In Ukraine, journalists face violence, abduction

New York, May 12, 2014–Local and international journalists covering the crisis in Ukraine have been assaulted and arbitrarily detained in the past week, according to news reports and a local press freedom organization. At least one was attacked while covering a contested referendum Sunday on autonomy for the east of the country, the reports said. 

“Both sides must send a clear signal that attacks on journalists will not be condoned,” said Muzaffar Suleymanov, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program researcher. “The authorities in Kiev and separatists in eastern Ukraine must do everything in their power to ensure journalists can do their jobs freely and securely.”

On Sunday, Pavel Kanygin, a Russian investigative journalist with the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was held overnight in the eastern city of Artyomovsk by armed pro-Russia separatists who interrogated him about his articles for the paper, according to news reports and his interview with the online TV channel Dozhd (TV Rain). Kanygin, who was covering Sunday’s poll, said the assailants beat him, robbed him, and threatened to kill him. The journalist told Dozhd that the abductors knocked him out by punching him in the face and that he woke up today in a Donetsk hotel.

On Sunday, two masked men clad in camouflage broke in to the apartment of local journalist Aleksandr Yaroshenko in the southern city of Kotovsk, the Institute of Mass Information, a Kiev-based press freedom group, reported. The assailants beat Yaroshenko in the face and said, “You don’t like Putin,” reports said. IMI said Yaroshenko escaped by jumping out of his apartment window. It is unclear if he sought treatment for any injuries. His apartment was later burned down by unknown attackers, reports said. The police are investigating the case.

In the eastern city of Mariupol, Fyodor Zavaleykov, a freelance cameraman working for the Kremlin-sponsored TV channel Russia Today, was shot in the stomach while covering deadly clashes on Friday between the Ukrainian army and separatists who barricaded themselves in a police station they raided earlier that day, according to reports. Margarita Simonyan, Russia Today’s chief editor, told CPJ that Ukrainian authorities had initially prevented his evacuation by plane. RT reported today that Zavaleykov was evacuated to Moscow for medical treatment.

Armed men on Thursday raided the newsroom of embattled regional newspaper Provintsiya (Province) in the city of Konstantinovka in Donetsk region, IMI reported. The assailants forced journalists off the premises and told Mikhail Razputko, the paper’s editor-in-chief, and Galina Razputko, its founder, that they were fired, the report said. On Saturday, Galina Razputko said on the paper’s website that separatists said the paper would be allowed to publish only if it changed its editorial stance.

Also on Thursday, armed separatists in Sloviansk, in eastern Ukraine, detained journalists with the Ukrainian television channel ICTV after stopping their car at a checkpoint, the broadcaster reported. The assailants forced the journalists to exit the car at gunpoint and confiscated their equipment, including computers and cameras, after inspecting it, news reports said citing one of the journalists. The assailants released the journalists after a brief interrogation, ICTV reported.

In recent months, the climate of press freedom in Ukraine has deteriorated following violent attacks against local and international reporters, confiscation of their reporting equipment, and obstruction of Ukrainian TV channels’ transmissions, according to CPJ research and IMI reports. Abduction by armed separatists remains a risk for both local and foreign journalists: At least two Ukrainian journalists, Sergei Shapoval and Yuri Lelyavsky, remain unaccounted for after being captured by pro-Russia separatists in Sloviansk.