Dear international journalists,
It is not standard to address an appeal to independent media, but we’re not in a standard situation here: we’re on the brink of what can evolve into an ugly conflict, a conflict that is not a “natural course of events” but one that somebody is trying to organize.
You as international journalists are not mere bystanders or witnesses.
The conflict planning has its media dimension too, and propaganda counts on you trying to use you. You should do all in your power, not to allow this. Since propaganda becomes a real weapon, even more effective than Kalashnikov guns. It being used both for the internal and external use.
If you think this is exaggerated, why don’t you think back to 2008 in Georgia when the news of 2000 victims in Tskhinvali put forward by official Russian TV channels got echoed all around Western media and seemed to justify Russia’s military intervention? No matter that it turned out to be a lie (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/24/world/europe/24georgia.html?_r=0). It was too late; Russian troops were in South Ossetia, no one cared at that point. Something like this can happen again. You share responsibility that it does not.
We understand that for someone coming from a completely different background things can appear chaotic, complicated and confusing. In fact, they are not. Many analysts who genuinely understand Russia, Ukraine and the background of our relations predicted and warned against these events in Eastern Ukraine. (Guess what, looking back at the past several months you can easily recognize who these are and who are repeatedly missing the point.)
The basic story line of the day is simple: well-trained, coordinated, Russia-controlled commandos have been taking over government buildings, in some instances handing over arms to mobsters. These attacks are not spontaneous, driven by genuine protesters; there is serious planning and organizing effort behind it.
This is the preparation phase for Russian troops stationed on the border to enter Ukraine. The towns of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, which showed no significant political activity previously and suddenly became “hotbeds of conflict” over the weekend, happen to be a railway crossroads with links north and south and an airport nearby, a rather strategic choice in military terms. There is a lot of evidence to the planned nature of events. This video (http://bit.ly/1jC3WQT) showing events in Kramatorsk (Donetsk Region) over the weekend is just one example: a trained commando with automatic rifles tries to overwhelm a police station, later brings a group of about 50 mobsters that are seemingly supposed to overtake the police station. When this attempt fails, mobsters are sent back and the commando opens fire on the station.
There are people in Eastern and Southern Ukraine who may not like the government in Kyiv, have sympathies to Russia or even more so nostalgia for the Soviet Union. But this section society is usually characterized by apathy and is mostly alien to active participation in political life through petitions, demonstrations etc. Violent takeovers of government buildings go against their instincts.
Besides, what we see is the repeat of the “Crimean scenario”, where so called “pro-Russian protestors” took precedence. Now this beautiful peninsula resembles the scorched Earth, where people are being kidnapped and tortured (more than 30 cases during previous 1,5 months, 3 of them – civil activists – are still missing, one of them was killed) and which has been closed even for the international observers from UN and OSCE. Armed men who attacked police stations in Eastern Ukraine proved to be the same commandos with the same equipment as in Crimea.
Here are some tips that can help you avoid the trap of propaganda:
• Do not add to the chaotic picture of events. The picture of chaos is what the Kremlin wants to create in order to justify its intervention and to conceal the planned nature of events. If you notice the elements of planning and staging behind seemingly spontaneous events, report it. Always accompany reports of immediate events with broader context so your viewers do not get the impression of unclear, unintelligible chaos.
• Avoid false objectivity. You don’t get the truth about a rape by giving the same 15 seconds to the rapist and the rape victim; this way you get awfully distorted reality instead. Avoid creating the image of two equal sides clashing with each other as this is not the case now – and again this is the image the Kremlin is keen to cultivate. Just as referendum, as an expression of will of the people, is being used by Russia against the very sense of democracy and human rights, so can the freedom of speech be used against the truth by filling information space with lies. So please speak to all sides, but interpret. Be critical.
• Making judgements on differences (linguistic, ethnical etc.) in Ukrainian society, it is useful to refer to data from 2013. The heated atmosphere of the last months greatly has greatly affected most polls.
• Mind labels. Calling a trained and masked commando with automatic rifles “pro-Russian activists” is misleading. If you believe, there is not sufficient ground to claim these commandos are controlled by Russia, use straightforward terms instead (“armed men”, “masked men”, “men in uniforms” etc.).
• Never use Russian official media (such as Russia Today, Rossiya-1, Rossiya-24, NTV, Channel 1 etc.) as a source of facts or verification, especially on developments on the ground in Ukraine. Be aware that just as in the Soviet times, these are an integral part of the military campaign waged by the Kremlin. Use Russian outlets with independent editorial policy instead such as Dozhd TV, Grani.ru or Novaya Gazeta. If you observe instances of propaganda of Russian official media such as faking characters or stories, report it.
Tense times are ahead all of us. There was no end of history, but war of civilizations is proving to be real.
Many thanks for your reading this and your hard work!
*EuromaydanSOS is a Facebook community created to provide people who suffered during the revolution in Ukraine with different kinds of aid, mostly legal. Euromaidan SOS volunteers – lawyers, journalists, and civic activists – collected information about victims, disappeared people, and worked to connect them to specialists who could provide help. The community has more than 95,000 subscribers.