night, and records of their possession have already been erased from Strelkov’s page and widely denied by the separatists who were nonetheless seen using them. But in Putin’s Russia, you can’t believe your eyes. You have to believe what you are told.

There is too much evidence that the Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down by the pro-Russian DPR army. Not on purpose: it was a stupid, horrible accident, a mistake too easily made when people get confused (or are deliberately confused by their leaders), when inchoate rage and patriotism are aimed at a target as big as the sky. But rather than admit their mistakes, our leaders ask us to accept a lie. After all, as Duma representative Sergei Kalashnikov wrote, “Will it be any easier for you if you find out who shot the plane down?”.

It won’t be easy – but it is nonetheless necessary to find out who shot the plane down, though endless layers of propaganda will have to be shoved aside. And having to do so will make the discovery of the truth about this tragedy even more painful, once you understand all the forces that don’t want you to know the truth.

The Guardian.

Bus crash in Germany leaves several dead and scores injured

The crash was near the city of Dresden. Photograph: Matthias Rietschel/APThe crash was near the city of Dresden. Photograph: Matthias Rietschel/AP

Nine people have died and 40 injured when several buses crashed on a German motorway, near the eastern city of Dresden.

The crash, which occurred about 2am local time on Saturday, involved a Polish coach, a Ukrainian coach and a Polish minibus, said police spokesman Lutz Zoellner. He was unable to immediately provide details about the victims.

The German public broadcaster MDR reported that seven of those killed were traveling in the minibus.

Citing a preliminary police report, MDR said the Polish coach hit the rear of the Ukrainian coach and then broke through the median barrier, crashing into the oncoming minibus.

The Guardian.

Flight MH17 dominates newspaper front pages around world, but not in Russia

State-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta leads with story about Russians’ eating habits, relegating plane crash to bottom of page

Debris found at the site of the MH17 plane crash. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/ReutersDebris found at the site of the MH17 plane crash. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

The downing of MH17 over eastern Ukraine was the main story on the front pages of most newspapers around the world on Friday. Not so in Russia, where the state-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta led with a story about the eating habits of Russians, relegating the 298 deaths on board MH17 to the bottom of the front page.

Other Russian newspapers led with stories about US sanctions on Russia, including the respected Vedomosti, in what was either a strange editorial decision or a conscious plan to play down an attack that much of the world was already linking to Russia.

State television reported the incident, but claimed Ukrainian army missiles shot down the plane. On Friday, Channel One said the Russian defence ministry had spotted missile radar activity in Ukraine on Thursday. More outlandish theories, such as the idea that the plane’s red-white-blue colouring had meant that the Ukrainians mistook it for Vladimir Putin’s presidential jet and thus shot it out of the sky, were jettisoned after an initial airing.

The Russian twittersphere was awash with conspiracy theories about Ukrainian or even US involvement in the downing of the plane. The boss of the Kremlin’s English-language television channel, Russia Today, wrote on Twitter that she despaired of people jumping to conclusions about what had happened, shortly after retweeting an opinion saying that Ukrainian “freaks” were behind the attack but would attempt to blame pro-Russian rebels.

However, one of the channel’s British reporters, Sara Firth, appeared to go off message with a series of disparaging tweets in which she said the channel’s reporters were engaged in lies.

In comments that are likely to embarrass the channel, Firth wrote: “We do work for Putin. We are asked on a daily basis if not to totally ignore then to obscure the truth”. Shortly afterwards Firth resigned and tweeted that she is “for the truth“.

The crisis in Ukraine has polarised opinion in Russia, and many people were angry as the Friday front pages of British newspapers began to circulate on Twitter.

Gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev, in response to the Sun’s “Putin’s Missile” headline, wrote: “Today’s headline of The Sun once again proves how narrow minded people live in the UK. They are better with tits on the cover.”

The Guardian.