A police sniper takes aim at protesters clashing with police in Kiev in January. (AFP/Sergei Supinsky)

Body armor must match threat in Venezuela and Ukraine

By Frank Smyth/Senior Adviser for Journalist Security on February 21, 2014 3:43 PM ET

Covering street violence is one thing. Covering gunfire is another. This week, firearms were unexpectedly introduced into ongoing clashes between protesters and police in two parts of the world, raising the threat level faced by journalists trying to cover events.

At least one journalist in Venezuela was injured by gunfire. Mayra Cienfuegos of the state television network VTV was shot while covering protests around the network's headquarters. The state network blamed the gunfire on opposition protesters. The use of the firearms came after government security officers and pro-government crowds physically assaulted at least 13 journalists, according to the local free expression group Espacio Público. Police also detained at least six journalists.

Even more lethal force was introduced in the Ukraine, when snipers began opening fire with rifles against protesters either advancing or gathering near police lines. At least 20 protesters have been killed. According to the Los Angeles Times, some of the bullets removed from the victims were 7.62mm in diameter, suggesting that a high-powered rifle like a Soviet-era Dragunov sniper rifle was in use by snipers.

So far, there are no reports of journalists being hit by sniper fire. Earlier this week, however, two journalists were attacked by masked men wielding bats, firebombs, and guns. One of the attacked journalists, Vyacheslav Veremiy, was shot in the chest and later died of his wounds. Dozens of journalists have been injured in Kiev and other cities covering the protests.

Journalists covering events in either Venezuela or the Ukraine should consider wearing and obtaining body armor. But the body armor or "bulletproof" vest should also match the known threat level in each nation. Body armor is rated worldwide according to the U.S. National Institute of Justice rating system. Level II body armor vests are designed to protect against most handguns, including 9mm and up to a .357 Magnum pistol or revolver. This might be sufficient for covering violent protests in Venezuela, where handguns have been the main firearms used so far.

But it would be insufficient now for the Ukraine, where military rifles are in use. In Kiev and other cities, body armor rated up to at least a Level IIIa would be recommended, as it is designed to protect against more powerful weapons and still be worn underneath clothing. But donning a Level III body armor would be better, as only a Level III vest, which is the lowest level of protection recommended for most military situations, will stop bullets from the kind of high-powered rifles in use in the Ukraine.

CPJ's Journalist Security Guide provides more discussion about body armor. Journalists must be informed to make their choices wisely.


Protection on journalists covering riots during protests and clashes should normaly be a presscredential and the power of being a reporter. However it's not like this any more. Today neither police or opposition are safe for journalists. At some point a journalists words are being bedt innto propaganda. And than it's when it is dangerous! As journalist our task is to cover the truth of what happends, and be the worlds ears and eyes. But when one can no longer do it, without having to "embed" one side inn the fear of being killed, we have to rely on ecery assets we have. From the shoes, to food pack, clothings, cash, sender/tramsmitter, cameras and now bulletproof vests.
CPJ had an article about nulletproof vest, and some of it can be agree on. But if life comes before story, media crew becomes before lifes, then we need a stornger mandate and legisation for field journalists and coworkers!

Now down to the ballistic part of it all.
As we all are familiar with, there is something called bulletproof vests. The variarion om these are as long as a bad nightmear, but I will start inn the liggt section where CPJ started. First of all, there are three kind of vest. Trauma armour, witch sends a trough and trough, nut prevent knifestabbs. Then there is bulletproof vest with a variaty of range fro NIJ IIA troug NIJ IIIA most new higher standard vests have sacked the old cevelar aromur, as it has a low shelflife, and tend to clutter away from those vital parts one want to a 1997 Kevelar IIIA vest have no protection around thorax, what so ever, and mostly easy would penetrated with a subsonic 9x9mm Luger FMJ
Kevelar also are heavier than the new eqipment like spectra bodyarmour.
Spectra also have shelflife, but exeeds the Kevelar inn a differen way that's i,possible to describe. Weight is also much easier.
But since CPJ brough up some spesifications I would say the trauma of being hit by a 357.magnum fabric issued bullet, will make so much trauma that if not penetrating, it still can kill, due to the force of joul pr sq cm on impact.
To even thinking of sniper rifles with 6.27mm or standard NATO 5.56 cal on a Level NIJ IIIA without plates made of ceramic/aramid composition is crazy.
A good level IIIA vest is light, and easy to conseal, but that is the standart street cop's level.
And when shooting inn progress happens, I'd say Traumaplates with Ceramic/Aramid is a MUST, for your own safety. The good thing about the armor industry is tht they always trie to get better solutions when it comes to weight, on how to remove the force from the imapact, and price it down.
I have had tree vests trough me, during my work. And I always end up picking the one with lv NIJ IIIA with space for my aramid/cheramic plates.

If we are going inn on the subject helmets. Only non-militargraded possibilities are different types of lv NIJ IIIA. Whith both neckprotection same level and visiors same level. Heavy to carry arround. So lightweight helmet w/o visors are possible to get. Glasses with same ballistic level i am uncertiain about. A lot of this stuff is militart graded, but advise not to go for the cheap onece mad inn China.

During tests, tere is also taken innto consideration if it is single hit, multiple hits, witch weakens the entier vest. So read up on ballistic info. When you hear sounds of! Just hit the durt or get the heck away, cause one single shot from a with trauma ceramic/aramid will just send crush you.

Most correspondents and crews who's been arround, know this. They know what's essential, and what is waste. For new reporters crew and media inn the field. Take the advice. Listen to those who have spendt half their lifetime inn a foxhole! Also please be po about daily de-briefs, as PSTD is as common for conflict correspondents as military personel inn fighitng zones.

This is a little late evening sumup,on the,subject,protection!

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Thanks for this! I am heading to Venezuela soon - I am originally from there but this will be the first time wearing some protection. There have been reports of photographers being hit with rubber bullets near the spine, etc. So no deaths but harsh injuries. Do you know where in the US I can buy a vest and helmet? All site seem to point towards Israel and UK. Thank you!

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