As during previous clashes on Independence Square, on 30 November, 2013, and on 1 December, 2013, near the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, numerous violations of rights of third parties and journalists, were recorded during the events on Hrushevskoho Street which began on 19 January, 2014 and lasted several days. Many media workers became victims of violence also in the regions of Ukraine, most of which saw a wave of anti-government protests. Starting from 19 January, 2014, in Ukraine, at least 70 journalists involved in reporting on the protests were injured. Since the beginning of mass anti-government protests, at least 136 media workers have sustained injuries.
Mainly journalists, just like protesters, suffered as a result the use of tear gas and blasts of stun grenades. It should also be noted that in many cases, reporters were not coincidental victims – the force used against them was applied deliberately, law enforcement officers fired on journalists, as evidenced by multiple items of video and photo evidence. In regions of the country, journalists often became victims not only of police officers, but also unknown assailants, whose actions were not in any way prevented by police.
In connection with the riots on Hrushevskoho Street in Kiev, four journalists were arrested and detained (Maryan Gavryliv, Andrey Loza, Vladimir Karagyaur and Anton Kudinov). All of them were engaged in the reporting of current events and did not participate in the riots (Article 294 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). Still, after their detainment, they were accused of involvement in the riots and arrested. Later, the court changed the measure of restraint for the journalists from incarceration to house arrest.
There were registered cases of some journalists being arrested during the performance of their professional duties, and released soon afterwards. For example, on the morning of 20 January, 2014, the police detained the crew of the news agency ‘Radio Svoboda’. Two journalists of the agency (Igor Iskhakov and Dmitriy Barkar) approached the fence of law enforcement soldiers on Hrushevskoho Street; as a result, they were beaten and loaded into a paddy wagon. One of the journalists managed to report the arrest by text message, which caused a public outcry and journalists were soon released. ‘Berkut’ employees also beat and detained Russian journalist, Andrey Kiselev. Due to the intervention of officials of the Russian Federation, the journalist was released.
Multiple incidents of the use of force by the police against journalists were recorded in the form of video and photo materials.
And so, on 19 January, 2014, a live reporter (and part-time operator) of the «spilno.tv», Anatoliy Lazarenko, was shot in the arm by police who fired at him using a non-lethal weapon. The same evening, a journalist of ‘Radio Svoboda’, Igor Iskhakov, captured on his camera a police officer aiming to shoot him, while Iskhakov was filming ongoing developments Similar incidents were also recorded the following day, 20 January, 2014. Policemen fired at cameramen of ‘Channel 5’, Ivan Nakonechnyi and Yuriy Usyk, who were filming the developments on Hrushevskoho Street. The video footage clearly showed police aiming their guns at journalists.
The nature of the injuries sustained by journalists as a result of the shots fired from non-lethal weapons also indicates that the assaults were carried out deliberately, and that the journalists were clearly targets. Incidents which resulted in head injuries were registered; for example, journalist Pavel Ivanov was shot in the head four times. Dmitriy Vlasov was shot in the groin area three times by the police. It is worth noting that according to departmental guidelines for police officers, aimed fire from non-lethal weapons with rubber bullets can be used in the case of group violations of public order, only from a distance of no less than 40 metres and officers are required to aim at the lower part of the body.
On 20 January, 2014, the movement ‘Stop Censorship’ issued a statement in which it criticised acts of violence against journalists in Ukraine and called on international community to intervene in the situation. “Events in the centre of Kiev, in the government quarter became a final quintessence of what has happened in Ukraine with journalists in recent years. Battery, damage to equipment, shots and detention – eliminating the risk of video footage or photographic evidence being preserved preventing citizens from seeing and knowing the truth… Here in Ukraine, we don’t even expect justification from the current government – because there has been no punishment of the militia since 30 November (2013 – Ed.)” – the statement reads.
In response to complaints from journalists, the press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine stated that “Information (about shooting with rubber bullets at journalists) can be regarded as a provocation. Indeed, there are several victims among journalists. They attended hospitals seeking help. They were injured by firecrackers, pellets, stun grenades and stones“.
On 28 January, 2014, Ukrainian journalists held a peaceful rally in support of their colleagues in the back rooms of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, during which they presented photos of journalists who had fallen victim to police violence to MPs from the Party of Regions,. Party of Regions MP, Yelena Bondarenko stated that journalists present in a combat zone, should be prepared to risk their lives. “I think it is no secret that whenever military operations are carried out, there are always victims. Unfortunately, a journalist is not protected under these conditions. Remember our journalists killed in the ‘hot zones’… Journalists die everywhere. Unfortunately, the list of the fallen remains open“, – Bondarenko told reporters.
Regions of Ukraine
If in Kiev journalists have become victims of police actions, in the regions they have also suffered attacks at the hands of unknown bullies. All of this took place with the connivance of police officers who ignored numerous examples of violations.
DNEPROPETROVSK. During clashes near Dnepropetrovsk Regional State Administration on 26 January, 2014, actions of the police and unknown young men in masks resulted in injuries of at least six journalists. Cameraman, Sergey Kochet suffered a spinal injury having been shot with a non-lethal weapon; cameraman Daniil Peterimov sustained injury to his arm. Journalist Natalia Svetlova received injuries and bruises from blows administered with sticks. In addition, the camera of a journalist from the local ‘Channel 34’ was smashed. Athletic-looking men smashed the laptop of a journalist from the ‘Vesti’ newspaper, Yaroslav Markin. Also in the building of the Regional State Administration they threatened a journalist of the newspaper ‘Uriadovyi Kurier’ [‘The Governmental Courier’], Natalia Belovitskaya.
ZAPOROZHYE. At least three journalists were injured during clashes near the regional state administration building on 26 January, 2014. Those beaten include: photographer of the information agency ‘Ukrinform’,Dmitriy Smolenko, journalist, presenter and musician Valentin Terletskiy, and editor-in-chief of the newspaper ‘Mechta’ [‘Dream’], Yuriy Gudimenko. Smolenko and Terletskiy were hospitalised due to their injuries. A policeman broke Yuriy Gudimenko’s finger with a truncheon. “I was shooting video until I was struck with a truncheon on my hand, in which I was holding an apparently unnecessary item – a press ID card. It looks like my hand is unhurt, only my finger is broken. Hospitals are overrun with those battered“,- Yuriy Gudimenko enunciated.
CHERKASSY. During the dispersal of anti-government protests in Cherkassy, at least five journalists were injured as a result of the actions of the ‘Berkut’ Special Forces. In particular, the Berkut workers beat journalist Sergey Marchuk and detained Yuriy Vysotskiy. Both journalists are citizens of Belarus and work for the Polish TV channel ‘Belsat’. Journalist of the TV channel ‘Inter’, Stanichlav Kukharchuk was also beaten. The camera belonging to a cameraman of the TV channel ‘Vikka’, was smashed. Journalist Oleg Ogilko was beaten by unknown perpetrators. On 29 January, 2014, Cherkassy journalists submitted to the regional police department an appeal demanding the punishment of those guilty of beating their colleagues. The appeal was signed by 78 journalists.
DONETSK. According to a Donetsk journalist Yekaterina Zhemchuzhnikova, during the events associated with the Donetsk EuroMaidan, approx. 10 journalists were aggravated. “When ‘sportsmen’ first arrived in our city, on 19 January, at first they just stood on the sidelines shouting ‘Away with the Maidan!’. Then they began to push journalists, to throw eggs, even cameraman from the TV channel ‘Donbass’, owned by Rinat Akhmetov, was injured. They tried to smash the camera of a municipal newspaper journalist”- Zhemchuzhnikova stated. The journalist herself was forced to leave Donetsk for a while as she fears for her safety.
KHARKOV. Kharkov correspondent of the newspaper ‘Ukrainian space’ (‘Ukrainskiy Prostir’), Roman Cheremskiy stated that on 11 January, 2014, ‘Berkut’ employees beat him and smashed his video camera worth 20 thousand hryvnias (approx. 1,700 euros) in the city centre during the filming of the material about the AntiMaidan. “I was filming unmarked buses with tinted windows, near which ‘Berkut’ fighters were standing. They told me to stop filming. I continued. I was approached by a Berkut worker from behind and assaulted around my neck with an electric taser , then my arms were twisted, I was struck several times in the area of my kidneys, then bundled onto a bus, there I received a strike to my kidneys again and I was threatened: “Tell your journalists not to film us”. They smashed my video camera and seized my flash drive” – Cheremskiy reported. The Kharkov Region Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal case under Article 365, section 2 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (‘abuse of power or authority’) in connection with the beating of the journalist, but thus far, no one has been arrested. The police denied beating the journalist, claiming that he had illegally entered the bus, ‘Berkut’ staff talked to him and asked him to leave the vehicle.
On 25 January, 2014, activists of the Kharkiv EuroMaidan organised a march through the city during which participants were to carry the national flags of Ukraine. Throughout the action, the rally participants were accompanied by a group of approx. 100 young athletic-looking men. Soon they began to attack the protesters – throwing snowballs, chunks of ice and firecrackers. As a result, one journalist (Sergey Alekseyev) suffered an injury to his head and his equipment was smashed. The police responded to the provocation and stopped the clashes, but no one was detained. On 26 January, 2014, a group people with bats attacked anti-government rally participants. During the assault, cameraman (Andrey Radich) was beaten, and the video camera and camera mount of the Kharkov TV company ‘Agentstvo Televideniya ‘Novosti’ [‘TV information agency ‘News’] were damaged.
The Kharkov authorities, represented by City Mayor Gennadiy Kernes and Head of Regional State Administration, Mikhail Dobkin are known for their repeated critical statements aimed at the media. For example, during the Ukrainian Congress of Leaders of the Primary Organisations of the Party of Regions, held on 1 February, 2014, in Kharkov, Mikhail Dobkin accused journalists of biased coverage of the situation during the protests. Previously, Mikhail Dobkin had rather ambiguously addressed the reporters of ‘Channel 5’. When commenting on the attacks on journalists in Kharkov, he said: “If you want to achieve something good in your profession, be prepared for someone breaking your video camera”.
SIMFEROPOL. On 28 January, 2014, unknown perpetrators smashed the camera of Sergey Mokrushin. According to the journalist, on that day, he saw a group of young heavily-built men in the city. Assuming that they were provocateurs (as several rallies were going to be held in Simferopol), he decided to film them. “I was immediately approached by several aggressive man and ordered to ‘erase’ the recording, and when I refused, one of them knocked the camera out of my hands with a heavy blow. It fell and broke”, – the journalist reported.The incident was witnessed by 4 policemen who were nearby, but they refused to detain the attacker or even verify his identity. Sergey Mokrushin wrote a statement for the police, describing the assault he suffered and the subsequent inaction of the police. The incident is under investigation.
It is worth noting that, despite the multiple pieces of video evidence and testimonies of eyewitnesses, not one law enforcement officer has been brought to justice for the attacks on journalists. Also, the police have not detained unknown perpetrators who attacked journalists in Ukraine’s regions, although they had an opportunity to do so. On 6 February, 2014, journalist Igor Demchenko, who lost an eye after Berkut threw a stun grenade at him, issued a statement in which he criticised the inaction of law enforcement agencies in the investigation of the police actions. The journalist urged people not to believe the reports of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine which state that not just protesters, but also all perpetrators from the law enforcement structures will be brought to justice. “On 19 January, 2014, the crime committed against me was reported, but our valiant police have not carried out any investigative action, not even requested my coat in order to determine the type of grenade which had been thrown at me. All this is designed to waste time until the residues of the grenade eventually disappear from my clothes and then they will declare that I caused damage to myself,” – Igor Demchenko stated.
In total, at least 70 journalists have suffered as a result of clashes between protesters and police in Kiev and regions of Ukraine from 19 January, 2014. Most of them were dressed in luminous vests marked ‘Press’. In Kiev, media workers became victims of violence, mainly due to the actions of the police.
The Open Dialog Foundation would like to underline the fact that the use of force by Ukraine’s law-enforcement agencies against journalists during the performance of their professional duties constitutes a violation of the International Humanitarian Law, as well as the legislation of Ukraine.
And so, according to Article 1 and Article 2 of the Geneva Convention, journalists are regarded as civilians and therefore are protected by the conventions. In particular, Article 51, section 2 of the Additional Protocol ( I) to the Geneva Conventions stipulates that, “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack”. According to Article 52 of the Protocol, it is the right of civilians that their property (this also applies to professional equipment of journalists) be treated with respect, if the property is not of a military nature.
Under Ukrainian law, deliberate obstruction of the lawful professional activities of journalists and/or persecution of journalists for carrying out his professional duties constitutes a criminal offence (Article 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).
The Law of Ukraine ‘On Information’ ensures that after the presentation of a document confirming his professional affiliation by the journalist, the media worker has the right to collect information in areas of natural disasters, large-scale accidents, in places of incidents, riots and military operations (Article 25, section 4). However, during a crackdown of protests in Kiev and regions of Ukraine, multiple instances of the use of force by law enforcement officers against journalists after the presentation of the ‘Press’ ID card by the latter, were reported. Moreover, the examples given in this report suggest that the attacks on journalists were carried out purposefully.