CPJ has called for an investigation into missile attacks in Ukraine that injured at least three journalists reporting on the war during the final weeks of 2023. Svitlana Dolbysheva (left), a producer with ZDF, and Pavlo Dak, the editor-in-chief of Vgolos, were among the injured. (Photo Credit: YouTube/NUJU; Dak)

At least 3 journalists injured in missile strikes in Ukraine

New York, January 5, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday has called for an investigation into recent missile attacks in Ukraine that injured at least three journalists reporting on the war during the final weeks of 2023.

On December 30, Svitlana Dolbysheva, a producer with the German public broadcaster ZDF, was injured when Russian forces shelled Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, according to multiple news reports, a report by the outlet, and Dolbysheva, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.  

On December 29, Russian forces shelled the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, injuring Pavlo Dak, the editor-in-chief of local news agency Vgolos, according to Dak and the local trade group National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU).

The previous week, on December 22, Vlada Liberova, an independent war photographer, was injured as a result of a missile attack while reporting in the eastern region of Donetsk, according to media reports and the Institute of Mass Information, a local press freedom group.

None of the journalists was seriously injured.

“Journalists who risk their lives covering Russia’s war in Ukraine are civilians under international humanitarian law and should never be viewed as combatants,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian and Ukrainian authorities should investigate the recent attacks that injured journalists Svitlana Dolbysheva, Pavlo Dak, and Vlada Liberova and take steps to ensure that journalists can do their work safely.”

Svitlana Dolbysheva, a producer with ZDF, recovers in a hospital bed on December 31, 2023, after being treated for her injuries at the Kharkiv regional hospital. (Photo courtesy of Dolbysheva)

The missile attack on December 30 hit the Kharkiv Palace Hotel, where a seven-member ZDF crew was staying, according to the ZDF statement. Five of the seven team members were at the hotel during the attack, Dolbysheva told CPJ. Dolbysheva was thrown back by the blast wave and hit by debris, she told the NUJU.

A foreign ZDF security adviser, who is not a journalist and does not wish to divulge his name, was hit by debris in the head and subsequently underwent surgery, Dolbysheva said. The rest of the ZDF team escaped unharmed.

“I am very lucky; all my injuries are not life-threatening,” Dolbysheva told the NUJU. “I had a…head injury, a cut, and a concussion. Also, the ceiling fell on my back, and I have fractured vertebrae, ribs, contusion, bruised lung, pneumothorax, and bruises all over my body.”

As of January 4, Dolbysheva was still hospitalized in Kyiv, the capital, but in stable condition.  “I am still in pain, but I believe in my fast recovery!” she told CPJ.

Dolbysheva told CPJ that has been working in the war reporting field since April 2022. During this time, she worked with several Italian news outlets, including the public broadcaster RAI, the news agency Ansa, and the daily Corriere della Sera.

“This is another attack by Russia on the free press,” ZDF editor-in-chief Bettina Schausten said in a statement on Sunday.

The Kharkiv Palace Hotel is primarily used by journalists because it has a bunker, the statement said. At least 10 of the 15 rooms rented that day were occupied by journalists, ZDF reported.

Russia has previously attacked hotels and restaurants in Ukraine known to be frequented by journalists.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the strike on the hotel targeted “representatives of the main intelligence service and the Ukrainian armed forces.” The head of the German Federation of Journalists (DJV), Mika Beuster, called the Russian Defense Ministry’s justification “inhuman and cynical.”

“We journalists are neither an intelligence service nor a warring party, but independent observers of events,” Beuster said.

Separately in Kharkiv on December 30, a Russian missile hit Kharkiv Radio House, which houses the local branches of Ukraine’s public broadcaster Suspilne and Ukraine’s public radio, damaging the building’s windows, walls, doors, and heating system,  according to the NUJU.

Dak, who had taken refuge in a shelter during the shelling attack on Lviv on December 29, hit his head when the blast wave forced him to the ground. 

“During the shelling, I was in the shelter and only tried to communicate with my colleagues so that they would replace me…I am already better, but sometimes I get a headache,” Dak told CPJ on January 4.

Liberova was hit by shrapnel in the upper part of her leg when the military pick-up truck she was driving in was shelled, according to media reports. CPJ was unable to determine the origin of the attack or if Liberova was wearing press insignia when she was injured.

CPJ’s emails to the Russian and Ukrainian Defense Ministries did not receive any reply.

At least 15 journalists have been killed while working in Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, while many others have been injured, detained, or threatened.