Journalists missing, attacked covering crisis in Ukraine

New York, April 29, 2014–At least two journalists who traveled to eastern Ukraine have been reported missing in the past week, while at least four journalists have been attacked, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the targeting of journalists and media outlets in Ukraine and calls on all parties to allow them to work freely.

“Attacks on journalists in eastern Ukraine appear to be accelerating–a direct result of the impunity with which previous attacks have taken place,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on all sides in the crisis in eastern Ukraine to stop targeting journalists and media outlets, and for authorities to investigate previous attacks and hold the assailants to account.”

In the past few weeks, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, armed pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine have raided and taken over government buildings, including police stations; demanded a referendum on the status of their region within Ukraine; and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops. The latest attacks come after pro-Russia separatists released from custody two other journalists–Simon Ostrovsky, reporter with the U.S.-based news channel VICE News, and Ukrainian freelance photographer Yevgeny Gapich. Both journalists said they were beaten and accused of spying.

Ostrovksy said the same separatists are holding Sergei Lefter, reporter for the Warsaw-based Open Dialogue Foundation, as well as computer programmer Artyom Deyneha, a Sloviansk resident who is being held for setting up a Web camera to film a detention facility. Lefter and Deyneha have been held for two weeks.

Sergei Shapoval, a reporter with Volyn Post, a news website based in the northwestern Ukrainian city of Lutsk, was reported missing by his wife and sister on Saturday in Sloviansk after they were not able to contact him on his mobile phone, according to local news reports. Shapoval’s sister said today that the journalist had called her and said he was being held by local separatists in Sloviansk, according to the Ukrainian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

On Friday, Yuri Lelyavsky, a special correspondent for the Lviv-based ZIK media holding company, was abducted by assailants in Sloviansk while he was filming in the street. He was taken to a local municipality building, which had been captured by pro-Russia separatists, according to the Kiev-based press freedom group Institute of Mass Information citing journalists who witnessed the incident. Lelyavsky has not been heard from since, IMI said.

Ruslan Kukharchuk, a reporter for the Kiev-based media association Novomedia, was filming pro-Russia separatists in Sloviansk on Sunday when assailants took him to a local police station, which had been captured by separatists, according to news reports. Kukharchuk said he was beaten and accused of “incorrect” coverage of the crisis, IMI reported. He was released after 13 hours.

On Monday evening, three journalists–Richard Gaisford, a reporter for the London-based broadcaster ITV, and his cameraman, Simon Llewellyn, as well as Yevgeny Shibalov, local reporter for Ukrainian newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli–were assaulted by pro-Russia separatists, according to IMI and other news reports. The journalists were covering clashes between pro-Russia separatists and their opponents in Donetsk. Shibalov sustained head injuries, and an ITV camera was damaged, the reports said.

In the eastern city of Donetsk on Friday, assailants clad in balaclavas and wielding baseball bats entered the offices of the local news website and demanded that the journalists provide favorable coverage of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the website’s editor-in-chief, Roman Lazorenko, told the local news website Novosti Donbassa. The staff called the local police and the assailants left the building, Lazorenko said.

In Donetsk on Sunday, assailants occupied the local television broadcasting center and demanded that transmission of all Ukrainian channels be replaced by Russian TV stations. The broadcasting center switched off the transmission of the main regional Ukrainian channel, Donetsk OGTRK, and replaced it with the major Russian station Rossiya-24, IMI reported. On Monday evening, unidentified armed men raided the transmitting center, turned off analogue and digital broadcasts for at least seven national and regional TV stations, and replaced them with Russian ones, IMI and news website Ukrainska Pravda reported.