The war launched by Russia on 24 February 2022 threatens the survival of the Ukrainian media. In this “information war”, Ukraine stands at the front line of resistance against the expansion of the Kremlin’s propaganda system.
Ukraine's media landscape is diverse, but remains largely in the grip of oligarchs who own all of the national TV channels – except the state broadcaster Suspilne – and influence their editorial policies. The media are now also under constant threat from Russian forces. In territories under Russian control – Crimea, annexed in 2014, Donbass and areas occupied by the army in 2022 – the Ukrainian media are silenced and often replaced by Kremlin propaganda.
The “information war” with Russia was already harming Ukraine’s media environment before the Russian invasion. Media regarded as pro-Kremlin were banned by presidential decree, and access to Russian social media was restricted. This has intensified since the start of Russia’s invasion. Media carrying Russian propaganda have been blocked, while the Russian army has deliberately targeted journalists, media and telecommunications infrastructure to prevent the Ukrainian population from having access to independent news and information.
Several sets of media laws have been passed since the 2014 Maidan revolution, regulating media transparency, access to information and the protection of journalists. The creation of the independent public broadcaster Suspilne in 2017 was the most emblematic of these reforms. But the broadcasting law, which grants the regulator insufficient independence and limited powers, has been left unchanged. President Zelenskiy pledged to combat the influence of oligarchs in the media but has failed to bring about the hoped-for changes.
Even before the Russian invasion, local media and news sites were weakened by the Covid-19 crisis and by territorial disputes, forcing many of them to shut down. To survive, many outlets resorted to publishing biased, sponsored content, fuelling public mistrust of the media.
In recent years, the Ukrainian media have taken up hitherto neglected social issues, including those concerning vulnerable groups, and continue to play a key role in exposing the corruption of the country’s elite. However, gender inequality in the media remains a problem, especially as regards to giving a voice to experts on certain subjects.
Journalists are in greater physical danger than ever since the Russian invasion in late February 2022. They are often deliberately targeted by military fire despite displaying “Press” identification, and the number of reporters killed or injured has risen steadily. Before the war, they were sometimes the targets of physical violence, mainly during protests. Cyberattacks, breaches of the confidentiality of sources and restriction on access to information were also matters of concern.