COLUMN 

Keeping the lights on

Without war correspondents on the ground, evil regimes can get away with anything…

By James Evelegh

Keeping the lights on
Photograph: Engin Akyurt on Unsplash.

Due to strong resistance and poor planning, the Russian invasion of Ukraine appears to have stalled. Growing increasingly desperate, Russia has resorted to indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, which is a war crime.

To get away with war crimes, Russia has to try and stop people finding out about them: the lights of publicity need to be switched off and that makes journalists particularly vulnerable.

This week, Mstyslav Chernov, a Ukrainian Associated Press videographer, published his account of being one of the last international journalists in Mariupol: “With no information coming out of a city, no pictures of demolished buildings and dying children, the Russian forces could do whatever they wanted. If not for us, there would be nothing. That’s why we took such risks to be able to send the world what we saw, and that’s what made Russia angry enough to hunt us down.”

Thanks to the incredibly brave efforts of him and other journalists, the world sees the full horror of what is unfolding in Mariupol.

Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, has urged combatants to respect journalists. “They are civilians, who are keeping the world informed about the progress of the fighting. They must be able to work safely. We therefore call on all parties to the conflict to immediately commit to protecting journalists in the field in accordance with international law.”

Sadly, “keeping the world informed” is the last thing Russia wants.

So, we must applaud everyone who is brave enough to stand up for the truth – in effect, to keep the lights on.

As the Guardian put it in an editorial on Tuesday: “We must celebrate the courage of those who speak the truth, be they Ukrainians on the frontline like the AP team, or Russians like Marina Ovsyannikova, who disrupted Channel One’s main news broadcast, and the staff of newspaper Novaya Gazeta. As Chernov, the AP reporter, observed: “I have never, ever felt that breaking the silence was so important.””


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