Article by: Illya Trebor
In September the ‘DNR Ministry for Information and Communication’ published an order demanding to block the activity of a number of Internet resources on the territory of the so-called ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk.’ This decision was allegedly approved to stop international animosity, and to combat the spread of untruthful information and libel. The ban only touched on the Internet media who do not broadcast the position of the Russian media and who do not support the separatist movement in Donbas. However, this decision did not evoke an explosive reaction from the local journalist community – the total prohibition of pro-Ukrainian media in Donetsk has already become the norm in the past half-year.
The overall number of banned resources on the list is 27. Some of them are publications which report on the general situation in the region, but there are some that specialize exclusively on certain towns, such as Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Kostyantynivka etc. If we look at the situation from the point of view of ‘DNR’ supporters, the decision is quite logical. Now the leaders of Donbas are trying to subordinate all systems of the region to their standards and needs. This happened back in spring with administrative buildings, which are the centers for all normative documents, as well as higher education establishments and private entities which will not be licensed by ‘DNR’ committees. The Internet issue was only a matter of time.
“The fact that the people don’t have access to information is not right. They cut off access to Ukrainian channels, and people have a right to know. And to be aware of various viewpoints and make their own conclusions. If everything is really so bad in the ‘DNR’ that they are using the methods they had actively opposed back in time, it is, let us say… their choice. In the end, the local resources that are subject to the ban… I don’t think it is right, because the people who left Sloviansk and are now in Donetsk, they should know what is going on in the city: what is happening to their homes, their families, friends, businesses etc. Where will the people get this information?” asks Pavlo Palaguta, a Business Sloviansk journalist whose resources was banned.
“They have only two types of good journalists: Russian ones and dead ones”
However, the situation with media is even more complex. It is no mystery that some of the first objects visited by the ‘Russian Spring’ supporters were the TV center and TV tower in Donetsk. It is an important decision, taking into account the fact that the vast majority of the citizen receive information from television. Therefore they banned national Ukrainian TV channels, which were later replaced by Russian ones, and instead of regional ones, they launches some ‘republican’ ones: Oplot.tv, NovorosiyaTV and First Republican. In parallel they would intimidate the journalists: some were beaten, some taken hostage.
“All Ukrainian media are being brutally and purposefully expelled from Donbas. Blocking websites on the level of providers became one of the last stages of the fight the mercenaries are leading against Ukrainian journalists. At first my Donetsk and Luhansk-based colleagues were threatened with physical violence, basements and kidnappings – ‘DNR’ sees journalists as enemy fighters in this war. But we are not soldiers. We acquire and spread information, and not a single objective journalist in Donetsk today is able to protect their lives and publications, if the mercenaries want to destroy them. Which is why media in Donbas are working underground. Of course, it would be a joke to ask the ‘DNR’ with the petition to solve this issue. They have only two types of good journalists: Russian ones and dead ones,” says editor-in-chief of one of the banned regional Internet publications. Unfortunately, it is impossible to name the journalists’ name or publication for security reasons: the correspondents from this resource are working in Donetsk.
However, time has shown that forceful methods either don’t work at all or aren’t very effective. First, Internet media workers who remained in Donetsk continued working, reporting on the events all the same. For example, they reported on the ‘prisoner of war parade’ on August 24, which occurred in the center of Donetsk and the annual blacksmith celebration, which also included armed people. Mass media workers defend themselves in various ways: some hide their press pass and views the events as a regular citizens, others gain support from influential international media which are able to make agreements with the leaders of the ‘republics,’ others, risking their freedom, receive ‘DNR’ accreditation. Workers at the ‘Ministry for Information and Communication,’ as well as their colleagues with the ‘republican law enforcement’ cannot influence the journalists on territories under Ukrainian control. Which is why the decided to block unappealing media on the provider level.
“I do not think that blocking Ukrainian Internet resources will diminish the number of people who support Ukraine on the territory under terrorist control. They simply do not believe the nonsense the representatives of the so-called ‘LNR’ and ‘DNR’ are saying. The only bad thing is that these people will be unable to find out the information they need on new laws or how to get social dues… My attitudes towards this is negative, as they (‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’) position themselves as a democratic society. And what kind of democracy is it when any other opinion is destroyed?” journalist from the banned resource Donbas News Violeta Fevralska shares her experience.
How to forego the ban
More or less educated Internet users understand that even this kind of ban is not particularly prolific. There are hundreds of ways to overcome the limitation, starting with ‘onion proxies’ like Tor and an ending with a whole number of add-ons for traditional browsers. If someone wants to engage in their own security, it is also good, they have an entire range of proxy servers at their disposal. Those who are unaccustomed with traditional methods or like being different from the rest, have a very sneaky and strange opportunity to see the banned website with the help of Google Translate. And even the laziest people have mobile Internet, which even ‘DNR’ cannot ban. The issue lies in a different matter: do the citizens of Donbas who are facing Russian and ‘republican’ news alone, need another opinion? Will the ban of several ‘ukrop,’ as they are called in Donetsk, resources become a motivator for action the citizens did not even engage in during peaceful times?
“As to the ban on some websites… I think it is not right. In the end, we live in a civilized world, and I think that everyone should have access to information. I am not going to do anything about this yet, these sites are not very important to me, but I still think it is bad,” says Donetsk citizen Artur.
Will everyone make sense of proxy servers?
Obviously, it is not a private opinion: many of the citizens understand that such decisions are not normal, and that in reality the ‘DNR’ is infringing on their right to receive the information they want. But only few are willing to do something. For example, Donetsk citizen Maryna is indignant about the decision to ban some resources, but she is unsure whether she is able to do anything: “Proxy servers… If I am able to find it somehow, then yes, I will try to do it, because the information they (the ‘DNR’ – ed.) offer and think I need is nothing but brainwashing.”
In the end, the reaction of the Donetsk journalist community to the ‘DNR’s’ limitation turned out to be somewhat vague: the resources issued the news, someone said what to do in this situation and that seemed to be the end of the story. However, the concrete action hides behind itself an entire tendency. First TV and radio, then Internet media, social media and the entirety of the Internet could be next, some people fear.