On Wednesday, we reported that in Ukraine this week, at least two journalists had gone missing, while pro-Russia separatists abducted a fixer and briefly detained a reporter. Also, the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic said it was banning journalists from the conflict area. We noted that press freedom violations “are happening at dizzying speed in eastern Ukraine.”
Today, we got updates and clarifications on some of those cases:
- On Tuesday, news reports said armed separatists in Donetsk stormed a local hotel room and abducted Anton Skiba, who was assisting a CNN film crew. Today, CNN confirmed that Skiba was working as a fixer for its team in Donetsk, saying he was taken away by a group of separatists who stopped the crew at the entrance to the hotel (rather than inside). CNN said the separatists were led by a “senior official from the rebel region” who identified himself as Alexandr Kalyussky. The separatists accused Skiba of terrorism and of posting cash rewards for the killing of separatist fighters on Facebook, then put him into a car and drove away, CNN said. The charges were later amended to being a “Ukrainian agent” and possessing multiple forms of identification with different surnames, the network said, adding that it is working toward his release.
- On Wednesday, news reports citing the Kremlin-owned broadcast outlet Russia Today said two journalists–Graham Phillips, a contributor to Russia Today, and a cameraman with the pro-Russia news website ANNA News, identified only by his first name Vadim–have been missing since Tuesday, when they were last near the Donetsk airport. Russia Today said Phillips was in the hands of the Ukrainian army. Ukrainian authorities denied holding him, according to Russian news agencies RIA Novosti and Interfax. Today, I spoke to a representative at the press center for Ukraine’s National Security Council, who said he had no information about Phillips’ case. Just after our call, Russia Today and ANNA News reported that the cameraman, Vadim Aksyonov, had been released by the Ukrainian military today and that he claimed that Phillips was still being held by soldiers and had been moved to another location outside the conflict area. ANNA News, which appears to be affiliated with the separatists, said Aksyonov was a former separatist fighter.
- Finally, we reported Wednesday that the press service of the Donetsk People’s Republic had published a statement banning journalists from the conflict area. However, international broadcasters such as the BBC and CNN were still reporting from Donetsk today.
I visited Kiev earlier this month on a fact-finding mission on press freedom conditions in the country. I’ll be publishing a report on my trip soon.