Two Ukrainian military officers speaking with journalist Yevhen Shulhat at a supermarket on April 1. (Screenshot: Slidstvo.Info/YouTube)
Two Ukrainian military officers speaking with journalist Yevhen Shulhat at a supermarket on April 1. (Screenshot: Slidstvo.Info/YouTube)

Ukrainian military attempts to intimidate journalist Yevhen Shulhat, reports say

New York, April 12, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists is calling for a transparent investigation into reports that Ukrainian military officers attempted to serve investigative journalist Yevhen Shulhat with a summons.

On April 1, in Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv, two officers from a local military enlistment office approached Shulhat, a journalist with the Ukrainian investigative outlet Slidstvo.Info, in a supermarket and tried to hand him a notice to report to the enlistment office, according to Slidstvo.Info and multiple media reports. Slidstvo.Info believes the move was planned by Ukraine’s domestic security service (SBU) to “punish” the journalist for investigating the head of SBU’s cybersecurity department’s wealth. 

Slidstvo.Info editor-in-chief, Anna Babinets, confirmed to CPJ that she considered the incident to be in retaliation to Shulhat’s work.

“Since I was working on this story, I immediately suspected that I was stopped in the supermarket because of it,” Shulhat told his outlet. The investigation was published three days after the incident. 

“CPJ is concerned that the Ukrainian security service, which is responsible for combating national security threats, could abuse its powers to put pressure on investigative journalist Yevhen Shulhat,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Ukrainian authorities must ensure that journalists are not intimidated over their work. An investigation into this incident must be quick and transparent.”

According to CCTV camera footage reviewed by Slidstvo.Info, the two officers entered the supermarket with a man in civilian clothes, identified by Slidstvo.Info as an SBU representative, who pointed at the journalist, then left. The officers approached Shulhat “less than a minute later”, called him by name and told him he needed to update his personal details at the enlistment office as he had recently turned 27. Shulhat did not take the notice the officers handed him.

“It is obvious that this special operation, we can call it that, was planned by the SBU. That is, we can say that the SBU, instead of actually spending its forces, resources, time to fight against occupants or collaborators, is using its forces to investigate, to follow journalists,” Shulhat told the independent Ukrainian news outlet New Voice of Ukraine

Shulhat told New Voice of Ukraine that he had reached out to the SBU and the head of SBU’s cybersecurity department for comment during his investigation. “After this request, we began to receive signals from the SBU that it would be good to soften the material,” he said. 

On April 6, Slidstvo.Info said it planned to hand over its findings to the police and file a complaint citing harassment and obstruction of journalistic activity. On the same day, SBU said it was conducting “an appropriate verification” and the Ministry of Defense condemned any form of intimidation against journalists. On April 7, the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said that he had ordered an “internal inspection” in connection with the incident. 

On April 8, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine said in a statement that it opened criminal proceedings for “possible abuse of office and obstruction of professional activities of journalists” by employees of the SBU and the military enlistment office. The investigation is being conducted by Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation (DBR), the statement said. 

As of April 12, Babinets told CPJ that she did not have any update on the investigation. “They haven’t questioned our journalist and never requested any information from us,” she said. 

“That’s sad that, during the war, independent journalism is attacked by security services which must fight with [the] enemy, not with reporters,” Babinets told CPJ. “Authorities use their power in [the] wrong direction. Ukrainian journalists will not tolerate this type of pressure and will not keep silence,” she said.

On April 9, the head of SBU’s cybersecurity department was suspended from his duties pending the investigation, while the head of the enlistment office was demoted to a lower position.

Several Ukrainian investigative journalists have faced surveillance, threats, violence, and harassment over their work since Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country. 

SBU spokesperson Artem Dekhtiarenko did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment.