Sent to be shot
A Forbes Russia journalist who was close by when Russian TV 1, or Pervy Kanal, correspondent Anatoly Klyan was killed on Sunday evening, has suggested the real role assigned journalists on that fatal trip. They were taken there to come under fire. With Russia’s Foreign Ministry and Kremlin-loyal TV channels thundering all day about the ‘war’ the ‘fascists in Kyiv’ are allegedly waging against journalists and civilians, Orkhan Dzhemal’s report warrants attention.
Dzhemal writes that June 29 was the last day of the ceasefire between Kyiv and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. He notes that, strictly speaking, nobody observed this ceasefire, and gives details of attacks by the Kremlin-backed militants on Ukrainian military units.
The first was in Donetsk, and after 6 hours of night battle the military unit surrendered to the militants, with officers taken prisoner. The unit is one responsible for convoying prisoners to and from the local remand prison, and the point of the whole exercise was probably to take prisoners who could then be exchanged for DPR fighters. Another regiment did not wait for such an attack and evacuated their quarters, but set off the ammunition stocks, thus depriving the militants both of hostages, and of trophies for their night offensive.
“The next attempt to seize a Ukrainian unit seemed less like a military operation, and more like provocation. The military stocks were still burning when the Donetsk Republic’s press service began ringing around journalists. All were to gather near the regional administration building.”
A young man who introduced himself as ‘Gyurza’ spoke to the journalists explaining that they were to go, together with soldiers’ mothers, to the military unit in the township Spartak. There was a lot of anti-aircraft ammunition, he said, but no more than 50 men – officers and conscripts guarding it. He claimed that agreement had been reached with the commander that they would surrender without a fight. “The mothers of soldiers serving there will come out with placards for additional moral pressure, and you’ll be able to get sensational material. I will carry out the negotiations, I have experience in this”.
A separate minibus for journalists was laid on, however Dzhemal says that some kind of intuition prompted him to travel to the ‘negotiations’ by taxi, together with colleagues from LifeNews.
They arrived first and stopped on the road, waiting for Gyurza and their colleagues. They had sensibly got out of the car and turned off the lights, but had obviously been observed since within three minutes there was a hail of machine gun fire, flares and then grenades fired at the car. They managed to crawl to safety, from where they watched the ‘main part of the tragedy’ unfold. The minibus with journalists arrived. The driver, Jemal says, thrust a white scarf out the window, then turned towards the military unit, but came under heavy fire immediately. He was wounded as he tried to steer away from danger, and Anatoly Klyan received a fatal bullet wound. On Monday evening Russian TV reported that the driver had also died.
Dzhemal concludes: “There will probably now be a whole lot of statements about the inhuman Kyiv fascists who shoot journalists. Although all who were there, without exception, understand that we were simply placed under fire. It’s not for nothing that they call this war “mainly information”: a busload of journalists shot at is also a propaganda achievement, no worse than a military unit that’s surrendered.”
Dzhemal was right again, though this time intuition was not required, only experience. The tone was set by the Russian Foreign Minister which stated that “Brutal and totally unlawful persecution of Russian journalists is continuing in Ukraine”. Pervy Kanal even asserted that “International organizations demand an end to the persecution of journalists in Ukraine». It cites, among others, Reporters without Borders, although the latter, unlike the Foreign Ministry and Russian channels, , says nothing about ‘persecution’.
RWB clearly asked some good questions, such as why a bus with journalists and soldiers’ mothers should have set out late at night. Even if, as asserted, the minibus was “displaying pacifist banners”, these presumably did not glow in the dark, and those in the military unit had every reason to suspect attack following those on their colleagues’ units.
The Russian state-owned press agency RIA Novosti quotes Alexander Borodai, the DPR’s ‘prime minister’ as claiming that the trip was arranged by some ‘initiative group’ without their knowledge. He says that they have begun a ‘criminal investigation’. Dzhemal reports that they were contacted by the DPR press service, and judging from other parts of his article, he had already had dealings with this press service.
The tragedy occurred at the end of a weekend in which a large number of Ukrainian servicemen were killed during attacks by pro-Russian militants flouting the ceasefire. This had been widely reported in the foreign press, as well as in Ukraine where there was increased pressure on President Petro Poroshenko to declare an end to the ceasefire. The death of a fifth journalist diverted attention away from the militants’ ongoing attacks and Russia’s failure to use its undoubted influence to stop them.
Calls for an investigation came long after one had been announced by the Ukrainian authorities. Whether all parties cooperate remains to be seen, however the need to get to the bottom of very grave allegations is self-evident.