Ukrainian government clamps down on media and military sources

The Ukrainian authorities are subjecting the media and their military sources to growing pressure, reflecting a desire to control reporting and stifle criticism of the armed forces. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Ukrainian defence ministry to stop denigrating the right to report what is happening and to respect Ukraine's press freedom and free speech commitments.

Journalists, who have been massively solicited to fulfil their mission to inform the Ukrainian and international public about the Russian invasion, now find their access to military sources questioned. Under TV studio spotlights, the deputy defence minister has been trying to intimidate journalists while, behind the scenes in the offices of generals, military personnel who talk to the media have been sanctioned.

“The pressure being put on journalists and their sources within the military is undermining coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and this runs counter to Ukraine's European aspirations. The Ukrainian authorities must stop denigrating the media on baseless terms and must allow the military to provide unclassified information to journalists without fear of reprisals.”

Jeanne Cavelier
Head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

 On social media and during an appearance on the TV news channel TSN on 21 August, deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar accused the media of revealing the positions of the Ukrainian 82nd Air Assault Brigade, thereby allowing it to be targeted by Russian forces. But the Russians had this information before it was published by Forbes, among other things thanks to the video footage filmed by their drones.

This misinformed and dangerous outburst, by a key government official, repudiates the essential role that the media have played throughout Russia’s war of aggression and risks fuelling a climate of mistrust towards reporters. This is obvious in the public comments under the video of the interview with the deputy defence minister – comments such as “professional journalists have no restraint” or “can't we silence all these bloggers and journalists?” 

Journalists' work is also being undermined by pressure on their military sources, as the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), RSF’s local partner, reported in a press release on 22 August. Nonetheless, there is no law that bans military personnel from giving interviews to journalists.

Oleksandr Pohrebyskyi, a Kyiv city council representative who was a member of the 46th Air Assault Brigade, links the decision to move him to a military training centre to the interview he gave to the independent news site Ukrainska Pravda in January 2023.

 Pohrebyskyi, who has nonetheless continued to talk to journalists, was questioned by his superiors again on 18 August, immediately after the news site published an interview with him. Another member of the 46th Air Assault Brigade, Lt. Col. Anatoliy “Kupol” Kozel, was also demoted as a result of giving an interview. Shortly after he told the Washington Post in March 2023 that new army recruits lacked adequate training – which caused an outcry in Ukraine, he was transferred to the same centre as Pohrebyskyi.

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