Ukraine: Two women journalists harassed and threatened online over their reporting

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Ukrainian authorities to do whatever is necessary to guarantee the safety of two women journalists, Lyubov Velychko and Katerina Sergatskova, and to quickly investigate the death threats and insults they have received online.

Velychko and Sergatskova write for online media outlets with very different editorial policies but both have been the targets of online threats and harassment in connection with their reporting.

Velychko wrote an investigative piece for the website on 13 July about the pro-Russian influence of certain Telegram channels that are closely followed by ruling party legislators. She reported that two of the five channels examined were in fact operated by the Kremlin and that their content was reflected in the way ruling party members of the national assembly voted.

After being threatened with deadly violence by Facebook trolls, harassed by the administrators of several Telegram channels and insulted by Olga Shariy, the wife of politician Anatoly Shariy and joint leader of the Shariy Party, Velychko requested police protection on 29 July. She filed two complaints, the first about the death threats and the second about obstruction of her work as a journalist.

Sergatskova, a journalist of Russian origin who edits the Zaborona website, was the victim of doxing after published an investigative piece on 3 July about alleged links between far-right activists and the Ukrainian fact-checking platform StopFake.

Immediately after the article’s publication, she was accused of being a Kremlin agent. Then, on 11 July, personal data about her, including a photo of a her five-year-old son and her home, were posted on Facebook. Assailed by a flood of death threats and insults, she fled Kiev two days later because she no longer felt safe there. After the police initially refused to open an investigation, her lawyer complained directly to interior ministry headquarters.

“In both cases, the threatened journalists turned to the authorities for protection but no arrest has so far been made and no one has been held responsible,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “It is unacceptable for journalists to be exposed to deadly danger for doing their job. We call on the authorities to do whatever is necessary to protect them and to ensure that both cases are thoroughly investigated.”

Both of these journalists have also been subjected to sexist insults and threats of a sexual nature. Several studies confirm that women journalists are more often the targets of specifically sexual online violence than their male counterparts. Two thirds of women journalists report that they have been the victims of harassment, and 25% of them say the harassment took place online.

Ukrainian society suffers from a very high level of political polarization, with journalists and media outlets often finding themselves the victims of extremely virulent partisan battles.

Ukraine is ranked 96th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 09.08.2020