After tensions erupted in 2014 in the Donbass region of Ukraine, fighting has been a constant presence for Ukrainians caught between government forces and Pro-Russian separatists. Naturally, as with any major conflict, there is a need for reporters to be on the ground getting information and ensuring the public both nationally and internationally are getting a full view of what’s going on in the conflict.
As non-combatants, journalists should be able to carry on their work without fear of being attacked in concordance with the Geneva Conventions protocols on media personnel (which it makes two explicit references to). However, Ukraine currently is one of the most dangerous places for a reporter to be. Indeed as recently as January a journalist was injured during a firefight and five journalists, as well as two media personnel, have died since the conflict began.
According to the Kiev-based Institute of Mass Information, over 113 criminal offences have occurred against media personnel and journalists during the first half of 2016, which is a sobering statistic in of itself, especially as many of the attacks involve physical beatings, stabbings and death threats.
The dangers that journalists face in Ukraine was brought to the international spotlight after former VICE correspondent Simon Ostrovsky was captured by Pro-Russian militia during the Siege of Slovians. He was ruthlessly beaten, tortured, and interrogated for over three days.
He stated in an interview that 'a hat was pulled over my head and taped over my eyes. My arms were pulled tightly behind my back and taped together too. I was led down a set of stairs and thrown into an empty, damp room … I was punched and kicked in the ribs and fell over to the ground.'
Thankfully he was released, but constant threats and attacks are still a clear and present danger for the many journalists who operate in Ukraine, many of whom won’t get the same attention that Ostrovksy had during his unjust kidnapping.
Furthermore, many journalists report that they are forced to distort the information they send out to protect their own lives, as often areas controlled by Pro-Russian militia require articles to be proofread by them to ensure they are in line with whatever narrative the militia supports.
One conflict reporter, Nolan Peterson, accurately described reporting from Ukraine with this statement: 'This is a tough war for journalists to cover. Reality is sometimes distorted by the propaganda war that parallels the bombs and the bullets.'
On the other side of the conflict, many civilians distrust the media and journalists. Indeed, the Institute of Mass Information chillingly found that often many journalists are attacked and beaten not by rebels or government soldiers, but ordinary civilians.
Finally, a great many conflict journalists, not just in Ukraine but conflicts the world over, are young freelancers whom are on tenuous freelance contracts with large newsrooms and publications. Many of these young journalists have received little to no training, and have the bare minimum of equipment required to keep you safe in an active combat zone. Although this cavalier attitude can be seen as admirable to some, it’s tragic that this has no doubt led to a gung-ho conflict journalist facing a situation that might lead to his or her death due to poor training and direction that big publications can, and should, offer.
Conflict journalists are needed in Ukraine. It’s a war that is too often warped by misinformation and propaganda from both sides, and reporters are needed to ensure that we, the general public, know what’s going on without having to see through filters created by Ukrainian and Pro-Russian authorities.
However, without the government providing adequate protection, it remains one of the most dangerous places for reporters to be. Although the work of groups such as Reporters without Borders can ensure journalists get the training they need to report in the war-torn streets of Eastern Ukraine, it still remains to be seen if conflict journalists will be afforded the protection and treatment that they both deserve, and require, to ensure that we can remain informed.