Reporters Without Borders was relieved to learn last night that Ukrainian journalists Olena Maksymenko and Oles Kromplyas have been released and have left Crimea. There had been no news of them since their abduction at the Perekop border post between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine on 9 March (see below).
The two activists and the driver who were seized at the same time as the two journalists have also been released. Exactly what happened to the five of them after they were taken prisoner is still not known.
A crew with Italy’s Sky TG24 TV channel – consisting of journalists Jacopo Arbarello and Fabrizio Stoppelli, a fixer and a driver – were stopped and threatened yesterday by armed men in charge of the same checkpoint.
The gunmen finally let them leave, but confiscated their laptops, memory cards, camera batteries and the device that allowed the to stream video online.
10.03.2014 - Two Ukrainian journalists missing in Crimea
Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the fate of two Ukrainian journalists who were kidnapped yesterday at the Crimean border and have been missing ever since.
“The forces controlling the Crimea are responsible for the fate of these journalists,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We demand that they provide immediate information about their location and state of health, and that they release them without delay.”
“We are alarmed by the steady escalation in violations of journalists’ right in Crimea, which is turning into a lawless region controlled by armed bands whose anonymity reinforces the impunity. The frequency of deliberate attacks on journalists and the scale of the censorship suggest a desire to turn the region into a black hole for news and information.”
One of the missing journalists is Olena Maksymenko of Ukrainsky Tizhden, who disappeared with Kateryna Butko and Aleksandra Ryazantseva, two activists in the Auto-Maidan movement, which supports the new government in Kiev. After setting off in a car from Kherson, in southern Ukraine, the three young women were stopped a checkpoint in Perekop at around 4 p.m. yesterday.
After spotting a pro-Maidan tattoo on the hand of one of the women, the soldiers searched the car and found Ukrainian national symbols, letters and cameras, which they threw on the road.
A Glavkom journalist who was at the checkpoint, Oleksiy Byk, said Maksymenko was wearing a press badge identifying her as a journalist. The last time he saw the three women, they were kneeling near a military tent with the hands bound, and then they were taken off to an unknown destination.
Byk was himself arrested shortly afterwards at the same checkpoint along with his driver, Yevhen Rakhno, and freelance photographer Oles Kromplyas.
Soldiers without insignia detained them after searching their car and finding cameras, which they threw on the ground. Byk was released shortly thereafter thanks to intervention of his brother, who arrived at the checkpoint and was able to prove that he is a Crimean resident.
But there has been no word of Kromplyas and the driver. According to some accounts, another woman journalist is missing, but Reporters Without Borders has not been able to confirm this.
Analogue over-the-air transmission of all Ukrainian TV stations except the science channel Tonis was meanwhile suspended in Crimea yesterday and their frequencies were re-assigned to Russian national TV stations. Their transmission on digital frequencies was terminated today.
Some cable TV operators have also stopped retransmitting Ukrainian channels in Crimea. The secessionist republic’s deputy prime minister attributed this to “technical reasons” but information minister Dmitri Polonsky said the censorship was required by “moral principles” and legal imperatives.
(Photo : Olena Maksymenko)