Working as a journalist during the Russian occupation in Ukraine: “I only expected to be hit by a Kalashnikov or tortured”

On February 24, the day Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, Vladislav Hladkyi felt an impulse to record the outbreak of fighting in Kherson, the southern city where he lived with his partner, also a journalist, who had been detained by Vladimir’s army. Putin shortly after – but says it was impossible to enter the area. This was the beginning of five months of undercover work, in which he was constantly in hiding to continue his information activities.

In early March, he said, several armed men came straight to his apartment and knocked on the door, which he believed indicated they were “on the cross.” “I waited for 20 minutes motionless, silent. In a panic, I reset one of my work phones to delete all data,” says the 44-year-old. In one of three reports compiled and released this Tuesday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).. After this episode they left. “But the Russian soldiers came back four times to question the neighbors and try to find out where we were.”

According to Hladky, since the beginning of the invasion, the city has been “searching for journalists, as well as activists or elected officials, or anyone who could interfere with the Russian state’s propaganda efforts.” “In Kherson, our names, our faces were relatively well known, we were afraid of condemnation.” He says that after hinting that he was in Poland on social networks, he actively worked in the city for his media, gathering information, checking and posting resumes on Telegram, but the hardest part was when communication stopped.

He decries the “constant harassment” that has put them to the test. “Sometimes I tried to leave everything, stay in a corner and start crying. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and that my work was pointless. The only response he could hope for was, at best, to shoot the Russians with Kalashnikovs, and at worst, torture. But in order to continue, I had to continue writing.” Already at the end of the force, Hladkii managed to get out of Kherson in early July, crossing about 40 checkpoints.

RSF spoke by phone earlier this month with journalists from three regions in southern and eastern Ukraine who described what it’s like to work under Russian occupation. The agency explains that it has verified its trajectory with its colleagues and other local sources, and that it is reporting these cases “to hold the Russian authorities accountable for war crimes committed against journalists.”

“Those who remain in the occupied territories are systematically persecuted by Russian forces in their eagerness to spread their propaganda and destroy professionals who can resist the Kremlin’s official discourse.” They are desperately trying to reproduce the disinformation bubble built in Russia in these areas,” said Jean Cavelier, RSF Eastern Europe and Central Asia regional manager, in the memo.

He was forced to cooperate

Among the testimonies released by RSF is that of Olena (not her real name), a 37-year-old journalist in the Lugansk region – Donbass, in the east of the country – who explains that after 24 February she was stopped. He came to the newsroom and started working from home. In early March, the Russian army occupied his city and cut off mobile communications. He says he was “very scared” and almost didn’t come out. “In a small town like ours, when you are a journalist, everyone knows you. Can’t work like before. It is impossible not to fall into self-censorship. I avoided everything that might sound anti-Russian.”

Olena recounts how she was arrested in April when she left her home, blindfolded, interrogated for six hours and forced to cooperate with the Russians. Next to him were his partner and the head of the newsroom. “The occupiers offered us three options: prison, “deportation” or cooperation. For me, “deportation” was not a solution, because I don’t know what it meant, where they were going to release me (…). The director could only “choose” between cooperation and life imprisonment or the death penalty. With fear in our stomachs, we ‘accept’ cooperation.’

The journalist says that after a few days, three uniformed men came to the newsroom. “It was a real intimidation commando. We had to publish three “articles” a day from the news agency [autoproclamada] Lugansk People’s Republic – a separatist territory recognized by the Kremlin. We are forced to spread this propaganda celebrating the “successes” of the occupier, such as the opening of any administrative office. A military man confirms our words through a common Telegram chat.

“We live in fear of making a wrong move and being arrested.” Unbearable pressure”. After another man came to her neighborhood looking for her, she decided to run away and now works as a copywriter for another Ukrainian publication, according to her testimony.

Fire in Mariupol

Finally, the specialized organization collects the case of Yulia Harkusha, 42, who worked in the devastated port city of Mariupol, now under Russian occupation after weeks of intense fighting. He talks about the difficulties of working offline, but he wanted to document the horrors happening in the city at any cost.

“I worked for seven years in a television news program. I thought I had seen it all (…) I thought that this professional cynicism, this shell would help me endure the horrors of war. But it is impossible to prepare for what the Russians did to us,” he says. “Mass graves in the courtyards of buildings, neighbors burying neighbors, destruction, looting… Despite the risk of murder, I watched every minute for three weeks, filmed and filmed running under fire, escorted. My six-year-old son on a scooter,” he says.

Harkusha says all her neighbors knew she was a journalist and was a “priority target of the Russian army.” “Because of my work, I know many local soldiers, you can easily find my articles on the Internet, and I also work as a fixatives (Assistant Editor) for foreign journalists. The Russians could get a lot of sensitive information from me and put me in jail to make noise.” On March 19, he managed to get out of the besieged Mariupol. “In order to leave, I had to destroy everything while leaving the city, but these reports will remain in my memory.

RSF reported that eight journalists were killed in the first six months of the invasion of Ukraine, “some deliberately, by Russian forces,” and found. Six complaints in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists, on its part, condemns the death of 12 journalists while covering the war.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights It has also been documented Arbitrary detention and possible enforced disappearance of journalists in areas under the control of the Russian military, while UN-appointed experts, including the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, have expressed concern about the risks these professionals face in the country. Numerous reports” that they are “attacked, tortured, kidnapped, assaulted and killed, or denied safe passage out of besieged cities and regions”.

“During armed conflicts, journalists are considered civilians and they should be protected. An attack to kill, injure or abduct a journalist is a war crime. This is a statement Last May. “We remember that precisely in times of war and armed conflict, the right to freedom of expression and access to information must be vigorously defended, as it is necessary to promote lasting peace, understand the nature of the conflict, and guarantee accountability.” “.

Source: El Diario

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