A cyclist passes a poster in Kiev for the Eurovision song content. Ukraine expelled three Russian journalists who traveled to Kiev for the annual event. (AFP/Sergei Supinsky)
A cyclist passes a poster in Kiev for the Eurovision song content. Ukraine expelled three Russian journalists who traveled to Kiev for the annual event. (AFP/Sergei Supinsky)

Ukraine expels Russian journalists trying to cover Eurovision contest

Ukraine’s state border service blocked Maria Remizova and Elena Boduen, correspondents of the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, and Ramil Sitdikov, a photojournalist of the Moscow-based pro-Kremlin broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today), from entering the country, according to reports. The journalists were traveling to Ukraine to cover the Eurovision song contest, which is being hosted in the capital, Kiev, from May 7 to 13.

According to media reports and their employer, Remizova and Boduen were on a train from Moscow to Kiev on May 7, 2017, when border guards detained them for a document check at the Konotop checkpoint. The journalists were expelled from Ukraine after several hours in detention. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, which published pictures of documents provided to the journalists by the Ukrainian border service, Boduen was expelled because she had visited Crimea in 2014, soon after Russia’s March 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. CPJ could not determine the exact date of her visit. The reason authorities listed for Remizova’s expulsion was “violation of border regulations.”

Under Ukrainian law, it is illegal for foreign nationals to travel to Crimea without seeking permission from Kiev, according to reports.

Sitdikov, who arrived in Kiev May 6, 2017 on a plane from Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus, was also blocked from entering Ukraine and put on a return flight the following day, his employer reported. All three are barred from entering Ukraine for three years.

RT’s photo-information unit director Aleksandr Shtol said in a report that Sitdikov’s accreditation was obtained “in full compliance with necessary procedures.”

In a May 7, 2017 statement, the Ukrainian border service cited “unconfirmed reason for visiting Ukraine” and “violation of border regulation [by] visiting temporarily occupied Crimea through closed border checkpoints,” as its reasons for expelling the journalists, who were not named in the statement. It also noted that accreditation to cover Eurovision is “not a document that gives a right to cross the [Ukrainian] border.”

Anton Gerashchenko, Ukrainian parliament member and adviser to the Interior Minister, wrote on his personal Facebook page on May 7 that Sitdikov was barred from entering Ukraine because of his “illegal” visit to Crimea. He noted that journalists who had previously “violated the Ukrainian state borders by visiting Crimea” would not be allowed into Ukraine to cover Eurovision despite their accreditation.

The secretary of the Russian Journalists Union, Timur Shafir, described Sitdikov’s expulsion as “arbitrary”, according to reports.

Russian RIA news agency quoted the Eurovision organizer, European Broadcasting Union (EBU), as saying that border security issue is a prerogative of the Ukrainian authorities. According to RIA, the organizer refused to comment on incidents of expulsion of journalists, but it did say that several Russian journalists had arrived in Kiev. The contest organizer also said it hoped that “all other journalists who do not pose threat to the security [of Ukraine] will be allowed to enter Ukraine to cover this fantastic event.”

The European Broadcasting Union did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

Ukraine won the right to host the Eurovision contest by winning the singing contest last year.

In April 2017, Kiev banned Russia’s entrant to the contest, Yulia Samoylova, from taking part because she performed in Crimea in 2015, according to reports. Russia rejected the contest organizer’s proposal for Samoylova to compete via satellite link or for Russia to send a performer legally allowed to travel to Ukraine, and the country pulled out of the contest. The contest organizers issued a statement that condemned the ban and said it “undermined the integrity and non-political nature” of Eurovision.