Ukrainian Journalist Killed as Crisis Worsens

In what one official called "the worst act of violence suffered by media members since the start of the protests in December," Ukrainian journalist Vyacheslav Veremyi was shot by masked gunmen outside Independence Square. It is the latest example of journalists being targeted.

A Ukrainian journalists was killed Tuesday as the crisis in Ukraine escalated. Kiev correspondent for Vesti, Vyacheslav Veremyi, was leaving Independence Square, where the riots were taking place, when he was attacked by masked gunmen and shot. He later died in a hospital. 

"Veremyi's death is the worst act of violence suffered by media members since the start of the protests in December. Journalists' safety must be ensured, especially during disturbances," OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic said.

Independent members of the Ukrainian media are being individually targeted in a campaign of terror that “systematically violates journalists’ rights,” international press leaders told the European Council and the European Parliament in January. And last week, Kateryna Ivanova, a Ukrainian media trainer, warned that the January 28 resignation of Ukraine’s prime minister Mykola Azarov, and his cabinet, will not end media repression. 

“[President Viktor Yanukovych’s] repressive machine is still very strong,” Kateryna Ivanova, a program manager and media trainer at the Regional Press Development Institute and a Dart Ochberg Fellow told “And this machine doesn’t need any witnesses and thus the attacks on journalists will go on.”

In one of several cases listed by the Institute of Mass Information, a Ukrainian press group, Oleg Ogilko, an online film operator, was “savagely” beaten while covering events at the Oblast State Administration in Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine, for the website,  Ogilko was detained and beaten by “unidentified men in civvies,” according to the report, with injuries including contusions of both kidneys, swelling in the head and bruising all over the body.

Prominent Ukrainian journalist Vitali Portnikov, head of the television channel TVi was reported to have fled the country after threats were made to his life. On January 20, Portnikov warned on Facebook that three men had attempted to force their way into his apartment. The following day, he told RFE that he had received “information from trustworthy sources in Russia that Ukrainian authorities planned to kill him.”

Most recently, three policemen searched the apartment of political journalist, Alexandr Mykhelson without a search warrant on January 29.

Journalists in the Ukraine today wear protective clothing, said Ivanova, who described the illegal search of Mykhelson’s apartment. She said the Dart Fellowship has helped her understand the “overwhelming” impact of the terror campaign on individual journalists. “Even though we understand what is happening, it is still very difficult to cope emotionally, and the more difficult the closer you are to the firing line.”

The attacks since the beginning of the year follow a series of assaults against journalists in 2013, including a brutal attack on online journalist Tatyana Chornovil in December after she reported investigations of the personal finances of President Yanukovych. Chornovil was followed by a car while driving to Kiev and forced to stop when “several men broke the back window of her car, pulled her out and started beating her,” Al Jazeera reported on December 26.  ‘They were hitting me on the head, they were not saying anything, just hitting,” Ms Chornovil is quoted as saying.  She was admitted to hospital with a broken nose, a concussion and multiple bruises.

International Federation of Journalists President, Jim Boulmelha, and European Federation of Journalists President, Mogens Blicher-Bjerregard, wrote to the President of the European Parliament and the President of the European Council on January 20, 2014 to draw attention to the campaign of violence.  They claimed that a Government  campaign, including the shutdown of opposition channels, the seizure of computers and attempts to deport international journalists, was intended to “instill a climate of fear among journalists and destroying freedom of speech, peaceful gatherings and political pluralism in the Ukraine.”