Email to Ukrainian embassies

There is no doubt that the Ukrainian government is responsible for the kidnapping of journalists in Ukraine. Here is an email I just sent to the Ukrainian embassies in Oslo, London, Washington D.C., Zagreb and Belgrade.

——– Original Message ——–

Subject: Kidnapping of journalists
Date: Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:24:31 +0200
From: Kristian Kahrs <kristian.kahrs@gmail.com>
To: emb_no@mfa.gov.ua, embassy@ukremb.no, emb_gb@mfa.gov.ua, emb_us@mfa.gov.ua, emb_hr@mfa.gov.ua, emb_sm@mfa.gov.ua

Attention:

Ambassador Yurii Onischenko, Ukrainian Embassy, Oslo
Ambassador Andrii Kuzmenko, Embassy of Ukraine, London, UK
Ambassador Olexander Motsyk, Embassy of Ukraine, Washington D.C., USA
Embassy of Ukraine, Zagreb, Croatia
Embassy of Ukraine, Belgrade, Serbia

Dear representatives of the Government of Ukraine

Today, Sergey Belous was supposed to come back to Belgrade. However, he is still stuck in Ukraine because he cannot get his international passport in Dontetsk because of the Ukrainian government offensive and shelling of this city with heavy weapons.

In addition to Belous and his two colleagues, your government has received international criticism for not respecting freedom of journalists. The latest example is the kidnapping of  Russian photojournalist Andrei Stenin, as documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists, and if you want to be a democratic country respecting basic human rights, your behavior is totally unacceptable.

In this email, I am copying representatives of the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kiev, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists and the Norwegian and Ukrainian union of journalists, represented by Oksana Vynnichuk, available on + 380 50 356 57 58. The Ukrainian government should be aware that you are being followed closely by foreign governments and international organizations.

Sergey Belous and his colleagues were robbed of all their belongings in a kidnapping carried out by forces loyal to the Ukrainian government, and therefore, your government is responsible, not only for the security of the kidnapped journalists, but you are also financially responsible for the extra costs incurred. This was stated by Belous himself in a press conference organized by the Ukrainian police, and an English transcript of that press conference is also available in the article Sergey: Ukrainians took us.

Кликни на слику за чланак на српском, КМ Новине. Click on the picture for an interview in Serbian made by KM Novine.

Кликни на слику за чланак на српском, КМ Новине. Click on the picture for an interview in Serbian made by KM Novine.

Belous was also using my video camera, a Canon LEGRIA HF M31 HD with an external Sony microphone with a camera bag and cables for the camera. I expect that you return this to me and that I can pick it up at the Ukrainian embassy in Belgrade in the near future. If you are not able to recover the camera, I expect that the Ukrainian embassy in Norway compensates me on my Norwegian bank account 9713.22.99483. If you need instructions for international transfer, you can find that information here.

The Ukrainian government must also provide Sergey Belous with travel documents without delay so he can return to Belgrade as planned, and the government should also provide new airline tickets to Belgrade because he lost his ticket today because actions by forces loyal to your government

Of course, the Ukrainian government is also aware that 1750 people who who signed the petition for the release of the kidnapped journalists. Without their support, the future of Sergey and his colleagues would have been bleak.

It is also appropriate to give a big thanks to some of the people who were working for the freedom of the three journalists. However, the petition campaign will not end before we see Sergey Belous in Belgrade. Some of the helpers need to stay anonymous, but they know who they are.

A special thanks to these individuals, alphabetically by first name:

  • Анатолий Шарий (Anatolij Sharij) Ukrainian journalist in exile, thank you for sharing the petition for Sergey’s release on Facebook and other social media.
  • Gil Matos-Sequí, thank you for great work in Belgrade as a liaison between Sergey’s mother Tatyana and the rest of us.
  • Graham Phillips, British journalist and stringer for Russia Today. Graham was also kidnapped by Ukrainian forces and expelled from Ukraine for three years. More about Graham in the article RT contributor’s ordeal in Ukraine: Arrested, blindfolded, no guarantee of living.
  • Hege Iren Frantzen, Deputy Leader of the Norwegian Union of Journalists for fast reaction and contact with the International Federation of Journalists.
  • Ivan Kočin, Sergey’s friend from Kharkov, currently in Belgrade, who was a big help in getting the pieces of the puzzle together. Thank you also for transcribing the interview with Roman Gnatyuk.
  • John Bosnitch, Canadian journalist and activist who reacted immediately in social media when Sergey and his colleagues were kidnapped.
  • Oksana Sazanova, Sergey’s friend and host in Rostov who has been a great help in finding facts on the ground.
  • Ole Solvang, Senior Researcher, Emergencies at Human Rights Watch. Thank you for asking necessary questions.
  • Miodrag Žarković, Sergey’s closest contact at the magazine Pečat. As a writer and editor at Pečat, Miodrag made a lot of important contacts around the world.
  • Rachel Ruvarac, an American living in Belgrade with an excellent command of Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian. Thank you for prayers and wonderful help with translation and transcribing.
  • Samantha Libby from the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York immediately contacted her network after Sergey and his colleagues were kidnapped.
  • Stephen Karganović of the Srebrenica Historical Project was the first who called for action, and he collected addresses to Ukrainian embassies. Stephen and I have used a bit different rhetoric, but we’ve had the same goal, and we agree that it is unacceptable to kidnap journalists no matter who they are working for.
  • Tatyana Belous, Sergey’s mother who was a necessary first point of contact for Sergey and the rest of us. Thank you for your prayers.
  • Yuk Lan Wong, Policy and Projects Officer at the International Federation of Journalists. Thank you to her team asking questions to the Ukrainian government.
  • Öyvind Nordsletten, Chargé d’affaires at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kiev. Thank you for being very clear to Ukrainian authorities that freedom of speech and working conditions for journalists is vital for a country that wants to be democratic.

In addition to this list, I should mention the press officer at the US embassy in Kiev. When I called the embassy, he was skeptical when I told him that pro-government forces had kidnapped three journalists. I guess he presumed that only the bad Russians did those kind of crimes.

“Why should I trust you?” he asked and I replied, “Sir, I am not asking you to trust me but to check the information on sorryserbia.com.” Then he said that the US embassy would definitely look into the matter.

Finally, there have been reports that Sergey Belous has been threatened with the forced recruiting to the Ukrainian army. If this is true, this is of course totally unacceptable, and I would strongly warn the Ukrainian government from making such threats. When journalists disagree with the official view of the Ukrainian government, they should have freedom of expression without any threats.