Journalist Tetyana Tsyrulnik was covering Victory Day commemorations on May 9, 2023, in Poltava, Ukraine, when a man told her not to take photos and then pushed and slapped her. (Screenshot: YouTube/Svoboda Slova)

Ukrainian journalist Tetyana Tsyrulnik slapped while covering Victory Day commemorations

Paris, May 12, 2023—Ukrainian authorities should swiftly investigate the recent assault of journalist Tetyana Tsyrulnik and ensure that members of the media can work safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On Tuesday, May 9, Tsyrulnik was covering Victory Day commemorations in the central city of Poltava when a man told her not to take photos and then pushed and slapped her, according to news reports, video of the incident, and Tsyrulnik, who communicated with CPJ via email.

Tsyrulnik, the chief editor of the local privately owned news website, reported the incident to police and gave another statement to officers at a police station, where she received a medical examination for slight injuries to the left side of her face.

Police opened a criminal case for “threats or violence against a journalist,” according to Tsyrulnik, a report by local trade group National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, and a representative of the communication department of the Poltava police who communicated with CPJ via email.

“Verbal and physical violence against journalists in the course of their work is outrageous and cannot go without consequence,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “CPJ welcomes the responsiveness of Ukrainian authorities regarding the recent attack on journalist Tetyana Tsyrulnik. Police must now swiftly investigate the case and hold the perpetrator accountable.”

While Tsyrulnik was at the Soldier’s Glory Memorial complex to cover the Victory Day commemorations, one man called her a partisan of Ukrainian nationalist figure Stepan Bandera and then another man shouted at her not to take pictures. 

“I replied that I was in a public place, and I had the right to take pictures here,” she told CPJ, adding that she identified herself as a journalist and told him her colleagues were nearby. “At this point, I considered our dialogue to be over and continued filming, not paying attention to him.” 

A man shoved Tsyrulnik from behind, called her insults, and then slapped her face. (Screenshot: YouTube/Svoboda Slova)

A man then unexpectedly shoved her from behind, pushing her out of the area, called her insults, and yelled that she needed to leave. He started to walk away but then suddenly turned, said “I will hit you now,” and slapped her face, she told CPJ.

Then, nearby police officers shouted, asking what he was doing and he stopped, she told CPJ. Tsyrulnik said the police who were at the scene advised her to make an official call, which she did, and the police arrived “very quickly” and took her statement. The man identified himself to the officers as local resident Vitaliy Burmaka.

However, group of women at the scene denied that any attack had taken place and told Burmaka to keep quiet after he admitted to hitting her, Tsyrulnik said. Officers took him into custody, Tsyrulnik told CPJ.

“The offender has been identified,” the Poltava police representative told CPJ. “Physical evidence is attached to the proceedings…After the completion of the pre-trial investigation, the criminal proceedings with the indictment will be sent to the court for a decision on the punishment of the offender.”

CPJ was unable to find contact information for Burmaka.

Later, other people at the event mocked Tsyrulnik, minimizing the incident and saying “that I have not been raped; it was just a hit,” she said. An unidentified man started chasing her and asked her last name, and the police asked him to leave.

​​“I didn’t write the report [on the Victory Day commemorations] because these two days I just slept, and I don’t feel very well,” the journalist told CPJ.

Separately, CPJ is investigating news reports that on Wednesday, May 10, police and the Ukrainian security service, the SBU, searched the building in the southern city of Odesa where local news website Dumskaya is located. The outlet claimed that the activities of its journalists were obstructed; an SBU press officer said that the search was “in no way related to the journalistic activity” of Dumskaya.

CPJ emailed Dumskaya and the SBU but did not receive any reply.