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.