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Ukrainian Hackers Leak Personal Data Of Thousands Of Journalists Who Worked In Donbas

Ukrainian separatist leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko, speaks to journalists in the Donbas. Many reporters who have worked in separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine say that liaising with the de facto authorities there is necessary for them to be able to carry out their jobs.

Ukrainian hackers have leaked the names and contact details of 4,508 journalists and other media representatives who've worked over the past year and a half in areas under the control of pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

It was unclear whether the move was an effort to shame individuals for having somehow cooperated for access with the separatists who have been fighting against national authorities since early 2014, with considerable support from Moscow, according to NATO.

The Excel document published by the website Myrotvorets, or "peacemaker" in Ukrainian, contains names, phone numbers, and e-mails. The list includes journalists, cameramen, and producers, as well as stringers, translators, and even drivers.

Many are affiliated with separatist, Russian, or Ukrainian media organizations.

But there are also individuals who worked for major international media outlets like Reuters, the BBC, AFP, and Al-Jazeera, or for nonprofits or other organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who has 156,000 followers on Facebook, published the list on his public page.

Ukrainian and foreign journalists responded to the leak with dismay.

Volodymyr Runets, a correspondent for the Ukrainian channel 24 TV, wrote that he had never hidden the fact that he worked in territory controlled by separatists.

"I believed that my risk was justified because it was necessary to document and record all the atrocities committed by militants," he wrote on Facebook. "I am not going to prove my patriotism. I gave Ukraine more than I had. And I was vilely betrayed. I won't forgive that. Ever. Burn in hell."

Harsh Criticism

A statement of response to the leak, signed by 27 correspondents from Ukraine and abroad, alleges that "journalists who risked their lives to objectively cover events and to tell Ukrainian and world media what was happening on occupied territories" are under attack.

"We remind you that, according to Ukrainian and international media organizations, in 2014 alone almost 80 Ukrainian and foreign journalists were detained by militants and many were tortured," the statement reads. "Accreditation was the only, even if minuscule tool to protect journalists from torture or captivity."

The signatories have demanded that Myrotvorets take down the information, and have called on politicians to discontinue what they say is the use of the leak for political purposes. They have also called on the Ukrainian government to launch a criminal investigation.

Journalists have also widely criticized Herashchenko for his role in the infringement on their privacy.

Petr Shelomovsky, a freelance photographer, called Herashchenko a "Ukrainian schmuck" to RFE/RL's Current Time but tried to put a positive spin on it all: "Personally for me, he did a good deed. He published contacts of colleagues, many phone numbers I didn't know. It's useful, as if we were all added to the same chat room."

Some Ukrainians defended Myrotvorets, suggesting that the organization must have had good reasons to publish the list.

Ukrainian activist Yevhen Karas wrote that volunteers "bring victory closer, because they don't film reports, but cast fear on enemies" by hacking into their information channels.

Myrotvorets claims to target those it considers enemies of the Ukrainian state under the country's constitution. The group points to Article 17, which cites Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity as the "most important functions of the state."

Its approach, however, has led to harsh criticism. Myrotvorets published the personal information of Ukrainian journalist Oles Buzyna -- who was regarded by many as pro-Russia in his views and work -- two days before he was shot dead near his home in the Ukrainian capital.

Russia occupied Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in early 2014 before annexing it in a move that has been overwhelmingly rejected in a United Nations vote, and has since been accused by Kyiv and the West of supplying troops, weapons, and other assistance to separatists in eastern Ukraine, sometimes referred to as Donbas.