SAFETY ADVISORY: Ukraine as at 30/01/14

The International News Safety Institute is issuing the following safety advice for journalists covering the protests in Ukraine.

Before you go


Read INSI’s safety advisory for covering demonstrations and other civil disorder before covering any protests. 

Ensure that you have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) i.e. a helmet, eye protection and protective clothing. One journalist on the ground spoke to medics who told him that at least half of all the injuries they have treated are injuries to the head or face. Consider bringing a flak jacket and a gas mask as well as other equipment recommended by INSI.

Journalists have not reported problems carrying PPE, such as flak jackets, gas masks and helmets, through airport customs. However, consider dividing up your equipment in several bags, in case one is confiscated.

Ask yourself what is your story?

Consider whether you need to go to the middle of the protests – could you watch from a safe distance? For instance, the main protest area in Kiev is by the Dynamo stadium and has a naturally formed viewing platform up on a hill.

Much of the activity throughout the day is streamed on the internet as well; consider whether you can use this for your piece.

The weather

Temperatures are well below freezing at the moment, and even colder at night. Many journalists arriving in Ukraine have not been adequately prepared for the temperatures, which has hampered their ability to do their work. Read INSI’s safety advisory for working in cold environments before going out into the field.

Bring sturdy boots and consider bringing ice studs as the ground is extremely slippery.

On the ground

Ensure you carry your press accreditation but consider keeping it concealed if you find it draws unwanted attention. Journalists are being admitted to occupied buildings by protesters but are usually required to show their press accreditation.

Some journalists are reportedly wearing fluorescent jackets to distinguish themselves as press. Gauge whether you want to wear one, as journalists have reportedly been targeted by security forces. If you take one with you and keep it in your bag, you then have a choice.

Security forces have been using rubber bullets, teargas and smoke to disperse protests. Some protesters have also reported that the authorities are using shotgun shells filled with buckshot and stun grenades (also known as ‘flashbangs’) which can cause serious burns. Neither of these can be independently verified at this time.

INSI’s advisory on how to protect yourself from tear gas is available here.

Protesters have reportedly been using Molotov cocktails and catapults to project missiles i.e. rocks. One journalist who has been covering the protests in Kiev had witnessed incidents where protesters have themselves been injured after spilling Molotov cocktails or hitthing each other with poorly aimed rocks. Ensure you are aware of what both sides are doing at all times and don’t get in the way.

Stay well behind confrontation lines and ensure that you have adequate protective equipment for all eventualities.

There have been reports of protesters, police officers and journalists being targeted and even kidnapped at night although it is unclear by whom. Some demonstrators suspect that government-paid thugs, referred to as ‘titushki’ in Ukraine, are responsible for this. This cannot be verified at this time.

Ensure you are not alone on the street at night and when you leave barricaded areas. Try to move around with other colleagues as there is more safety in numbers.

Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist journalists in Ukraine and are not meant to be negative in nature. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems as a result of this advice.

Photo: Protesters guard barricades in front of riot police in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)