New York, February 4, 2021 – Ukrainian authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate the recent attack on journalist Valery Vorotnik, and ensure that the perpetrators are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On February 2, in the central city of Cherkasy, two men entered the editorial office of the independent broadcaster Antena TV, where Vorotnik works as chief editor, and beat him to the point of losing consciousness, according to multiple news reports, social media posts by Vorotnik and Sergiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
Vorotnik said that the men punched and kicked him in the head, causing him to pass out, and also destroyed a camera that was on his desk. Vitaly Hrebinets, an editor and video producer at the station who witnessed the attack, told CPJ via messaging app that one of the attackers then threatened to kill Vorotnik if he “says something bad” about him, and then they both left the scene.
Hrebinets and Vorotnik identified one of the attackers, the man who made the threat, as Stanislav Kolomiets, an official at the Cherasky city council. Neither could identify the other attacker.
Vorotnik told CPJ that he believes the assault was related to a recent dispute he had with Kolomiets over the use of Antena TV videos on social media.
Following the attack, Cherkasy Mayor Anatoly Bondarenko suspended Kolomiets from his post and opened an investigation, according to a statement by the municipal city hall.
“Ukrainian authorities should take the attack on journalist Valery Vorotnik seriously, find the perpetrators, and make sure that they are held responsible for this violent act,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “It is unacceptable for journalists to work in fear of assault, and it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that members of the press can work safely and freely.”
Reached via messaging app, Kolomiets told CPJ that he denied assaulting Vorotnik, and he shared screenshots of text exchanges he had with the journalist, in which Vorotnik insulted him. The messages show that Kolomiets told Vorotnik “you will regret it for a long time” if he made further insults. Kolomiets also denied attacking the journalist in an interview with local broadcaster Cherkasy 24/Online.
Oksana Horetska, who is Vorotnik’s wife and the director of Antena TV, was in the room during the attack and tried to call the police, but the unidentified assailant forcefully kept her from reaching the phone or the panic button in the editorial office, Vorotnik said.
Vorotnik told CPJ that he went to a hospital following the attack, where he was diagnosed with a severe craniocerebral trauma, hemorrhage in his skull, and a broken nose. He said he was treated for his injuries but declined to stay in the hospital, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the day of the incident, shortly before the assault, Vorotnik told Kolomiets via text message not use Antena TV’s video materials without attribution, and accused him of “stealing” the channel’s work and using it for his own purposes on social media, according to Vorotnik and screenshots of the text exchange, shared on social media by both Vorotnik and Kolomiets. Vorotnik also wrote about the issue in a post on his Facebook page.
The journalist told CPJ that he filed a complaint to the Cherkasy police, which opened an investigation into the incident, but have not made any arrests.
CPJ emailed the Cherkasy city council and the prosecutor general of Ukraine for comment, but did not receive any replies.