Twenty-five physical aggression incidents against Ukrainian journalists occurred during autumn 2020. That is the largest number of violations of freedom of speech recorded in the fall for the last four years. Journalists were attacked least in 2019 (16 cases during September-November), in 2017 – 21, 2018 – 23. The main reason for the aggression increase at the end of this year is the intense local election campaign and conflicting behaviour of government quarantine restrictions violators.

Twelve incidents involving physical aggression and gross obstruction of professional activity were reported by the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine in October. Six cases were fixed in November, seven incidents were reported in September. Totally, 74 such cases have been recorded since the beginning of 2020. This is evidenced by the monitoring data of the “Index of Physical Security of Journalists of Ukraine,” which NSJU conducts together with partner NGOs.

Attacks on journalists by security guards and an active “reluctance” to let media workers shoot or gather information have become quite common over the past two months.

Thus, on 6 October journalist and documentary film director Taisiya Kutuzova was attacked during a meeting of the election commission in the Hatne village, Kyiv region. People in police uniforms attacked her, started breaking her arms and took away her camera. As a result, the journalist’s microphone was broken.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region, on the day of the local elections on 25 October, the incumbent deputy of the Ternivka City Council expressed physical aggression to the city newspaper’s “Visti Ternivka” editor Alyona Poddueva at the polling station. The journalist filed a complaint with the local police department for obstructing journalism and informed the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine.

“He grabbed my hands and pushed me, trying to knock out my mobile phone, which I was shooting with,” the newspaper editor’s statement says about the deputy behaviour.

Volodymyr Grabovenko, an editor of the newspaper “People power for everyone and about everything,” from the Donetsk region, was hospitalised. Unknown people beat him with batons near his own home. The incident occurred on 30 October. Then, the man was hospitalised at the Volnovakha Central District Hospital.

The victim spoke about the attack: “I heard a stroke on the gate, ran out into the street, saw half a brick lying on the road near the yard, and ran into the alley. There was a car and some people next to it. I got a blow with a bat, got up, closed with the hand, but they beat me on the arm, on the leg, and then got in the car and left,” Grabovenko says.

As a result, the man received a fracture of bones in his right leg, a forearm fracture and head wound bruises.

Volodymyr Grabovenko, a former deputy of the Volnovakha district council, created the newspaper about a year ago. According to him, he participated in anti-corruption activities.

As a result, the police opened a criminal case under the article on hooliganism. However, the victim’s lawyer tried to change it to “attempted murder” and “violence against a journalist.”

Also, journalists received injuries during a shooting at the Havana restaurant in Kyiv. The StopCor film crew, together with activists, raided Kyiv’s restaurants on 14 November to check if they would work under quarantine over the weekend. During this raid, they managed to enter the restaurant without hindrance, sit down at a table, and place an order. The journalist began recording the fact of the restaurant’s activity, but at that moment, the administrator attacked him with his fists.

Law enforcement officers who arrived on call had to storm the premises to help the media and stop the crime.

The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine notes that although the main reasons for the increase in physical aggression against journalists are local elections and quarantine, attacks on media workers have become a reality, not an exception. The profession of a journalist is dangerous, and attackers do not receive significant resistance.

“Brutal beatings, burned cars or editorial offices, broken equipment, pushing – Ukrainian journalists risk their health and lives trying to fulfil their professional duties,” said Serhiy Tomilenko, the head of the National Union of Journalists.  Although the incidents are under investigation, the profession will become safer only when the attackers receive relevant sentences. There is no excuse for physical aggression against media workers, no matter how inconvenient they may be.”

To recap, the “Journalists’ Physical Security Index” is a monthly monitoring of the physical aggression facts against journalists in Ukraine. The index is compiled jointly by NSJU and partners: NGO “Information Security,” NGO “Human Rights Platform,” the Academy of the Ukrainian Press, and the Institute for Regional Press Development.

Natalia Tolub

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