The violent arrest and deportation of one of Russia leading journalists from rebel-held Donetsk has raised fears for journalists working in Ukraine.
Novaya Gazeta reporter Pavel Kanygin had gone for a meeting in a café with officials from the rebel Donetsk authorities on Tuesday. He told The Independent that he was held, beaten, and subjected to a five-hour interrogation by the Donetsk security services before being released on the Russian side of Ukraine’s border crossing.
He was accused of being a drug addict and working for “hostile” Ukrainian media. “They took a urine sample and within two minutes said that I was positive for a whole range of narcotics. Then they found a business card for a controversial Ukrainian journalist in my pocket.”
On returning to Russia, Mr Kanygin said he underwent voluntary drugs tests – all of which were negative. Mr Kanygin was left with a gash to his right eye and a broken tooth as a result of Tuesday’s encounters.
The Independent sought a comment from Aleksandr Zakharchenko, head of the rebel-controlled “Donetsk People’s Republic”, but was told that none would be made. In the 13 months of eastern Ukraine’s conflict, eight journalists and media workers have been killed, and dozens more abducted.
While international journalists have in recent months been afforded a certain level of protection by both sides, the same can not be said for Ukrainian and Russian journalists. Mr Kanygin, abducted by rebels before in May 2014, says that he has worked reasonably freely in rebel-held territories for more than a year. “I’m always interrogated at Ukrainian checkpoints and airports. They say I’m an FSB [Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation] agent, a peddler of Russian propaganda,” he said.
Mr Kanygin said he was told he would get accreditation in Donetsk if he came to a meeting this week. When he arrived, he was told that officials were unimpressed by his work and he was bundled off in a car.
Rebel officials complained about articles he and colleagues had written about the involvement of Russian servicemen in the conflict. They were unhappy about an article he wrote on Monday about a demonstration in Donetsk, where some locals were protesting against the conflict. Increased shelling and military buildup have recently been observed on both sides of the front-lines.
Viktoria Makarenko, a colleague of Mr Kanygin’s told The Independent that she has observed a stream of military vehicles heading along the M23 motorway towards Ukraine. Some three weeks ago, Ms Makarenko had seen 40 armoured units heading by rail from Russian territory to rebel-held Ilovaisk.
Within a few days, rebels had launched an attack on Maryinka, the Ukrainian-held suburb of Donetsk.