Journalists shot, attacked covering clashes in Odessa

New York, May 5, 2014–At least three journalists were shot over the weekend and others assaulted while covering deadly clashes between pro-Russia activists and their opponents in Odessa, southern Ukraine, according to news reports and a local press freedom group. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Ukrainian authorities to stand by their declared commitment to ensure journalists’ safety and hold those responsible to account. 

“The threats to journalists trying to work in Ukraine continue to spread and multiply,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We again call on all sides in the clashes to respect the civilian role of journalists, and for Ukrainian authorities to ensure that perpetrators of attacks on the press are held to account to the full extent of the law.”

More than 40 people died over the weekend during violent clashes between pro-Russia activists and supporters of Ukraine, according to local and international news reports.

The Kiev-based Institute for Mass Information (IMI), a local press freedom group, reported that three local journalists sought medical help after being shot. On Friday, Oleg Konstantinov, chief editor of news website Dumskaya was shot in the back, arm, and leg, and Anton Dotsenko, a journalist for local news website Timer, was shot in his arm. Neither could identify the assailants, reports said. Pyotr Rakul, reporter for online news portal Info-Center, was shot in his left leg on Sunday. According to a report by Info-Center, Rakul was shot by a local police officer despite wearing a yellow vest marked “Press.” It is unclear if Rakul’s attacker was identified and apprehended.

According to IMI, at least two other journalists were physically attacked while reporting on the clashes. IMI said Dotsenko’s colleague at Timer, Anna Levchenko, was hit on her arms and legs by rocks thrown by both sides of the clashes on Friday. On Sunday, pro-Russia activists roughed up Nataliya Tarasovskaya, journalist for the independent broadcaster Channel 5, and her cameramen as the TV crew was about to start reporting on air, news reports said.

In a statement on April 26, Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, instructed law enforcement agencies to ensure journalists’ safety during security operations in eastern Ukraine. In the days since he issued the decree, violence against journalists has spread to other regions of the country.

The press freedom climate in Ukraine has rapidly deteriorated in recent months, and violent attacks against local and international reporters have continued. Journalists have been abducted and obstructed, according to CPJ research. The attacks escalated after former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych fled the country, and spread to the eastern and southern regions after Russia annexed Crimea, where multiple anti-press violations have also been documented. Following the Crimea annexations, armed pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine attacked government buildings, seized key junctions, and clashed with Ukrainian troops. In the process, journalists, both local and international, have been caught between the clashing parties and treated as enemies, traitors, and bargaining chips.