Ukraine: Expression remains casualty two years into Russia’s invasion

Ukraine: Expression remains casualty two years into Russia’s invasion - Civic Space

Image: Mark Vletter

On the second anniversary of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, ARTICLE 19 raises concerns about the continuous impact of the Russian propaganda for war and attacks on freedom of expression in Ukraine. These are not only serious violations of human rights as such but they also hinder accurate reporting about the war and prevent thorough investigations into war crimes and other grave human rights violations. 

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has taken a disastrous toll on both people and infrastructure. Thousands of people have been killed, and many more injured, with their homes and significant landmarks reduced to rubble. There are numerous reports demonstrating how Russian forces have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, such as through indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, and targeting hospitals, schools or theaters. These are accompanied by attacks on the right to freedom of expression and information which is increasingly recognised as a survival right in the context of armed conflicts.

ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned about the following actions that violate the right to freedom of expression and information: 

  • Disinformation, propaganda for war and censorship: The Russian Government consistently employs disinformation and propaganda for war as a tool to defend its actions, including through disseminating doctored reports, fabricated social media posts, and deep fakes. It also enforces a complete censorship of information on its own people. This includes blocking access to independent and foreign media, banning some social media platforms and criminalising independent reporting on the war or ‘discrediting the armed forces’.


  • Severe restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information in the Russia occupied territories: In Russia-occupied territories, such as Crimea and parts of Eastern and Southern Ukraine, Ukrainian communication channels have been systematically disabled or disrupted. The mobile networks have been replaced with Russian-controlled ones, severely hampering the ability of people in these areas to communicate.  Access to information sources, including Ukrainian and international media, and online information, such as social media websites, has also been restricted. When access to the internet and main communication channels is cut off, the documentation of human rights violations becomes arduous, hindering efforts to expose atrocities and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. The Russian criminal law is applied in the occupied territories, including offences of ‘fake news’, ‘discrediting the army’ and memory laws. This restricts civic space and fosters an atmosphere of fear where self-censorship is widespread. 


  • Attacks against journalists and human rights defenders: As of 16 February 2024, at least 14 journalists and media workers have been killed while covering the war and at least 32 have been injured. According to reports, Russia has deliberately launched missile attacks on hotels and sites visited by international correspondents and aid workers. Russia also continues its crackdown on civil society in the occupied territories. Activists who dare to report on attacks or document human rights violations face persecution, including abduction, unlawful imprisonment, and torture. It has been reported that, as of January 2024, 204 people, including 123 Crimean Tatars, have been imprisoned by Russia in politically-motivated prosecution. At the beginning of  2023, two Ukrainian political prisoners – Dzhemil Hafarov and Kostiantyn Shyring – died due to a lack of medical care in Russian prisons. 


ARTICLE 19 denounces these and other Russian attacks on freedom of expression in Ukraine. Russia’s brutal onslaught on Ukraine must end. The deliberate targeting of journalists and human rights defenders, censorship and other attacks on freedom of expression in the Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine alongside violations of human rights and humanitarian law, must cease immediately.