WASHINGTON -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Ukrainian Service is marking five years since it launched its Crimea Realities platform to provide audiences with accurate and uncensored reporting following Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in 2014.
Sounding a defiant note, Crimea Realities chief editor Volodymyr Prytula said that, "Despite the opposition of Russian authorities on the peninsula," the journalists of Crimea Realities provide their audience "content otherwise not available from local media outlets...and open discussion of the challenges facing the people of Russia-annexed Crimea." Commenting on the fifth year of the annexation on March 25, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lauded the service as “one of the only projects” reporting on the situation on the peninsula “that is not distorted by Russian propaganda.”
In February 2018, Crimea Realities contributor Mykola Semena, together with the Crimea Realities team, was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Order For Courage, an award recognizing modern publicists who “stand on the side of truth.”
Launched within weeks of Russia’s takeover of Crimea in March 2014, Crimea Realities is staffed from among the more than 50 journalists and staff with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service who were forced to flee the peninsula, and is published in Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar. It reaches audiences via online video and through online and FM radio broadcasts, including in partnership with Hromadske Radio. In August 2018, it was learned that Russia was using transmitters on the peninsula to jam Crimea Realities programs broadcast from the Ukrainian mainland.
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. Since its launch, it has registered 115 million visits and more than 200 million page views to its website; in 2017, one fifth of all visitors to the website came from Russia. More than 128,000 people follow Crimea Realities on Facebook, while thousands more follow the program on YouTube, Twitter, Odnoklassniki, and other social platforms.
Crimea Realities journalists have been subject to relentless intimidation and threats by Russian security forces. Contributor Mykola Semena was convicted in 2017 on a charge of “separatism” after denouncing the invasion in an opinion piece, and was barred from leaving the peninsula and practicing journalism. In February 2019, Crimea Realities photojournalist Alina Smutko was banned by the Russian FSB from entry to the peninsula for ten years.
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.