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Detector Media continues its special project on media professionals who, by their own choice and without coercion, started spreading Russian propaganda in the temporarily occupied territories. We have previously published articles on media personnel from the Kherson, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia regions who became collaborationists during the full-scale invasion. This piece is about those who started Russian propaganda in the Donbas in 2014.

Ten years ago, in the spring of 2014, Russians, along with local separatists, seized local television stations. Editorial offices of four channels — Donetsk Regional State TV and Radio Company (DODTRK), better known as Channel 27, Pershyi Munitsypalnyi (First Municipal), Donbas, and Union — faced a choice: abandon their normal lives in Donetsk to remain loyal to Ukraine, or stay and replace the Ukrainian flag with the tricolor.

Journalists who left Donetsk due to the occupation shared with MediaSapiens the story of how the invaders took over the media, persuaded them to cooperate, and who among their former colleagues eventually became collaborationists.

Assault on Editorial Offices, Berkut Security, and Torture Chambers

The Donetsk Regional State TV and Radio Company (DODTRK) was attacked twice. The first assault occurred on April 7, when armed individuals entered the premises of the state-controlled broadcaster and opened fire on the fighters of the Zaporizhzhia special unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who were guarding DODTRK. However, the attackers were repelled, and the channel continued to operate. The general director of the regional broadcaster at that time was Oleh Dzholos. In his blog post on Detector Media, he recalls that the second attempt to seize the broadcaster took place 20 days later, on April 27, “This time, the police officers who were supposed to protect us simply retreated and did not intervene. The next day, armed individuals barred me from entering work. When we were seized, I was forcibly removed from my post, and Russia-24 was broadcast on our frequencies.”

In a comment to MediaSapiens, Oleh Dzholos added that none of the broadcaster’s team joined the invaders, “The people who led DODTRK on behalf of these groups had no prior connection to it. At least during the four years I managed it, none of my team became leaders in media on these occupied territories. They might have brought in people who worked before my tenure. From my team, no one took a leadership role in the media of these occupied areas.” For instance, the channel’s host became Kateryna Mykhailova, whom Detector Media featured on the Board of Shame, but according to Dzholos, she never worked at Donetsk DODTRK before its capture. According to Myrotvorets, Mykhailova later got married and moved to Russia.

On March 28, ten days before the first assault, DODTRK aired an interview with philosopher and public figure Oleksiy Panych. Back then, truthful words about the reasons for the Revolution of Dignity and its participants could still be heard on Donetsk television, “Such a spiritual uplift has never been seen before. If you listen to Russian television, they say only ‘evil Banderites,’ anti-Semites who ‘hate everyone,’ were on Maidan. I have never seen so much love and self-sacrifice,” he said. Oleksiy Panych now says that DODTRK employees showed courage and a civic stance by allowing him on live air during those tense days.

A former DODTRK employee, who requested anonymity because her relatives remain in Donetsk, told MediaSapiens that when the station was captured, only the director was barred from the building; all other employees continued to come to work for several more days, “We were summoned to the new manager one by one — he was just a young guy. He pleaded with us to cooperate and help set up TV broadcasting because he didn’t understand anything about this. He was appointed but not told what to do. None of my acquaintances agreed. We called Kyiv and asked what to do. We were told that if we didn’t resume broadcasting, we would stop receiving salaries. But how could we do that when there was an APC [armored personnel carrier] at the entrance?”

According to her, there were no directives from Kyiv to stop coming to work after DODTRK’s capture, but the staff made a collective decision to come at specific times and try to preserve some of the equipment and archives. Meanwhile, used syringes began to appear in the broadcaster’s corridors.

“Journalists, editors, directors — we all gathered in one office, no one moved alone. And when someone started shooting on the first floor, simply out of a lack of firearm handling skills, we realized how dangerous it was and no longer went to work,” she told MediaSapiens.

Five of the media professionals we interviewed mentioned that the invaders set up a prison with a torture chamber in the DODTRK building. Allegedly, those who resisted the occupation administration were sent to the “cellar.” Our respondents were fortunate not to witness this firsthand, so it has not been possible to confirm this information yet.

In February 2015, Donetsk DODTRK resumed broadcasting from Ukrainian-controlled Kramatorsk under a new logo, DoTB (Donetske Oblasne Telebachennia, Donetsk Regional Television). One of those involved in the revival was Illia Suzdaliev, who previously served as Deputy Head of the Department of Information Policy and Press of the Donetsk Regional State Administration.

Suzdaliev told MediaSapiens that the first attempt to seize the regional administration took place on March 1, 2014, followed by assaults on other administrative buildings and media, which were captured and recaptured over the month. 

Among the attackers was Volodymyr Makovych, a pro-Russian activist who later became one of the leaders in the occupation “government” of the captured part of the Donetsk region. “He was one of those city lunatics who had been attending pro-Russian rallies for many years. They were usually attended by about ten people, and no one bothered them. When DODTRK was seized, he came there and held meetings with the staff at the time. As far as I know, he was setting up the operations of the occupation television. He had no connection to journalism but was somewhat of an ideologue,” Suzdaliev said.

 Volodymyr Makovych. He likely died of a heart attack in 2017, the same year as the terrorists Bolotov, Motorola, and Givi.

Later, on the basis of DODTRK’s facilities, the invaders established the Pershyi Respublikanskyi (First Republican) channel. According to Illia Suzdaliev, for the initial broadcasts, the new management recruited people almost off the street. Later, Russians and those who returned to Donetsk from Ukraine-controlled territories joined the channel’s operations.

“From around early 2015, people who initially fled began to return to Donetsk. Many came back not because they trusted the invaders or Russia but because they couldn’t find housing or work in Ukraine-controlled territory. They simply couldn’t bear these difficulties. This is not so much an excuse as an explanation of the situation. Some faced discrimination when trying to rent apartments due to their Donetsk registration,” Suzdaliev explained.

Lenin Square

A similar seizure occurred at the Donbas channel, which belonged to Rinat Akhmetov’s Media Group Ukraine and broadcasted in Donetsk, Luhansk, and parts of the Zaporizhzhia region. Its office was located on Lenin Square, placing the channel’s employees in the heart of the events. As of 2014, the chief director of the channel was Mykola Osychenko, who told MediaSapiens that many protesters were not locals, as they were unfamiliar with the city. Once, Osychenko saw a crowd and asked where they were going. They replied they were going to assault the Donbas channel but walked in a completely different direction. Others were taking photos near the McDonald’s on Lenin Square as if it were a landmark, which would be odd for native Donetsk residents.

“They tried to come ‘in peace’ and with weapons, but it was all in vain because we didn’t cooperate. They demanded that we air commercials promoting the ‘referendum.’ There wasn’t a ‘Russian ship’ at that time, but we sent them off somewhere as well. Closer to May 11, the date of the ‘referendum,’ armed people supposedly took us ‘under protection’ because ‘who knows what might happen,” Osychenko recalled. “At that time, we already had protection from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which had stationed a company of the Kryvyi Rih Berkut [riot police]. Those guys defended us from four or five assaults for sure. This was until we were assaulted after all special units were withdrawn from Donetsk. And then, closer to summer, we were held at gunpoint and reminded of where we told them to go.”

Before the assault, the Donbas editorial team had removed essential equipment from the building and established several bases with editing stations and cameras around the city, allowing them to work independently of the office. “We remained the only channel that could provide any footage to Kyiv about events in Donetsk. By that time, we had already relocated broadcasting and part of the team to the capital. And when they tried to force us to air the ‘referendum’ commercials, the only argument that worked was that the commercials would be immediately cut off since the broadcast was routed through Kyiv,” Osychenko said.

After the so-called “referendum,” Mykola Osychenko was invited to a meeting to discuss “how to live together from now on.” “Russians were there, evident from their accents. I could see they had a well-thought-out plan, including which channels should be [operational]. I was asked who works where and how many people we have. I was curious to understand their plans, but we also believed that the city would be liberated soon and all this would end.”

Following the complete seizure, a few senior technical staff remained at the Donbas channel, which was transformed into Oplot TV. According to Mykola Osychenko, they might have stayed because they were reluctant to change their lives or believed their work wasn’t politically aiding the invaders. In reality, they were contributing to propaganda efforts.

Serhiy Harmash, the editor-in-chief of the Donetsk publication Ostriv, points out that not everyone stayed in Donetsk out of ideological conviction. He identifies two categories of media professionals who cooperated: those who desired Russian intervention and facilitated it and those who stayed due to family circumstances or hesitancy to abandon everything and start anew.

“When we left the occupied Donetsk around May-June 2014, we expected to return by autumn, as cities were being liberated at that time. Many didn’t leave, hoping it would soon be over. When it didn’t end, people adapted and embraced the ‘Russian world’ ideology,” says Serhiy Harmash. “Being in the Russian information sphere and somewhat isolated from Ukraine, people genuinely believed that they were hated in Ukraine and that things were worse there than in their daily lives. They even pitied us.”

He notes that those who purposefully stayed under occupation were often not native Donetsk residents but had come from Russia or other former Soviet republics or were part of the old Soviet hierarchy.

One anonymous source recalled how Russian journalists arrived in Donetsk even before the conflict began, “In February 2014, correspondents from Russia’s NTV came to Donetsk. It was still normal back then. They needed our facilities to transmit their footage. Nowadays, everything is transmitted through small devices, but back then, powerful satellite systems were required. At that time, Donetsk was still calm, and we were surprised by their arrival. We asked, ‘Why are you here? Everything is happening in Kyiv’ [referring to the Revolution of Dignity]. They replied, ‘In two weeks, everything will be here.’ And indeed, two weeks later, everything began here. There was a large rally on Lenin Square, and on March 13, Dmytro Cherniavsky was killed [he died during a rally for Ukrainian unity in Donetsk and was posthumously honored as a Hero of Ukraine]. So, they had already scripted all this.”

Faces of Pro-Russian Propaganda in Donetsk

Today, Donetsk TV channels and online media are predominantly staffed by young people, indicating that propagandists have managed to cultivate successors over the past decade. However, let’s revisit the “old guard” who kickstarted this process.

Mykola Osychenko recounts that all journalists from the Donbas channel left except for one — Serhiy Karpiy. He became the deputy director at the former DODTRK, now the First Republican channel, and later the editor-in-chief of the channel, eventually leading the news department (as of 2021).

“He initially went to his relatives in Debaltseve and ended up in hell itself, the Debaltseve encirclement. He saw what Russia was doing, barely survived, but returned to Donetsk. He then worked at DODTRK and began teaching at the university,” Osychenko says. “When he first came to work with us, he was a terrified creature who wrote reports on everyone. Nobody liked him. We corresponded for a while, but then he realized I was on the other side and blocked me.”

“Serhiy Karpiy was once ‘the hope of Donetsk journalism,’” recalls Illya Suzdaliev. “He held every possible award. He initially left, was pro-Ukraine, but then drastically changed his position.”

He changed so abruptly that he even suggested sending Donetsk residents who didn’t want to receive a “passport” from the occupation administration to the frontline, “If you want to live freely, go to the ‘migration service’! I would also send especially unreasonable ones to the frontline.”

 Serhiy Karpiy

Viktor Petrenko became the director of First Republican and is currently the head of the “Union of Journalists” of the occupied territories of Donetsk. He previously worked as a music editor at the Donbas channel and had no connection to journalism. “We fired him before 2014, and during the channel’s capture, he came to us as a sort of mediator. He said, ‘You know what’s coming,’” recalls Osychenko.

In March 2022, Petrenko supported the Russian full-scale invasion and wrote, “Now, forces from the Russian Federation, DPR, and LPR are fighting Nazis and their accomplices together. The information front is no longer manned by the boys and girls of 2014. These are experienced, brave, and professional journalists, reporters, correspondents, and war correspondents who match the best journalists in Russia. Dmytro Astrakhan, Olena Morozova, Heorhiy Medvediev, Oleksandra Lazarieva, Vlad Yevtushenko, Viktoriya Melnykova, and many more!”

  Viktor Petrenko

Viktoria Melnykova is now the editor-in-chief of Union. In January 2023, she received training from Russian media, “I am at the New Media Workshop, which launched the first specialized intensive for leading regional media — ‘Project Workshop ‘Integration’. Among the participants are 50 media leaders from 36 Russian regions, with every fifth participant from the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics. I represent our Donetsk channel Union; it is gratifying that our work is noticed and appreciated. I was also pleasantly surprised that colleagues from even the most remote parts of Russia are aware of events in Donbas and genuinely care and support us.” It would be surprising if “in the most remote parts of Russia” they did not know what was happening in eastern Ukraine, since Russian television has been talking about it non-stop for ten years.

Apart from Petrenko, Artem Rozhkov was another negotiator who came to the channel. According to Mykola Osychenko, he worked at the Donbas channel long before 2014, then moved to Moscow and worked there as a sound engineer, “He returned to Donetsk just at the beginning of the hostilities, came to the Donbas editorial office with Russians, and tried to persuade us to cooperate. Later, he was sent to assault the Donetsk airport, where he died.”

Oleksandr Naumov became the editor-in-chief of First Republican. Before the occupation, he was a special correspondent for many Ukrainian and international media: Radio Liberty, ICTV, Novyi Kanal, Channel 5, 1+1, STB, BBC, Associated Press, etc. In 2012, he ran for the Verkhovna Rada from the 56th district in the Donetsk region. He now works at the International Informational Agency Rossiya Segodnya.

“Oleksandr Naumov is one of the people who surprised me,” says Osychenko. “He is a very intelligent journalist with extensive experience. He was taken to Dnipro helped with an apartment and a job. He made stories about separatists and terrorists. Then he just up and returned to Donetsk, saying, ‘I can no longer lie to people,’ and began to glorify Russia, the occupation administration, Zakharchenko, and others. I think he realized that due to the lack of staff in Donetsk, he could achieve a lot. Naumov also worked at Oplot.”

 Oleksandr Naumov

At the end of 2014, Naumov wrote about how Russian journalists had to flee from the enraged grandmothers of Donetsk, “Near the Druzhba Ice Arena, people were quietly standing in line for Akhmetov’s packages, and the film crew approached the crowd with the question, ‘Why are you standing so long for Akhmetov’s packages when Russian ‘humanitarian aid’ recently came to your city?’ And then Armageddon began. They were chased by a stream of choice Donbas profanity.”

In a 2020 interview, when asked why he decided to join the “Donetsk resistance,” or rather the separatists, Naumov replied, “The choice was actually simple: live as a scoundrel with a rotten soul or remain a person and fight those who want to kill you, your family, and friends. I chose the latter and started doing what I do best — working as a journalist at Oplot TV. Together with colleagues from First Republican TV Channel and Novorossiya TV Channel, we became a breath of freedom in the information space for all the inhabitants of the republic.” In 2022, he reported from Donetsk about “Nazis in Ukraine” and the “joy and gratitude to Putin” from Donbas residents for the start of the full-scale invasion.

“The country of Ukraine must disappear from geographical maps. It must not remain a country. Because Ukraine is so sick with the disease of Nazism that it does not have a right to exist. Total reformatting may make these territories into something else, with a different name. But letting it keep it is a crime against humanity. Hence, the word Ukraine itself must remain only in history textbooks, when learning about the bloodiest moments in the long sequence of life of planet Earth.”

Screenshot of Naumov. March 10, 2022

According to Osychenko, Naumov invited Oleksandr Mozhovyi to the First Republican TV channel. At that time, Mozhovyi worked as a host and chief editor at the Ukrayina (Ukraine) TV channel. He remained in Kyiv until 2015 but then, as reported by Detector Media, moved to Donetsk, supposedly due to the animosity of Kyiv residents. “Due to the nature of my work, I had to push forward the alien ideas of the current Kyiv authorities,” Mozhovyi lamented. “I apologize for unintentionally misleading people, claiming that ‘never from my lips…’. I confess I was absolutely convinced that this was true. But no, my lips were indeed tainted. I don’t remember how or under what circumstances this happened, no matter how hard I try.

I will not renounce my beliefs. It’s time to stop calling some ‘terrorists’ and others ‘punishers’ in the media. We do not have the right to label people. History is the judge of that. Sooner or later, we will have to find words to start a dialogue. Sooner would be better,” he said in defense of himself to the invaders for calling them terrorists while in Kyiv.

However, over time, everyone forgot what he had said earlier, and within a year, Mozhovyi began hosting all the celebrations of Zakharchenko and other leaders of the occupation administration. He worked at Oplot TV, First Republican, and Union, and since 2022, he has been hosting news and propaganda projects on Russia’s Channel One, attaching labels to Ukrainians.

Oleksandr Bashun also made a career under occupation. He was the head of DODTRK before Oleh Dzholos. Before the war, Bashun had different views and ideas about life. For example, in 2007, Detector Media (then called Telekrytyka) tried to interview Bashun, but he refused, saying he had “checked and found that no such public organization as Telekrytyka exists.” He generally refused to communicate with journalists because he didn’t believe they were genuinely interested in how a state-controlled company operates on taxpayers’ money. An interview with Bashun was only possible after Telekrytyka sent a letter to the State Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee.

In 2010, he resigned because the broadcaster’s staff appealed to the prosecutor’s office, alleging they were “denied bonuses without explanation, forced to write incomprehensible reports daily, and were not provided with the equipment necessary for work.” Employees also questioned Bashun’s accolades, such as the title of Merited Journalist, which Viktor Yushchenko awarded him in June 2009 for his “significant personal contribution to the development of domestic journalism and high professionalism.” Currently, Bashun is not listed among Ukraine’s Merited Journalists. In 2005, the Metropolitan of the UOC-MP awarded Bashun the Order of “For Patriotism” (II degree) for his “significant contribution to the development of Ukraine, merits before the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and charity.” With the arrival of the invaders, according to Myrotvorets, he became the chief media relations specialist at the so-called Ministry of Construction and Housing and Utilities of the occupation administration and reported in the media that “the heating season in Donetsk started much earlier than in Ukraine.”

According to the anonymous database Dozor Donbasu (Donbass Watch), in 2018, a person named Oleksandr Bashun worked as a managing editor at the Donetsk News Agency.

Junior Channel

According to a Detector Media source who previously worked at the Donbas channel and wishes to remain anonymous, the regional TV channel Union was linked to Oleksandr Yanukovych, the son of the former president. It was on this channel that the younger Yanukovych gave his first interview. In 2014, according to our source, Union was one of the first to adopt the Russian narrative about “militias.” However, there was some resistance to the Russian takeover of the channel — back in March 2014, the management of Union contacted law enforcement, reporting threats and obstructions to journalistic activities. The director and owner of TOV TRK Union was Natalia Zakharchenko, a deputy of the Donetsk Regional Council and a member of the Party of Regions, but even a pro-Russian stance did not save the channel from being seized. The militants first entered the channel’s premises on May 8, supposedly to protect the television company. Their leader identified himself as the “authorized representative of the Television and Radio Committee” of the occupation administration. Union continued broadcasting, but without the “United Country” banner, which was then present on all Ukrainian channels.

Armed men came to the channel again on May 25, demanding that the flag of the invaders be displayed on air and the editorial policy be changed. Union was required to cover the activities of the invaders’ governing bodies. In July 2014, the management of Union sent employees on leave and stopped airing live programs. “The Union TV channel continues to operate in the combat zone. Most employees have been on leave for 1.5 months. Live programs are not currently aired. News on the channel is broadcast as segments. The news team has switched to remote work,” Zakharchenko stated at the time. Union also reported that it had put more effort into its website.

However, by August 2014, the founder of Novyny Donbasu (Donbas News), Oleksiy Matsuka, said the Union management had simply vanished, “We recently saw Natalia Zakharchenko, the channel’s director, in a grocery store in Kyiv, but she did not explain to us what was happening.” Matsuka told Detector Media at that time that the channel had a pro-Russian stance, and during rallies, its journalists used to arrive just 10 minutes before pro-Ukrainian activists were beaten. In 2015, Liga.net also reported that the director of Union had moved to Kyiv.

In 2016, Natalia Zakharchenko wrote to the National Council that her channel did not broadcast on the territory controlled by the occupation administration and had no connection to the broadcasting in Donetsk, Makiivka, and Torez under the Union logo. According to YouControl, she is still the head of TRK Union, but in 2016, she changed her registration from Donetsk to Poltava, and the company was relocated from Donetsk to Vuhledar, where the war also arrived in 2022. The company is not in the process of being dissolved, but the website www.union.ua is not operational.

In 2014, Mykola Cherkashyn became the new director of the occupied Union. According to Mykola Osychenko, Cherkashyn had no prior experience in media management, “Before the war, he was merely an editor for sports segments, and not a very good one, which led us to part ways with him.”

Ten years have passed, and Cherkashyn is still in office. Last year, in an interview with a Russian publication, Cherkashyn stated that the Union TV channel joined the propaganda marathon “Everything for Victory” — collecting funds and “humanitarian aid” so that “the military could feel the support of millions of Russians behind them.” Now, it is the only Donetsk TV channel that has continued broadcasting throughout all ten years under the same logo.

  Mykola Cherkashyn

Donbas — Oplot — Novorossiya

Volodymyr Abdulayev headed Oplot TV, which the invaders created to replace the Donbas channel. We mentioned this media collaborationist in the article TRK Tavria: A Center of Russian Propaganda in Kherson. In 2022, Abdulayev became the director of the propagandist TRK (TV and Radio Company) Tavria and was also involved in removing the assets of the Kherson branch of Suspilne to Henichesk after the de-occupation of Kherson.

In 2014, he was known in Donetsk for his participation in KVN [a popular Soviet and post-Soviet comedy competition]. Then, he joined the Donbas channel with the idea of producing programs about the so-called Great Patriotic War. However, as Mykola Osychenko recalls, he was quickly fired for poor performance. When the Donbas team left Donetsk in July 2014, Abdulayev became a propagandist.

 Volodymyr Abdulayev

Volodymyr Selivanov, who had previously headed the press service of Donetsk Railways for many years and continued working there even during the occupation until 2017, also became involved with Oplot. 

“He was sitting and working in the same building of the ‘Ministry of Transport’ of the occupation administration, where Oleksandr Zakharchenko’s office was also located at that time. So they worked almost side by side,” recalls Illia Suzdaliev.

  Volodymyr Selivanov

In 2017, Selivanov moved to Mariupol and immediately took managerial positions in Rinat Akhmetov’s Media Group. Initially, he became the head of the Mrpl.city website, and later, the digital director of the MTV channel. When the full-scale invasion began, as reported by Detector Media, he refused to leave Mariupol despite being offered help for evacuation. 

“Selivanov is a unique example of someone who switched sides twice. I wouldn’t be surprised if he still keeps a Ukrainian flag somewhere,” laughs Suzdaliev. “There are generally several categories of people in Donetsk. There were those who genuinely waited for Russia and were prepared for the seizure. For example, the current mayor of Donetsk, Oleksiy Kulemzin. We used to work together in the Regional State Administration. One of my colleagues saw that when the RSA building was finally taken over, he showed those orcs his badge, proving he was ‘one of them.’ At the same time, I don’t rule out that there are people who were forced to work there. Whether it was a conscious choice or a necessity — regardless, this choice is criminal, and they undoubtedly became collaborationists. But what led to this choice needs to be studied separately for each individual.”

Currently, Rashyd Shekhmametyev, also known in Donetsk by the pseudonyms Rashyt Romanov and Roman Shakhov, is considered the face of Oplot in Donetsk. “This person has practically become a member of every Donetsk family,” writes the website Govorit Donetsk (Donetsk Speaking). In the 90s, he was a deputy of the regional council and a member of the youth and sports commission. He then traded at the market, became a radio host, and even organized discos in Crimea. With the onset of the occupation of Donetsk, these wanderings culminated in propaganda work.

 Rashyd Shekhmametyev

One of the so-called military correspondents [milbloggers] in Donetsk, particularly on Oplot, was Hennadiy Dubovyi, who died in a car accident in Donetsk last year. According to Serhiy Harmash, who knew him personally, Dubovyi returned to Donetsk from Russia, trying to establish himself both as a political strategist and a journalist, but did not fit into any team. Before the start of the hostilities in Donetsk, Dubovyi fought in Chechnya. “War was his natural state of mind. Before the hostilities began, he was just tormented by unfulfillment and drank heavily. When all this social scum rose to the surface, he immediately found his place and supported Strelkov in Slovyansk,” says Harmash.

 Hennadiy Dubovyi

In 2015, the invaders announced their own Journalist Day on the seized territories of the Donetsk region. At that time, many Donetsk journalists who had collaborated with the invaders received awards and revealed their names. Among them were the already mentioned Hennadiy Dubovyi, Viktor Petrenko, and Rashyd Shekhmametyev. 

Journalist Olena Shynkarenko of Oplot, a former columnist for KP.ua; Volodymyr Bezrodnyi, head of the public relations department of Donetsk National University — a Merited Journalist of Ukraine; Alevtyna Vorozhtsova, director of the School of Television of the First Republican Channel; and Dmytro Dezortsev, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Novorossiya, also received awards.

Among them is Olena Blokha, the former editor of the Munitsypalna Hazeta (Municipal Newspaper). According to Serhiy Harmash, she arrived in the Donbas from Russia in the early 2000s and quickly gained the trust of city leaders, “Mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko even gave her an apartment, which seems unprecedented. In other words, being a journalist, she actually served the local authorities — there’s no other way to put it. And she betrayed these same authorities, immediately supporting Russia in 2014. She even led the so-called ‘Department of Public Relations’ of the occupation administration. Now she is a ‘deputy of the People’s Council’ of the invaders in the Donetsk region.”

 Award decree for 2015

Another journalist is Maryna Kharkova, who worked at the Donetskyi Kriazh newspaper (Donetsk Ridge) before the occupation. According to Serhiy Harmash, she felt uncomfortable until 2014. “Donetsk Ridge gathered in-house correspondents from all-Union media. Once, before Independence, they were privileged, but later they became ordinary, even marginalized. Therefore, they longed for the return of their status, which they associated with Russia, essentially with the revival of the USSR. The same applies to Rashyd Shekhmametyev. Dubovyi most likely had just an idea of struggle; he was dissatisfied with life. One could even say, ‘class struggle,’ which was transformed into the struggle for the ‘independence of the peoples of the Donbas.’ But if we generalize, these people were unable to find fulfillment in an independent Ukraine,” says Serhiy Harmash.

It is worth noting that Dmytro Kornilov, who was probably the one behind the invention of the flag of the occupation administration of Donetsk — an addition of a black stripe to the Soviet Ukrainian flag — worked at this newspaper long before the events of 2014. Now, this tricolor flag is used by the group that seized part of the region. Dmytro died in 2002, but his younger brother Volodymyr Kornilov made a career — notably, he headed the Segodnya newspaper, which was part of Rinat Akhmetov’s media holding. Since 2013, he has been living in Moscow and regularly appearing on Russian propaganda channels as the chief specialist on the “Ukrainian issue,” working at the state-controlled International Informational Agency Segodnya. This year in Donetsk, after a decade-long hiatus, this newspaper was “revived” as it is the “mouthpiece of the unity of the Russian world.”

With the beginning of the occupation, the First Municipal channel was turned into Oplot-2. Before this, the channel was headed by Andriy Budiak, who, according to media reports, fled to Moscow after the Revolution of Dignity. Previously, he was the head of Channel 34 in Dnipropetrovsk [now Dnipro], which was part of the Media Group Ukraine holding of the same Rinat Akhmetov. He was also the director general of the Skif-2 channel from Kostiantynivka, Donetsk region, which belonged to the VO Konti company of the former Party of Regions member Borys Kolesnikov, headed the DNK radio, and wrote children’s books. By the way, he is also a merited journalist of Ukraine. According to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Andriy Budiak was part of a group that, under instructions from Russian curators, was developing activities aimed at destabilizing the situation in Ukraine — this information was disclosed by the SBU in 2017. According to Myrotvorets, Budiak organized anti-Ukrainian rallies. In response to the SBU’s statement, Budiak called Ukraine a “police state.”

Budiak is now in Russia, but he was sighted in the occupied territories of Ukraine after the full-scale invasion with the propaganda project Vnuki (Grandchildren), dedicated to May 9, along with Aliona Berezovska and Tetiana Pop.

Andriy Budiak

It is also worth mentioning the Novorossiya TV channel, which started working in 2014 on the captured frequency of the 1+1 channel. It was founded by Pavlo Gubarev, one of the leaders of the terrorist group Novorossiya. Few were willing to work at Novorossiya, so the channel recruited hosts without any professional experience requirements.

CNN correspondent Reza Sayah reported, “The job announcement says no experience is needed. Just enthusiasm and zest. The hastily organized casting for the new channel is an attempt to show the government in Kyiv that it is no longer needed.” She also added that Pavlo Gubarev — the self-proclaimed head of the new entity — previously worked as a “Santa Claus for rent.”

 Gubarev in a Santa Claus costume

In 2017, the SBU launched an investigation in absentia against Pavlo Gubarev, who was suspected of public calls for constitutional change and the seizure of state power, as well as creating and managing a terrorist organization.

The fate of this channel is quite similar to that of its creator: Russian sources report that it operated for some time after the occupation began in 2014. However, after Gubarev offended the “Chechens,” who took him to Zuhres [a city near Donetsk], the channel moved from 1+1’s frequencies to those of the local Channel 59, which had significantly less coverage. In 2018, following the death of his patron, Oleksandr Zakharchenko, at the Cheburashka cafe, Gubarev’s channel was transferred to the management of First Republican. At that time, the channel had lost its original programming and merely duplicated that of First Republican, only with the Novorossiya TV logo. By 2020, the former Santa Clause has entirely lost control of the channel. As of June 1, 2022, the Novorossiya TV channel, part of the holding, simply broadcasts the Solovyov Live channel.

According to Serhiy Harmash, some journalists and officials sided with the invaders because they were oriented towards the so-called regional elite, which couldn’t decide what to do until the very last moment. More importantly, they did not believe that Russia posed any kind of threat to them. “The elite believed there might be a threat from Poroshenko, some redistribution of markets, or from Yanukovych, who fled to Russia but wanted to retain control over the region. Journalists, accustomed to aligning themselves with local elites, initially did not reveal their position and then simply aligned with those who seemed stronger to remain in the loop,” explains Harmash.

Collage by Mykola Shymanskyi, Detector Media

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