January 27, 2014

Journalists under threat in Ukraine


Protest bannes in Maidan Square

Protest banners in Maidan Square

As protests continue in Ukraine, journalists are finding themselves increasingly under threat. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported last week that “at least 42 local and international reporters were attacked” on January 19th after violence broke out in Maidan Square in central Kiev.

In some cases, journalists appear to have been specifically targeted. From the CPJ article:

At least two journalists with the Ukrainian service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said that police ignored their “Press” vests and cards, briefly detained them, and beat them with fists and batons.

The events came just a few days after the country’s parliament passed Law 3879, a legislative package that curtails freedom of expression and assembly, allows for the blocking of websites and other controls over ISPs, and criminalizes a number of activities associated with political protest.

President Viktor Yanukovich and his supporters hustled the law through parliament in a manner that only compounded the tremendous breaches of democratic principles it enacts.

Yanukovich pulled the country out of talks with the E.U. in November, after the old carrot-and-stick approach from his eastern neighbor: first, Putin threatened to hold up Ukrainian imports, then he offered Ukraine a $15 billion aid package. In return, Yanukovich halted the agreements under discussion with E.U. partners, and turned towards Russia: for instance, the restrictions proscribed in Law 3979 appear to be carbon copies of Russian laws.

Journalists reporting from Kiev back in December experienced intimidation and aggression (see this video of a Euronews cameraman being attacked by police), and the situation appears not have improved in the meantime: the journalists attacked on the 19th were shot at in the eyes and legs with rubber bullets, beaten, and subjected to stun grenades.

Melville House author Andrey Kurkov wrote about his home country for the PEN Atlas blog last week. He’d visited Maidan Square earlier in the year, when protestors had just begun to camp out, and he described the atmosphere there:

I have visited the Maidan camp, as it is known, several times at night and found the atmosphere of ‘permanent revolution’ surprisingly peaceful. The same has been true of the busier daytime rallies, which have featured appearances by politicians, rock musicians, priests and writers. For over a month a Russian travel agency in Krasnodar was promoting trips ‘to Maidan’ and bringing Russian tourists right here, to the centre of Kiev, where they had plenty of fun taking photographs of themselves in front of the tents, the barricades and the political slogans.

This peaceful revolutionary time is now over.

Kurkov sees no way back for Yanukovich, whose laws, he writes, “divid[e] the country into those who support him and those who are guilty of a crime by not supporting him.” The implications, including suspension of immunity for opposition politicians, reach deep into the structure of the state and threaten to bring it down:

[i]t will lead to a partisan war in Western Ukraine against the representatives of the government and the ruling party. This may well lead to the disintegration of the state of Ukraine itself, with the Russian Federation waiting in the wings to make the country’s eastern and southern regions its ‘protectorates’.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.