PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- As Ukrainians prepare for runoff presidential elections on April 21, three Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Ukrainian Service journalists from eastern Ukraine and Crimea remain subject to restrictive regimes imposed by Russia-backed authorities to suppress their independent reporting.
Stanislav Aseyev, a blogger from Donetsk whom the U.S. Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus described as "one of the few independent journalists to remain in the region under separatist control to provide objective reporting," has been held incommunicado by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since June 2017. International rights groups have expressed concern about his whereabouts, and that he has been subject to threats and possibly torture during his detention.
Crimean journalist Mykola Semena was barred from leaving the peninsula and practicing journalism for 2 1/2 years after being convicted in 2017 by a Russian court for acting against the “territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.’’ The conviction was based on an opinion piece Semena had published in 2015 protesting Russia’s 2014 forcible annexation of the region. Semena, together with RFE/RL’s Crimea unit, received the prestigious Andrei Sakharov Order For Courage in 2018, an award recognizing modern publicists who “stand on the side of truth.”
In February 2019, Alina Smutko, a photojournalist with the Crimean unit, was barred by Russian security services from entering the peninsula for ten years. Since 2016, Smutko had photographed the lives of ordinary Crimeans, focusing on the changes that have taken place since the annexation, as well as the natural landscape and deeply rooted traditions that remain steadfast.
Volodymyr Prytula, editor in chief of Crimea Realities, as the RFE/RL Crimean unit is known, spoke last month on the 5th anniversary of the annexation and lauded his journalists, who, despite unrelenting pressure, report "content otherwise not available from local media outlets.”
Crimea Realities reporting is relied on by local audiences, but also draws a following among Russians in Russia who seek objective news about developments on the peninsula.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to 34 million people in 26 languages and 22 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed over 2.6 billion times on Facebook and YouTube in FY2018. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.