KYIV -- A popular Ukrainian TV channel has released what it says is security-camera footage of an arson attack on its Kyiv studios, an incident that increased concerns over violence against journalists and threats to media freedom in the politically volatile country.
The footage, published by the Inter channel late on September 6, appears to show a group of people entering the studios and setting them on fire while a violence-marred protest over what critics say is its pro-Russian stance took place outside the building on September 4.
It shows at least eight masked people in dark clothing and white helmets forcing their way in before moving from room to room, spraying fire retardant from an extinguisher in an apparent attempt to conceal their actions from the security cameras and cause confusion among employees, some of whom can be seen dashing to an exit.
Outside, camouflage-clad protesters carrying a yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag are seen gathering on the steps in front of the building's entrance, suggesting they were in cahoots with the alleged attackers.
In the final seconds of the spliced footage taken by several cameras, the alleged perpetrators are seen fleeing the office as a fire ignites near the front desk.
Inter described the fire as an attack on freedom of speech, and U.S. and European officials have said any violence against the media is unacceptable.
But the release of the security-camera footage appears unlikely to resolve controversy in Ukraine over the incident, which follows attacks on reporters and mounting pressure from officials and nationalist activists against journalists who have challenged their narrative of the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who has called Inter's programming "anti-Ukrainian," expressed doubt about the authenticity of the security footage, claiming it had been "corrupted."
In an interview with Channel 24, he said the servers hosting the video files had been "flooded with water" while the fire was being put out, according to the news agency Ukrinform. He also said that Inter had not turned over the CCTV footage in its entirety to authorities who have requested it, and suggested that the channel started the fire itself.
There was also a dispute over a claim by protesters that negotiations had yielded a promise from Inter that it would dismiss a senior editor who is a Russian citizen and adhere to a "pro-Ukrainian" policy. In a statement on September 6, Inter said it had held no negotiations with the protesters, and described the fire as a "terrorist attack and arson."
Inter said some of its staff had received treatment for smoke inhalation and one suffered a broken leg during the fire. Law enforcement officials detained nine people suspected of involvement in the blaze on September 4, but released them hours later, the Ukrayinska Pravda news site reported.
A metal fence covered with signs reading "Burn, Inter, burn!" and "Inter is a Kremlin agent!" erected after the fire remained in front of the TV offices on September 7.