Ukrainian journalist Sergiy Nikishin was recently attacked while he attempted to cover an event allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo: Sergiy Nikishin)

Ukrainian journalist Sergiy Nikishin attacked while attempting to cover event violating COVID restrictions

New York, April 29, 2021 – Ukrainian authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate the attack on journalist Sergiy Nikishin, hold the perpetrators responsible, and ensure that members of the press can work safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At about 10 p.m. on April 24, in the western village of Lahodiv in Ukraine’s Lviv region, four men beat up Nikishin, co-founder of the local independent TV channel Brody Online, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.

Nikishin identified one of the attackers as Ivan Beley, a local real-estate owner and the son of the mayor of the nearby city of Brody, and said that he did not know the identities of the other three attackers.

Nikishin had gone to a restaurant-hotel owned by Beley to cover an event that was allegedly being held in violation of the area’s COVID-19 restrictions, and Beley and the men attacked him after he identified himself as a journalist, according to Nikishin and Olga Kravchuk, the deputy of the Brody city council, who had accompanied the journalist and spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.

Beley told local outlet Detector Media that he denied harming Nikishin, but admitted to getting into a fight with Vitaliy Kravchuk, Olga’s husband who also accompanied them, saying that he tried to break into the restaurant. CPJ called and emailed Beley’s restaurant for comment, but no one answered.

Nikishin and Vitaliy Kravchuk had their bruises and scratches examined at the nearby Central City Hospital of Brody following the attack, according to the journalist and news reports.

“Ukrainian authorities should thoroughly investigate the assault on journalist Sergiy Nikishin, find all the perpetrators, and hold them to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalists should be able to do their jobs freely, and attacks on the press that go unpunished only embolden more attackers.”

When they arrived at the restaurant, Nikishin introduced himself as a journalist and showed his press card to a guard standing outside, and told him that he would like to speak with the owner in order to verify if an event was taking place inside, he told CPJ.

Beley and three men arrived shortly thereafter and, after Nikishin said that he was a journalist and intended to report on an event allegedly violating the area’s COVID-19 restrictions, Beley and the men attacked Nikishin and Vitaliy Kravchuk, punching them in their arms and heads, and knocking Nikishin’s camera and Vitaliy Kravchuk’s phone to the ground, according to Nikishin and Olga Kravchuk.

Two of the unidentified men then grabbed Nikishin by his arms, dragged him away from the restaurant, and dropped him by the road, Olga Kravchuk said. The men proceeded to kick her husband, hitting his back and stomach after he had fallen, and Beley took out a gun and yelled that he would kill Vitaliy, his wife told CPJ. She and her husband then ran from the scene, Olga Kravchuk said.

Immediately after the incident took place, Nikishin called the Brody police, and said that nine police officers arrived 10 to 15 minutes later. By that time, the camera and the phone that he and Kravchuk had had knocked away in the scuffle were gone, and Beley told police that he did not know where they went, Nikishin said. He added that Beley denied attacking Nikishin and Kravchuk, and police did not make any arrests.

Nikishin and Vitaly Kravchuk each filed official complaints to Brody city police that evening, and police are investigating the incident, Nikishin said.

Brody Online is an independent TV channel based in Brody, which also has a YouTube channel with about 11,900 subscribers. It produces news reports about cultural, political, and social events taking place in the city.

CPJ emailed the Brody city police department and the Ukranian prosecutor general’s office for comment, but did not receive any responses.