A collection of articles about covering the war from OpenDemocracy, Reporters without Borders and Sky News
Photo: March 2022: Journalists cover a Russian attack on Kyiv | (c) Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved (cropped. Full image below)
02 April 2022 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News
This is only a fraction of the articles available that deal with the plight of journalists, both local and international, in covering the ‘conflict’ in Ukraine.
In truth, this is not a new dilemma. It is merely new to many readers and viewers in the Global North.
Which does not in any way diminish the risk taken by all of those trying to bring us the stories from a war zone.
James Porteous | Clipper Media News
A week before Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, I was working as a local producer for a British TV channel.
Sitting in a nice restaurant in Mariupol, my colleagues and I discussed potential scenarios for how the invasion would play out. In general, the conversation boiled down to the phrase “it could be a shitshow of a battle” and the fact that today, even the most experienced military correspondents have never dealt with a confrontation between conventional, well-equipped armies.
The war that is now ravaging Ukrainian cities is a new challenge for everyone who works in the media. Experience of previous conflicts is almost irrelevant. After 24 February, the security expert we were working with returned home to Ireland for a few days: he realised that all his security protocols for journalists needed to be revised. None of his previous work – Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan – was adequate to guide journalists on how to act in the midst of two European armies fighting a ground and air war.
That said, working as a foreign journalist is relatively easy in Ukraine. Many people speak European languages. You can get to Kyiv from, say, Belgium in one to two days by plane or train – you don’t have to smuggle yourself in like the war reporter Marie Colvin in Syria.
In my view, there is a clear division between the good guys and the bad guys in this war – and there is no need to delve into the political context. The fact that we are living through such a large-scale war in Europe will definitely help you sell any article or other work. To make a successful story, it’s enough to go out on the streets of Kharkiv and talk to the first person you meet.
This is why Russia’s war against Ukraine has attracted everyone – journalists from major international media, freelance writers and photographers, documentary filmmakers of all kinds. Most of these people are united by one factor: they can do almost nothing on their own.
It is hard to find and finish a story if you don’t know the language and can’t even ask questions. Foreign journalists need good local producers to provide language skills, cultural and regional understanding and contacts on the ground. The resourceful and well-informed locals who assist foreign journalists are often called ‘fixers’, which I think is a demeaning and stupid term.
For Ukrainian producers, working for a big, international media organisation is a good way to ensure at least some security and financial stability. In an ideal world, Western journalists and their local colleagues would support and respect one another.
But in practice, it’s almost the opposite. A month into this war, we can see that Western journalists – although not all of them, and not on every occasion – regularly show disrespect to their Ukrainian colleagues. They neglect Ukrainian colleagues’ safety. They violate all possible ethical standards, which, 20 or 30 years later, they will go on to teach young journalism students somewhere in Missouri or London.
“You are lucky that we had a spare bulletproof vest,” journalists for a major Italian TV channel told one of my acquaintances, a local producer. “It’s your problem that you don’t have one. We’re going to Kharkiv.” These journalists dismissed the idea that they might need to provide a protection kit for the driver. My colleague refused to work for them under these conditions.
Journalists from a major American television channel asked another set of Ukrainian journalists: “Why don’t you want to go to Mariupol with a humanitarian convoy? It’s so important to show what’s going on there.”
These American journalists don’t understand that the producer and the driver – because they have Ukrainian passports – won’t be let through Russian checkpoints, but instead will be stopped and interrogated by FSB agents.
They don’t understand that having a journalist travelling with a Ukrainian humanitarian convoy is seen as increasing the risk that it will be targeted by Russian forces.
Often they want to record a ‘standup’, where a TV journalist appears in front of the camera to narrate a story against the background of a ruined city. They say they want to do this because it’s “important”, but this isn’t the full story.
The real reason they want to do a standup in the midst of active fighting, which represents an unnecessary risk for a whole team of journalists, is that it increases the likelihood that this particular reporter will receive an award or an improved contract at home – for having displayed ‘courage’ and a sense of ‘sacrifice’, or some other empty words.
Some Western journalists seem to have a sense of entitlement based on the idea that they do better work than their Ukrainian counterparts. And yet, following the Russian invasion, it was Ukrainian journalists Yevhen Maloletka and Mstislav Chernov who managed to cover something no one else could: they were the only journalists actively working in Mariupol as the city underwent a siege by Russian forces.
They managed to document the shelling of the Mariupol maternity hospital for the Associated Press and, thanks to them, the whole world saw what was happening there. When one sees the work Maloletka and Chernov have done in Mariupol, all attempts to reach this besieged city under continuous shelling to film what amounts to war porn seem futile and mainly based on journalists’ desire to show off.
As with many wars, the Russian invasion of Ukraine changes constantly.
Areas of attack and tactics alter, battlefields appear suddenly in previously quiet areas, kinetic places go silent.
It all means that to report on events, you accept at the outset that your plans will change.
We set off cautiously for the town of Bucha, where a Russian convoy had been destroyed by the Ukrainian army the previous day. Trusted contacts in the town told us it was quiet and promised to show us the convoy and tell us about what had happened.
Even as we left central Kyiv through a city now being strengthened with extra soldiers, past motorways and major roads where volunteers were digging trenches, and the army were positioning Howitzer cannons for the defence of the capital, it was clear our journey was to be difficult.
Constant checkpoints need to be negotiated with care. The tension is palpable, the fighters are jumpy, and it’s all exacerbated by the constant distant sounds of machine gun fire and crump of artillery and mortars.
The town is only 30 kilometres or so from the centre of Kyiv, but our journey took us hours. Roads were closed and we were redirected countless times.
On our way, in the distance, we could see Russian helicopter gunships criss-crossing in the air, noses dipping towards the ground as they opened fire.
From being a quiet location, the whole of this part of the countryside – including our intended destination – had turned into a battlefield.
Pointing weapons into our car, the last Ukrainian checkpoint suggested we shouldn’t go any further. We elected to call it a day and return to the centre of the city. We had tried to report, but it was getting too difficult.
But that’s what happens, it’s just how it is.
The roads we had taken were now unsafe. Well, worse than that, really: they were instantaneously new front lines.
So, we decided to cut down to the western part of the city and re-enter from a different direction.
We stopped at a checkpoint and spoke to the soldiers and police, asking them if the road into Kyiv was passable.
A police officer walked to the car and handed us ice creams through the window, telling us we could turn left and go down the road to Kyiv – he said it was open.
We set off, but it was deadly quiet, and it’s fair to say we were concerned. But we travelled slowly forwards towards an intersection. There was rubble in the road, but that’s normal now. There were no soldiers, it all seemed deserted.
And then out of nowhere a small explosion and I saw something hit the car and a tyre burst. We rolled to a stop.
And then our world turned upside down.
The first round cracked the windscreen. Camera operator Richie Mockler huddled into the front passenger footwell. Then we were under full attack.
Bullets cascaded through the whole of the car, tracers, bullet flashes, windscreen glass, plastic seats, the steering wheel, and dashboard had disintegrated.
We didn’t know it at the time, but we were later told by the Ukrainians that we were being ambushed by a saboteur Russian reconnaissance squad. It was professional, the rounds kept smashing into the car – they didn’t miss.
Producer Martin Vowles, who was driving, got out of the car first, quickly followed by Andrii Lytvynenko, our local producer, leaving me, Richie, and my producer Dominique Van Heerden inside, taking cover in the footwells and across the backseat.
At this stage we thought it was a Ukrainian army checkpoint firing at us and that it was a mistake, so we started screaming we were journalists, but the rounds kept coming.
We knew we had to get out to survive, but the incoming fire was intense.
Dominique pushed open her door a little further and slipped to the ground, crawling towards a motorway barrier and then dived down a 40-foot embankment, rolling to the bottom.
Richie was shouting to me, but I can’t really remember much.
I do recall wondering if my death was going to be painful.
And then I was hit in the lower back. “I’ve been hit!” I shouted.
But what amazed me was that it didn’t hurt that bad. It was more like being punched, really.
It was strange, but I felt very calm. I managed to put my helmet on, and was about to attempt my escape, when I stopped and reached back into a shelf in the door and retrieved my phones and my press card, unbelievably.
Richie says I then got out of the car and stood up, before jogging to the edge of the embankment and then started running. I lost my balance and fell to the bottom, landing like a sack of potatoes, cutting my face. My armour and helmet almost certainly saved me.
But Richie was still inside the car. The rounds were ploughing into the car every time he moved. He was actually being protected by the engine block – he knew that.
He called out, and we shouted at him to come. But then silence. It seemed like an eternity before he emerged over the barrier and jumped down towards us, followed by a hail of gunfire.
At the bottom, we regrouped. The five of us were alive. We couldn’t believe it.
We were in shock, no doubt about it. But elated to be alive. Martin said to me, it’s a miracle any of us got out, let alone all five of us.
Still in the firing line, we headed away from the car, using a concrete wall for cover.
We spotted a factory unit with an open gate and sprinted one at a time inside, looking for cover. We were convinced the shooters would come to finish us off.
A door opened, and three caretakers beckoned for us to come inside their workshop.
We ran inside and gathered together, while Martin and Dominique rang through to Sky staff members, signalling the start of a frantic effort to try to start to arrange a rescue for us.
We knew it would take hours and fully expected to spend the night in the workshop while the logistics were worked on. Extracting people from remote locations in the middle of a war that keeps moving is fiendishly difficult.
Outside, the sounds of the battle intensified. We had no idea what was going on, but we were scared that at any moment the garage doors would explode inward, and gunmen would come to kill us.
It’s often like this in hairy situations – you survive the first part and get to safety, and then it all starts going downhill again. And you are tired, exhausted really, and the adrenaline subsides, and you feel down and beaten.
Attempts at levity fell on flat ears, eventually we gathered in a small office to keep warm, in silence, waiting for word of the rescue.
The phone rang, and we were told we had to wait until morning. It was by now pitch-black outside.
I began to doze on a couch, and I remember vaguely seeing a flashing light, then the sound of heavy boots and shouting in the stairwell.
Richie said he was convinced it was the end, before he heard these beautiful words: “Ukrainian police, come quickly!”
We filed out and were stuffed into a police vehicle, the driver gunned his engine, and we skidded through the gates of the factory unit.
There was a long way to go, but we had been rescued. A day later, we made it back to the centre of Kyiv.
The point is we were very lucky. But thousands of Ukrainians are dying, and families are being targeted by Russian hit squads just as we were, driving along in a family saloon and attacked.
This war gets worse by the day.
28 March 2022 | Reporters without Borders
Two Ukrainian journalists and three foreign journalists have been killed in the course of their work in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on 24 February. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Russian and Ukrainian authorities to guarantee the safety of media personnel in Ukraine. Attacking journalists is a war crime.
The latest victim was one of the few Russian journalists in Ukraine, Oksana Baulina. She was killed in the capital, Kyiv, on 23 March by a “kamikaze drone” – an aerial combat drone containing an explosive, according to her news organisation, the Latvian-based Russian online investigative media outlet The Insider.
At the time, she was reporting on the damage caused by a previous strike on a shopping centre in Podil, a suburb of Kyiv. For security reasons, she was accompanied at the time by two police officers, who were injured in the attack. She had recently conducted interviews with Russian soldiers captured by the Ukrainian army in Lviv – interviews that have not yet been published.
“A quarter of the journalists killed since the start of the year worldwide have died in the past 30 days while covering the war in Ukraine,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “As their reporting is essential in order to understand the war in Ukraine, and attacking journalists is a war crime under international law, we call on the Russian and Ukrainian authorities to guarantee their safety on the ground.”
Two journalists were killed when artillery fire targeted a crew with the US TV channel Fox News in Horenka, near, Kyiv, on 14 March. They were Pierre Zakrzewski, a 55-year-old cameraman who was used to covering wars, and Olexandra Kuvshynova, a 24-year-old Ukrainian journalist working for Fox News as a fixer. British journalist Benjamin Hall sustained serious leg injuries from shrapnel in the same attack.
Brent Renaud, a 51-year-old US documentary filmmaker who had worked with the New York Times on several occasions in the past, was shot in the back of the neck while driving his car in Irpin, a town northwest of Kyiv, on 13 March. Juan Arredondo, a US-Colombian reporter who was with him, was injured and hospitalised. Together, they had been filming Kyiv residents leaving en masse for other regions.
The war’s first media fatality was Evgeny Sakun, a Ukrainian cameraman working for the local Kyiv Live TV channel, who was killed when Russian missiles hit the Kyiv television tower on 1 March.
RSF has been keeping a tally of attacks and other abuses against journalists since the start of the war in Ukraine. In addition to the five killed, nine other journalists have been injured by gunfire, missiles or artillery fire, and local journalists are being subjected to a great deal of harassment in the occupied zones.
Ukraine is ranked 97th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index, while Russia is ranked 150th.
13 March 2022 | RSF
The secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) was in the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine, yesterday for the inauguration of RSF’s press freedom centre, located within Lviv’s International Media Centre. Two weeks after the invasion of Ukraine and one week after announcing the press freedom centre’s creation, RSF has opened it.
“We have come here to express our solidarity with Ukrainian journalists and to provide them with the best possible assistance with covering the war,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
Accompanied by Oksana Romaniuk, the director of Ukraine’s Institute of Mass Information (IMI), and Alexander Query, the centre’s coordinator, Deloire described the activities of this now operational hub in western Ukraine.
The first individual sets of protective equipment for journalists were distributed during the past few days with the help of the Berlin-based Network for Reporting on Eastern Europe (n-ost) and the Swedish press group Bonnier.
Bonnier collected 30 bulletproof vests and helmets from its various media outlets (Dagens Nyheter, Dagens industri and Expressen), with help of the Schibsted group and the Swedish national broadcaster, Sveriges Television.
“We will distribute bulletproof vests in the country’s hottest spots,” Romaniuk said, referring to the violence against journalists covering the war in Ukraine during the past few days. Since the start of the Russian offensive, at least 12 journalists have been deliberately targeted by armed combatants and four – two reporters for the Danish newspaper Ekstra-Bladet and two members of a crew reporting for the UK’s Sky News TV – have sustained gunshot injuries.
RSF has called on the Polish and Ukrainian authorities to facilitate the provision of bulletproof vests to the centre. The circulation of equipment needs specific permits that hold up their swift delivery in Ukraine. Deloire has also urged democratic countries to issue visas to journalists and to call on Russia to respect UN Security Council Resolution 2222 on protecting journalists.
“We hail the courage of journalists,” said Query, the centre’s coordinator. “With this centre, we are fighting for the independence of the media in Ukraine and beyond it.” This week, the centre will begin providing training in physical safety and first aid to journalists attending in person or by video-conference.
The Amsterdam based Free Press Unlimited (FPU), specialised in media development, is contributing to the activities of the Lviv Press Freedom Centre.
UNESCO is also contributing to the Press Freedom Center in Lviv and, among other activities, is enabling the Ukrainian translation and distribution of the Safety guide for journalists: a handbook for reporters in high-risk environments.
RSF would like to thank the city of Lviv for its hospitality, as well as the Limelight Foundation and the Adessium Foundation in the Netherlands, the Schöpflin Foundation in Germany, the King Baudouin Foundation in Belgium, the Oak Foundation in the United Kingdom, the Fritt Ord Foundation in Norway and the Open Society Foundations.
The RSF Lviv Press Freedom Center is now located at Rynoq Square 32, in Lviv, Ukraine, and can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
Ukraine is ranked 97th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index while Russia is ranked 150th.