Ukrainian journalists held by pro-Russian separatists

New York, July 1, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the detention of at least three Ukrainian journalists by pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine and calls for their immediate release.

“We call once more on all sides in the conflict in Ukraine to respect journalists’ status as civilians and to allow them to report freely, without obstruction or fear of retaliation,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Detaining and attacking journalists will only result in misinformation and further tensions.”

Since Monday night, separatists in the eastern city of Lugansk have been holding reporter Anastasiya Stanko and cameraman Ilya Bezkorovainy of the independent online broadcaster Hromadske TV, local and regional press reported. Hromadske TV said in a statement that its journalists were detained by security agents of the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic while reporting on developments in the region. The broadcaster called on the journalists’ captors to provide information on their health and status and called for their release. The press service of the Lugansk People’s Republic today said the journalists are healthy and being held in a Lugansk basement for “spying for the Ukrainian army,” the independent news website Ukrainska Pravda reported.

In a statement today, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko urged the Interior Ministry and security services to ensure the release of the Hromadske TV journalists and the general safety of journalists in the conflict zone.

In the Donetsk region, separatists have been holding Aleksandr Chernov, a medical doctor who writes for the regional news website OstroV¸ since Thursday, the Kiev-based press freedom group Institute of Mass Information (IMI) reported, citing local press. According to the Ukrainian news website Informator, agents of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic detained Chernov, an anesthesiologist, as he was leaving the hospital, and took him to the eastern city of Sloviansk. Informator said Chernov called his family from an unknown number on Friday, and has not been heard from since.

Today, IMI spoke to Sergey Garmash, chief editor of OstroV, who said he believes the separatists are holding the freelancer in retaliation for his reporting. Chernov’s blog posts on the site included calls for local residents to unite against the separatists, reports of separatists’ tanks reaching the region, and criticism of Ukrainian authorities for their inability to stop them. Garmash told IMI, without citing sources, that Chernov is being held in the village of Semyonovka, outside Sloviansk, where separatists are forcing him to dig trenches, “If the Ukrainian army launches an attack, he [Chernov] might get killed,” Garmash said.

Also on Monday night, separatists in Sloviansk shelled and demolished a tower that carried radio and TV signals to several towns in the Donetsk region, according to IMI and Dunja Mijatovic, freedom of the media representative with the Vienna-based human rights watchdog Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Mijatovic said that in April, separatists seized control of the tower, cut off Ukrainian channels, and replaced them with the Russian ones before Ukrainian forces regained control of it.

Press freedom conditions in Ukraine, especially in the volatile southeastern regions, have steadily deteriorated in recent months, CPJ research shows. Journalists and news outlets continue to be targeted by all sides of the conflict. At least six journalists or media workers have been killed in Ukraine since violence erupted with the February ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych, CPJ research shows.