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Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy's press secretary Yulia Mendel (file photo)
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy's press secretary Yulia Mendel (file photo)

Ukraine's main union of journalists has called on the presidential office and its spokeswoman to issue a formal apology to journalists from Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and to alter their treatment of journalists.

The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU) on September 28 specifically mentioned presidential spokeswoman Yulia Mendel who has been shown this month shoving or pulling aside journalists who approach President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

"The press secretary of the president has no right to physically interfere in the work of journalists," NUJU head Serhiy Tomilenko said on social media. "Journalists shouldn’t have to put up with behavior associated with either friendly hugs or shoving and pulling."

In one episode, journalist Serhiy Andrushko from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service stood waiting for the president and his office head, Andriy Bohdan, near the main entrance to the presidential office building.

When Zelenskiy approached, Mendel was seen intercepting Andrushko as he started to ask a question, shoving him aside.

In response, Mendel denied pushing the journalist, saying she was concerned about the president's safety and was trying to protect Zelenskiy’s "personal space."

On September 13, Mendel shoved aside RFE/RL's Kyiv correspondent Christopher Miller when he started talking to Zelenskiy at a prestigious yearly conference in Kyiv devoted to Ukraine’s European aspirations and prospects.

"That’s pretty ridiculous," Miller told Mendel, a former journalist, after the push. "That’s not how the media works."

Replying, Mendel said, "Yes, that’s why I work here…[what you did] was not very nice."

Miller is heard interrupting her, saying: "No, this is not very nice of you to physically…it’s 100 percent not cool."

Since getting elected on April 22, Zelenskiy has not given an open news conference, despite numerous promises.

In August, his presidential office head, Bohdan, said "We don’t need journalists to talk to people."

Bohdan’s comments came after the media criticized him for faking his resignation in a letter that was leaked to the media on August 1.

"Classic journalists got used to perceiving themselves as the society," he said in a comment to RFE/RL in the western Ukrainian town of Truskavets, where he and Zelenskiy were meeting newly-elected lawmakers from the president’s party.

"But as our election campaign has proved, we communicate with society without mediators, without journalists," Bohdan said, referring to the campaign’s successful social media drive.

A Russian parliamentary commission says German state-funded broadcaster Deutsche Welle violated the law with its coverage of protests this summer, and that lawmakers will continue to investigate other media outlets, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, on similar possible legal breaches.

Vasily Piskarev, chairman of the Commission on Foreign Interference in Russia’s Internal Affairs, said on September 27 that parliament will now ask the Foreign Ministry to consider revoking Deutsche Welle’s accreditation to operate in the country.

The case specifically noted that Deutsche Welle's Russian service wrote in a tweet on July 27 "Moscow Come Out!" which the commission said was an attempt to influence the internal affairs of Russia.

"While acting on the territory of Russia, Deutsche Welle has violated laws, many laws," Piskarev said.

"We decided that the designated bodies must provide a response to these violations," he added.

DW’s supervisory board rejected “any suggestion that DW interfered in the internal affairs” of Russia.

"After consulting with the director and making its own inquiries, the board has concluded that DW's reporting from Russia is irreproachable," it said in a statement, adding that it expects Russian authorities to let all its correspondents in Russia "report freely and without limitation."

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said the Russian government "is blatantly attacking our colleagues in the foreign media who are doing their jobs as professional journalists to report on events of public interest."

"The Russian people have every right to access independent sources of information about events in their country and the Duma’s actions threaten to further deprive them of those rights," he said.

Russian police have been criticized for impeding journalists trying to cover a series of major Moscow protests since late July, with some reporters being detained and equipment damaged.

A Deutsche Welle correspondent, Sergei Dik, was briefly detained while covering a Moscow protest in late July.

The protests were against the refusal by officials to register opposition and independent candidates for Moscow city-council elections that took place on September 8.

Police violently dispersed several of the protests and more than 2,000 people were detained, drawing international condemnation.

Piskarev said the parliamentary investigation would also look into whether coverage by Britain's BBC and the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty had likewise breached Russian election law.

RFE/RL is funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM) as a private grantee.

With reporting by Interfax and TASS

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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