A man walks past a branch of Ukraine's State Export-Import Bank in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 11, 2016. In October 2021, bank personnel seized journalists’ equipment and deleted footage. (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko)

Ukrainian state bank personnel seize journalists’ equipment, delete footage

Vilnius, Lithuania, October 5, 2021 — Ukrainian authorities should conduct a thorough investigation into an assault on two journalists working for investigative project Skhemy and ensure that all journalists can operate in a safe environment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, security personnel of state-owned bank Ukreksimbank forcibly seized recording equipment from journalists of Skhemy (“Schemes”), a project jointly produced by U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Ukrainian Pershy television, while they were interviewing the bank’s chief executive, Yevhen Metsher, in his office in Kyiv, the capital, according to news reports and Fedor Sidoruk, an editor at Skhemy, who spoke to CPJ via phone. 

The incident occurred after Kyrylo Ovsyaniy, a Skhemy reporter, asked a question that angered Metsher, according to Sidoruk and reports. Sidoruk said the question concerned the reasons the bank lent money to a particular person, whose name Sidoruk declined to disclose because the person is the topic of a forthcoming investigative article by Skhemy.

Metsher then ordered his security personnel to stop the journalists’ work and take away cameraman Oleksandr Mazur’s cameras and video materials, according to those sources. The security guards then forced Mazur to the floor and seized his two cameras and memory cards, Sidoruk said. He added that the journalists spent almost an hour in Metsher’s office while the guards were trying to delete the material; after the video and the interview was deleted, they returned the equipment and allowed the journalists to leave. Ovsyaniy recorded audio of the incident using his phone and later uploaded it to YouTube. Sidoruk told CPJ today that they were able to recover the deleted interview.

“Asking state bank officials inconvenient questions is what journalists do for the public good, and assaulting them in order to seize their recording equipment is absolutely unacceptable,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Ukrainian authorities should investigate the assault on Skhemy’s journalists at Ukreksimbank and hold those responsible to account. This is not the first time journalists with Skhemy have faced violence, and their safety should be ensured.”

CPJ has previously documented the August 2020 torching of a car and surveillance of a journalist affiliated with Skhemy, and the March 2019 assault on a reporter and cameraman for the outlet.

CPJ called Metsher but he did not pick up the phone. CPJ called and emailed Marina Fomenko, a representative of the bank’s press office, who asked CPJ to put questions in written form; she promised to reply “very quickly,” but she never did.

Following the incident, Ukreksimbank posted a statement on Facebook saying that “the bank deeply respects the right of the public to obtain reliable and complete information, (and is) always open to communication with the media.” The statement said the bank’s press services was “forced to stop the interview” because the questions were related to information about clients, and that the journalist’s question was not answered because of bank secrecy rules. The statement also said that after the interview, “a journalist with an operator left the bank premises without any obstruction (with all recording and lighting equipment).”

The National Police said in a statement that it has launched a probe into obstruction of the journalists’ work and opened a criminal case.