One year ago, as Russian forces retreated from the outskirts of Kyiv in the first days of April, the world was shocked by the emerging images and testimonies of the atrocities suffered by the local civilian population during the month-long occupation of the region.
In a few days, Bucha, the largest town in Kyiv’s immediate northwestern suburbs, became an international symbol of the war crimes committed as part of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Among the hundreds of civilian victims, Ukrainian journalists Roman Nezhyborets and Zoreslav Zamoysky were found dead, killed in conditions likely never to be fully determined.
While the world discovered the horrors of criminal warfare in a suburb of a European capital, Russian state-controlled media either ignored the evidence or sought to discredit it and those media reporting it.
Independent media worked tirelessly and courageously, and often at great personal risk, to help expose the crimes and the extent of the brutality that Russian forces inflicted on Bucha and other parts of the country. Their work is a reminder of the indispensable role that journalism plays in times of war. Independent journalists serve as the world’s eyes and ears in war zones. Without them, we are blind – and powerless against the forces of state propaganda.
In the case of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, journalists have documented not just military advances and defeats, but also the horrendous human cost of Putin’s illegal war – a truth that, after Bucha, no one can hide from. And while this day seems long off, the work of independent journalists may one day help the world hold those responsible for crimes committed in Ukraine to account.
Russia’s cynical intent on masking the facts about Bucha was evidenced not only through its propaganda but also through its crackdown on any Russian journalists who dared to report independently on the events. They have faced criminal prosecution, with Russian courts handing out prison sentences for social media posts, accusing their authors of ‘discrediting the Russian Armed Forces’ and producing ‘fake news’.
According to the International Press Institute (IPI)’s Ukraine War Press Freedom Tracker, 7 journalists in Russia have been sentenced or prosecuted in relation to the atrocities in Bucha: Veronika Belotserkovskaya, Ilya Ber, Isabella Evloeva, Dmitry Kolezev, Ilya Krasilshchik, Alexey Shitik and Petr Verzilov. One year on, at least 3 more, Mikhail Afanasyev, Maria Ponomarenko and Sergey Mikhailov, are behind bars because they dared to do their job as journalists and report about Russian war crimes in Ukraine, committing the punishable offence of authoring publications based on sources not approved by the Russian Ministry of Defense, which continues to refuse to call the war a war.
As the world remembers the uncovering of the massacres in Bucha one year later, we reinforce our solidarity with all journalists working to pierce the armour of propaganda and report the truth about Russia’s war and its cost to the Ukrainian people. We demand that Russian authorities cease their attacks on those who still brave repression to provide the Russian public with independent information on the war in Ukraine. And we call on the international community to continue to support the work of independent media covering the war, and to hold all those responsible for attacks on journalists to account.
ARTICLE 19 Europe
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ)
OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)