WASHINGTON- Television and radio stations in eastern Ukraine carrying programming of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America have been forced off the air, depriving audiences of popular sources of unbiased news and information.
On May 12 at 10:30 a.m. local time, unidentified, Russian-speaking armed men forced employees to turn off the transmitter at a station in Donetsk used by RFE/RL broadcast affiliate Radio Era FM. The men then reconfigured the transmitter to broadcast programming from “Radio Respublika,” a previously unknown station airing Russian state radio programs and other pro-Russian content. RFE/RL programs normally run on Radio Era FM from 6-7 a.m. and 9-10 p.m. Monday through Friday but are currently off the air. This follows a shutdown of Radio Era’s FM transmitter in Crimea on March 9.
RFE/RL Editor-in-Chief Nenad Pejic condemned the Radio Era FM takeover, stating that “millions of Ukrainian citizens are being deprived of access to accurate, verifiable information about what is happening around them, at a crucial juncture in their lives. The seizure of Radio Era FM’s transmitter is a deplorable violation of the universal right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
Voice of America is also experiencing disruptions to its programming in the area. Channel 5, which broadcasts the VOA Ukrainian Service news program Chas-Time, has lost its terrestrial signal in several cities in the eastern part of the country, including Donetsk and Luhansk. According to Channel 5, several cable providers in the region have also been threatened, potentially further disrupting distribution via cable.
Despite the increasingly dangerous environment for reporters in the region, VOA and RFE/RL have been providing much-needed news and information. Threats to journalists in Ukraine have been escalating, and on May 1, an RFE/RL video crew was attacked while covering a demonstration in Kharkiv.
On May 2, masked, angry men carrying knives and axes threatened two VOA video reporters in Donetsk. In addition, a VOA reporter working in the Donetsk area returned to Kyiv for a few days after being warned that he was on a “snatch list” of journalists targeted for capture. He has since returned to Donetsk.