Russia has committed over five hundred crimes against Ukraine’s journalists and media outlets since 24 February 2023
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February last year it has committed 543 crimes against Ukrainian journalists and media outlets.
The updated figures were recently released by the Institute for Mass Information (IMI, est. 1995), which has long been monitoring Russia’s crimes against the Ukrainian media and its practitioners.
In October and November alone IMI monitors have already recorded three violations of freedom of speech committed by Russia’s representatives. They concern one abduction and two cyber-attacks.
Over the past 21 months of all-out war the Russian invaders have killed 69 journalists. Ten of them died while performing their professional duties.
The abduction of media workers
In October this year it became known that the administrators of two Zaporizhzhia Region telegram channels, RIA-Melitopol and “Melitopol is part of Ukraine”, had been abducted. The Russians are holding them prisoner on charges of ‘terrorism’. The film of their arrest, we may note, was only broadcast on Russia’s propaganda media and telegram channels on 29 October, although the Ukrainians were unlawfully seized and detained on 20 August. Russian spokesmen published a list of six detainees: Oleksandr Malyshev, Heorhii Levchenko, Maksym Rupchov, Yana Suvorova, Mark Kaliush, Kostiantyn Zynovkin. They have all been accused of offences under the Russian Criminal Code: issuing public appeals for acts of terrorism, treason and espionage. The imprisoned media workers face sentences of 12-20 years’ imprisonment.
After the administrators were detained, the Russians seized control of both the RIA Melitopol and “Melitopol is part of Ukraine” telegram channels. The channels’ Ukrainian editors set up a new telegram-channel “RIA Melitopol / RIA South”, however, and carried on broadcasting.
Russian attacks on satellite TV
In November 2023, hackers in Russia also attacked the live “United News” tele-marathon. The broadcast was interrupted by Russian musical clips and pro-Kremlin propaganda. However, Russia’s attack on the satellite signal of the tele-marathon was deflected by Ukraine’s specialists.
There were also attempts to disrupt the work of five of the Public Broadcasting Company’s satellite TV channels: Channel One, PBC News, PBC Crimea, PBC Culture and PBC Sport. Russia tried to jam the broadcasts and alter their content. Svitlana Ostapa, head of PBC TV’s oversight committee, linked the attack to its “independent and truthful coverage of the war”, which “greatly irritated the aggressor”. The Company’s specialists quickly enabled a resumption of broadcasting on all five channels, Ostapa remarked, but added “the company is now considering a move to a better protected satellite to shield itself from future attacks.”
Occupied Melitopol’s “Russian World”
On 25 November 2023, Ivan Fedorov was already claiming that the Russian Federation had organised a real “Russian World” in the city’s media. Russia’s representatives were restricting access to all objective and independent media outlets — not just TV broadcasters, but radio stations as well — and blocking Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to hamper ukrainians in their search for accurate information. The invaders, meanwhile, had already announced and begun to broadcast their own satellite TV with the revealing title “the Russian World”. Enemy TV, it was planned, would cover no less than 39 channels, broadcasting Kremlin propaganda round the clock.
The wider context
In Russia itself, we may recall, the authorities have invented a new occupation and begun to train its own “media police”. Their job is to track down and identify ‘extremism’ on the internet. Information from the Russian daily “Izvestiya” indicates that a course of this kind has begun at the Presidential Academy of the National Economy & State Service.
The official name of the course, note journalists at “Ukrainska Pravda”, is “Media provision for State Interests and National Security” (MPSINS). The job of the future media-policemen and -women is to detect and block extremist and destructive material, and also to combat ‘propaganda’. According to Lydia Malygina who heads the MPSINS faculty, the programme is being implemented with the support of Russia’s national anti-terrorism committee. On completing the course, Russia’s media police are allotted to investigate a variety of offences against Russian citizens (stalking, cyber-bullying), against corporations (piracy, industrial espionage), or against the State (extremism). Evidently, they will take over some of the functions of Roskomnadzor, the Russian Oversight Agency, which has hitherto blocked information on the internet. Russia is making active use of Artificial Intelligence to generate fake news, while the country’s hackers attack law-enforcement officers who are gathering evidence of Russia’s war crimes.
The abduction of Ukrainian citizens and unlawful charges against them are commonplace Russian activities in the temporarily occupied territories of south and eastern Ukraine. In October 2023, Ukraine’s National Union of Journalists noted that according to Ivan Fedorov, mayor of Melitopol, Russia’s local representatives have detained more than one thousand of the city’s inhabitants since the full-scale invasion last year. These are only the officially confirmed figures, Fyodorov stressed. How many Ukrainian citizens were actually being held by the invaders no one knew. “The relatives of certain missing people had been so intimidated,” added Fedorov, “that they didn’t even contact the Ukrainian special services or the Ombudsman and provide them with information.”
As of 18 October 2023, about 28,000 Ukrainian citizens are registered as missing in special circumstances. The lion’s share of this total (as recorded by the Tribunal for Putin (T4P) project), commented KHPG director Yevgeniy Zakharov, can provisionally be classified as forced disappearances. All the efforts of their relatives to find their loved ones encounter either a refusal to answer or an assertion that the current location of missing persons is unknown. “In the best scenario,” explains Zakharov, “the International Red Cross can state that the person is in Russia, but is unable to be more specific.”
An analysis by the KHPG has confirmed that Russia is deliberately concealing the whereabouts of missing persons. “After their loved ones disappeared,” comments KHPG lawyer Hanna Ovdiienko, “relatives could get no information, either from the local occupation authorities or from officials in Russia.” After months have passed, Russia has confirmed that a vanished person is being held by the Russian authorities. Sometimes it takes as much as a year to secure such an admission. Even that acknowledgement, however, may contain no information about the exact location of the person in question or about his / her state of health. In such circumstances, the relatives of a missing person are left in a vacuum. At first, they did not know whether he or she was dead or alive. Subsequently they could not tell what state he/she was in and whether their loved one had been subject to violence. “Russian State agencies have given no precise answers to these formal enquiries,” noted Ovdiienko, “and in most cases have not replied at all.” She added: “Such a policy is deliberate. Official replies from Russia make no reference to the specific circumstances of these crimes and are delivered by the same people, time and again, in all the cases of which we’re aware.” Answers of this kind, she stressed, do not meet the requirements of either international or national law.