This is why real news of what is happening in Crimea is hard to come by–only approved Russian journalists have been allowed to work, while all others are terrorized. Journalist Alexander Aksakov’s March 23, 2014 post:
I’m all right. Here are the facts:
Today I was with my uncle, whom everyone knows. We went to photograph the assault on Belbek [Ukrainian Air Base in Crimea, near Sevastopol]. At first, everything was peaceful, for about 2 hours we photographed the Ukrainian soldiers. Poor guys, with sticks, with tree branches, with only 10 or 12 machine guns and with a “limited amount of ammunition.”
In the picture: soldiers with sticks guarding an anti-aircraft gun at the base headquarters.
When we arrived, they at first did not want to let us onto the territory. But since it was our sixth trip to Belbek, we had become familiar there, so we passed through the control point after brief negotiations.
In the picture: a bunch of journalists, military and civilian staff talking, laughing. The situation is relaxed.
Honestly, we did not think there would be an assault. We photographed the soldiers that Kyiv had abandoned, talked a bit and went to drink tea in the dining room (by the way, very pleasant young ladies work(-ed) in the dining room, they even fed my uncle sandwiches), then we had a smoke.
Image: Belbek soldiers with cats and dogs.
Then I suggested going to the gate. We went up to the main gate of the military base, and a few minutes later the fun began: down from the mountain the APCs [armored personnel carriers] began to descend (I noticed 3 of them).
In the picture: APC and spetsnaz [Russian “special purpose forces”] passing by the territory of the base.
I was already standing at the metal fence (I ran past the control point) and photographed the APCs passing by. A concrete wall began to the right of me. I did not notice that an APC had parked literally next to me. But I did see that in the corner of the base (the corner of the wall) an APC had very effectively rammed the wall (breaking concrete, with the corresponding noise). And I began to photograph that.
In the picture: an APC enters the territory of the base, followed by spetsnaz soldiers.
Near me was a Reuters photographer (to my shame, I can not remember his name … sorry, man…). We photographed the spetsnaz entry into the base. Then I heard this photographer yell, and automatically I ran (I have no idea where to), and I felt that something very heavy flew into my head. Then I remember that I was trying not to lose consciousness (because in the event of loss of consciousness it would be a “five-legged dock fuck” [all hell breaking loose]). I fell to the ground, and I felt that my leg was caught. When a few moments later I began to realize what happened, I saw that an APC was driving straight at me.
Picture in my memory: My right leg pinned by the concrete wall, 10 cm from my foot, right on top of the wall, stands the APC. My foot and part of my calf are pinned.
I tried to pull out my leg (with or without a shoe…). I wasn’t able to. Then the Reuters photographer (thank you, man!), stood in front of the APC and began yelling that a journalist has been injured. The APC stood for a few moments and then moved back a bit.
Picture in my memory: My foot is under the concrete slab on which the APC stands. The photographer is standing in front of the vehicle and yelling at the driver.
When the vehicle drove back, I pulled out my leg (at first I thought it was broken), and I began to move towards the headquarters and to the main group of journalists. At that moment a brave spetsnaz lad caught up with me and yelled “Face Down.” I quickly dropped to the ground (I know these guys), and next to me lay down my Reuters-savior:
– Give me the camera – pulling the strap.
– I’m not giving it up! It’s very expensive. Take the flash card!
– Give me the flash card.
– Take the fuck!
Picture in my memory: spetsnaz soldier takes my flash card.
Shots. Something rumbles. Someone yells…
I’m lying on the ground. I try to feel my leg…and what’s left of my brain after it was hit by the wall. I think it’s good that they didn’t take the camera. And I wonder, did it tear off my scalp. I touch my head. I was in a hat – it probably saved my gorgeous Bandera bald head. My head seems whole, but it hurts like hell.
Picture in my memory: the grass, the camera with the memory card slot open.
A second guy runs up, red-headed, with a beard. He’s much more serious. He says:
– Give me the camera!
– I’m not giving it up!
– Give me the camera, you shit!
– Leave me the camera, please, your boy already took out the flash drive!
He begins to pull the camera strap out of my hands. I don’t let him.
– I’m not giving it up!
The boy cocks the trigger of his automatic rifle and puts it to my face.
– A weighty argument, be my guest, take the camera, enjoy!
Can’t go against a guy like that.
The video in my memory: a boy with a red beard and sunglasses removes the safety with a characteristic snap and puts the gun to my face.
I was lying there thinking, “Well, fuck…The camera’s gone…” I then ran to the group of journalists. I got my “baby” [small camera], and I’m taking pictures with it. While I was running, the spetsnaz had severely beaten a man in civilian clothes. The man remained unconscious. The spetsnaz were not letting a doctor come near, they were shooting into the air, and beating in the face a Ukrainian soldier who was trying to break through to the wounded man.
Picture in my memory: spetsnaz soldier kicking the face of the man in civilian clothes.
The Ukrainian military threw down their sticks at that point and started yelling at the spetsnaz, “What the fuck! The man is dying! ” The special forces responded with blows to the face and shots in the air.
Picture: Fearless Ukrainian pilots are standing 3-5 meters from the spetsnaz soldiers, who are armed to the teeth, and yelling at them.
I thought that any minute there would be a bloodbath.
Ultimately, the doctor breaks though to the wounded man. The wounded man is carried off on a stretcher. I stand with my uncle in the base headquarters, where we had planned to run in the event of the “five-legged dog” [all hell breaking loose], we are trying to photograph through the window.
I say to my uncle: “Shit, we need to save the camera!”
Picture in my memory: My uncle comes out of the base headquarters and goes to the spetsnaz.
– Give back our cameras! – Cameras had been taken from me, from my Personal Jesus, and from some “refrigerator” (which is what we call TV cameramen).
– Stay away! – They raise their gun barrels.
– Give back the camera, we’re journalists! – My uncle doesn’t give up.
– Write down your number, we’ll call and return it! –I don’t want to trust the guys with the rifles.
– The heck I’ll give them my number! – I say.
– Let’s write mine down!
We try to find a pen and piece of paper among the journalists. No one has pen and paper – everyone has electronic devices.
Someone in the crowd shouts:
– You’re out of your minds! Give back the reporters their cameras!
– We’ll get ‘em in a sec!
Picture in my memory: DIMA BELIAKOV goes to the spetsnaz to get the cameras. [Beliakov is a Russian photographer known for his spetsnaz veterans’ portraits]
He gets them. All whole. Just no flash drives.
Picture in my memory: Dima Belyakov with an armful of technology.
The Ukrainian military lined up and began to sing the national anthem of Ukraine.
Picture: The Ukrainian military are singing the hymn, and in the background are the spetsnaz, armed to the teeth, and one spetsnaz soldier takes down a camera from a pole, which has been broadcasting to belbek62.com.ua.
I run, I photograph with my little camera. I filled several memory cards.
In the picture: spetsnaz standing next to the flag of Ukraine at the gates of the military base; another boy in a mask peeks out of an APC.
Ultimately the spetsnaz pushed and gathered up all the journalists at the entrance to the base. A lieutenant colonel in pixelated camouflage stands there. I say:
– Comrade Colonel, what kind of garbage is this? Joe on the tractor just about ran over me here, and even took away my photos of the moment.
– Wait for the arrival of the press office.
– Comrade Colonel, seriously. I’ve been photographing all day.
– I’ll go talk to them!
He went to “the spetsnaz commander.” I come up to them:
– Well, Comrade Colonel?
– Nothing. The press service will return things…
At that moment the brave spetsnaz round us up (our weapon is truth, theirs is guns) and lead us right to the hole in the very wall, which had almost struck me dead. There are about forty journalists…
I separate from the group and approach the redhead who took my camera and say:
– Hey, thanks for the gun barrel shoved in my face. I almost shat my pants. You almost crushed me with your tractor… Let’s be honest: I was working, you were working. Give me back my flash card.
– Bro, you knew what would happen. I can’t give it back.
– Why ?
Picture in my memory: impenetrable glasses and a red beard.
*** Update: I just remembered that when the journalists were not allowed to take a step to the left or right (at the time of my conversation with the redhead), a TV cameraman from Russia-1 (or channel 24, I can’t say for sure) was having a very pleasant conversation with the spetsnaz company. And when I was being escorted by machine gunners who watched my every move, no one bothered him. He chatted sweetly, smiling and discussing something with the spetsnaz. I hope you all can make the right conclusions from this update. ***
The machine gunner grabs me by the arm and pulls me aside:
– What do you have here, absolutely impenetrable guys? – I ask .
– Yeah. You probably better hurry up and catch up with the group of journalists. (At this time my uncle is waiting for me too, fighting off the persistent requests of the machine gunners).
– Oh fuck … if I run right now, I’ll get shot…
– Run, don’t be afraid … Right now everything is calm … – he laughs.
– Somehow things are never calm with you guys…
I catch up with the group near the break in “my” wall. A boy with a firearm argument begins the shakedown: “Now you will be relieved of all information-recording media, as well as have your documents checked confirming your right to legally stay in Russia!” We were surrounded by spetsnaz. My uncle and I showed our passports, and our flashcards were forcibly taken away (armed robbery). After 10 minutes, we were let though the wall.
Picture: a spetsnaz soldier stands on the wall, a piece of which flew into my head. Question: How did my dear head withstand that?
Picture 2: The spetsnaz searches the journalists and robs them.
We make our way through the crowd of “self-defense volunteers” who scream “do not let out the journalists,” and, accompanied by a spetsnaz fighter, we get in our car.
– Take off your bandanna – I say.
– Wear a hat. Concrete walls are nothing to them.
PS: My only picture that has been preserved: a soldier carries the flag of Ukraine. Spetsnaz stands in the background. March 22, 2014. Lyubimovka Settlement military base A4515, Sevastopol.
Source: Alexandr Aksakov’s FB post
Translated by Laada Bilaniuk