Lackluster journalism on Russo-Ukrainian war from PBS and Pulitzer Center

Nick Schifrin's reporting about the Russian invasion in Ukraine carries mistranslations, significant mistakes and critical omissions. (Image: video screen capture)

Nick Schifrin's reporting about the Russian invasion in Ukraine carries mistranslations, significant mistakes and critical omissions. (Image: video screen capture) 

Featured, Op-ed

Article by: Andrij V. Dobriansky, Ukrainian Congress Committee of America

On July 5, the PBS NewsHour, the nation’s longest running nightly news broadcast, aired a report prepared by Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting grantees Nick Schifrin and Zach Fannin, both well-traveled journalists, as part of a series highlighting the “tensions between NATO and Russia.” Both PBS NewsHour and the journalists themselves refer to this series as “Fault Lines,” a geological term perhaps suggesting a natural order, although there is nothing natural at all about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After viewing the first segment of the Fault Lines series, our office received numerous alerts as to the biased nature of the presentation. Indeed, after viewing the segment ourselves, we responded on behalf of the Ukrainian American community with a letter summarizing the following inaccuracies and omissions:

  1. No mention of the nearly 2 million displaced persons who have fled the areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia for their own safety, some having been specifically targeted;
  2. No mention that those unfortunate to have remained under occupation are under a constant barrage of Russian disinformation and propaganda;
  3. No mention of the clear documentary evidence proving the existence of the Russian military operating in the occupied areas of Eastern Ukraine, even though the report airs that there are “claims” made about “thousands of Russian soldiers”;
  4. Mistranslating at least one interview subject, who specifically voiced regrets when asked, “Has it been worth it?”

Furthermore, this entire segment was produced and edited to omit one crucial word – INVASION. Nowhere in the 11 minute report focusing on the areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia was the word “invasion” used. For this omission, we are demanding an explanation from PBS NewsHour producers as to exclusion of the only possible description for the Russian Federation not only blatantly violating the UN Charter with its military actions in Ukraine, but also the Helsinki Final Act, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, and at least 2 bilateral agreements between Russia and Ukraine, not least of which was the so-called “Friendship Treaty.”

Judy Woodruff of PBS Newshour, introducing Nick Schifrin's Russo-Ukrainian war segment marked by mistranslations, factual mistakes and omissions (Image: video screen capture)

Judy Woodruff of PBS Newshour, introducing Nick Schifrin’s Russo-Ukrainian war segment marked by mistranslations, factual mistakes and omissions (Image: video screen capture)

The reason we are addressing PBS NewsHour specifically, is that a companion piece to the Newshour‘s report, misleadingly titled “Desire to break free from Ukraine keeps devastated Donetsk fighting,” was published by USA Today after being produced for Public Radio International. Although focusing on the same subject matter, USA Today decided to focus on the horror of Russians enlisting child soldiers in Ukraine which was documented in the PBS report, and titled their version of the report “Soviet-style youth squads are making a comeback in eastern Ukraine.”

Both reports by Nick Schifrin contain misleading and factually incorrect statements, not least of which the repeated description of Ukrainian territory militarily occupied by Russia as not of Ukraine, even though the world has recognized this border territory as Ukrainian such since at least 1945 when Ukraine signed the UN Charter as one of the original member states.

In addition to the crime of enlisting child soldiers not being called out, nor not addressing the illegal status of a Russian spetsnaz soldier interviewed on camera, the report airing on July 5 finished with Judy Woodruff claiming that on July 6, “Nick Schifrin continues his reporting from the other side.”

Boris Yeltsin (Russia), Bill Clinton (USA), Leonid Kuchma (Ukraine), John Major (UK) sign the Budapest Memorandum with security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. (Image: AP)

Boris Yeltsin (Russia), Bill Clinton (USA), Leonid Kuchma (Ukraine), John Major (UK) sign the Budapest Memorandum with security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. (Image: AP)

The report which aired on July 6 did not, in fact, report on the “other side” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Beginning with Judy Woodruff’s introduction, we were told that the July 6 report would move us “inside Ukraine.” Again, this in contrast to the fact that NO INTERNATIONAL BODY HAS RECOGNIZED RUSSIA’S MILITARY OCCUPATION OF UKRAINE AS A CHANGE OF INTERNATIONAL BORDERS.

After focusing most of the report on political and governmental reforms in Odesa, a city 350 miles away from Donetsk, Nick Schifrin returns to the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory along the eastern border, where, yet again, the conflict is portrayed as simply Ukrainians fighting amongst each other. Were this actually a conflict between several thousand radicalized secessionists and what now stands as one of the largest militaries in Europe, there would be no prolonged hostilities. Instead, as nation after nation has attested to, Russia crossed its border with Ukraine, bombing areas of Ukraine from the Russian side of the border, and then deployed significant numbers of military personnel and equipment inside Ukraine to maintain control over a small sliver of land.

putin with a clubUnfortunately for our fellow Americans, this misleading series continues tonight with a segment filmed in Estonia. If the summary listed on the website of the Pulitzer Center is to be believed, the people of Estonia may end up being characterized as irrationally provoking “tensions” with Russia.

Therefore, we call upon our members and fellow supporters of Ukraine to contact PBS NewsHour and express directly their opinion of this reporting.

Again, while I appreciate PBS Newshour airing a segment on Russia’s war on Ukraine, which is regularly ignored by US news outlets, it is important to add relevant context the reporting and ensure that the translating is done accurately. As a representative of Ukrainians in America, I would welcome the opportunity to offer that context in person, as I have many times over the past 2 years:

With regards,

Andrij V. Dobriansky
Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (
203 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003


Edited by: A. N.

Since you’re here – we have a favor to ask. Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine is ongoing, but major news agencies have gone away. But we’re here to stay, and will keep on providing quality, independent, open-access information on Ukrainian reforms, Russia’s hybrid war, human rights violations, political prisoners, Ukrainian history, and more. We are a non-profit, don’t have any political sponsors, and never will. If you like what you see, please help keep us online with a donation!

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  • Cees Boogaart

    This kremlinpropaganda FROM USA doesn’t surprise me cause USA together with other signers of Budapest Memorandum Russia and UK made this war possible, by not abiding by the Budapest Memorandum. Declassified parlementnotes from Ukraine Rada from February 2014, made clear that USA warships sneaked out of Black Sea, while by their presence they could have acted as deterrent to stop Crimea invasion/annexation in its first footsteps.
    So besides ofc Russia, USA is most responsible for this war of Russia against Ukraine, for the 10.000+ deaths, the millions IDP, the damage made, so in 10-15 years time besides Russian officals, Putin first, also USA should be in the Hague, for warcrimes.

    • Steve

      U know not of what you speak. The Budapest Memorandum is just that a Memorandum. Go read it some time. Also you are inviting WW III. If the U.S., U.K., had in fact stepped in you would have had WW III. Conventionally Russia is a loser. So the only way they can win is by using nukes. So therefore the pejorative term that Russia is a mere gas station with nukes. You also forgot to damn the first four Presidents of Ukraine with special emphasis on Yanukovich who literally stripped all the money from the Ukrainian Military to fill their bank accounts and leave the Ukrainian Military a hollow shell with VERY old non operational Soviet Era equipment.

      The USA and others are not responsible for this war. PUTIN and RUSSIA are totally, completely, unquestionably responsible. PUTIN/RUSSIA violate International Law, the Budapest Memorandum Russia signed, by invading the Donbas and annexing Crimea.

      You are entitled to your opinion but NOT your own set of facts or choosing to ignore factually reality.

      And your comment along with your avatar showing a French Flag only confirms the joke within NATO. Want to know which side the French are on today? See which way their gun barrels are pointed. You people have accomplished nothing since Napoleon.

      • Cees Boogaart

        no, BM was “sold” by uSA, russia and UK as a safety guarantee, and when USA had acted in February 2014, Putin would have backed down, and even not invaded east-Ukraine, now Obama is saying what he should have in February 2014. And there will be no WOIII, cause its not many countries against some (Germany,Russia,Italy,Japan) but most against just one, Russia… btw my avatar is a DUTCH flag rofl ol and from start in February 2014 I said this can be Cubacrisis or Yuguslavia war with 100.000 deaths, sofar count for Russia AND USA warcrimes stands at 10.000+

        Regarding your nuke statement, yes russia has nukes, including those they got in BM swap from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakstan, also a USA mistake.
        BUT these nukes and those of russia itself, were designed, built and maintaned by Ukrainians haha

        • Steve

          I know it is a Dutch Flag…just horizontal strips versus vertical. I was pulling your chain because I see NO difference between France and the Netherlands when it comes to selling out Ukraine and Western Values. The rest of your second comment is much like your first. Conjuncture and pure speculation along with innuendo’s and accusations. If you are so fervent in your belief why don’t you and the rest of the Netherlands join Britain, USA, Canada, Poland, and Lithuania in providing equipment and training to Ukraine? Instead of Geert Wilders using Ukraine as an excuse for a referendum. Also you have a false narrative about Obama. He is a narcissistic man child and Putin knows it. So as long as O is the Prez don’t expect anything from him.

          • Cees Boogaart

            Wilders is a fake-politician, he’s inside the in his words fake-parlement, btw perhaps you don’t know but early 2015 both USA/EU (EU Jan 15,2015) signed a agreement in which Ukraine can lendlease arms, equipment and instructors and only pay for the ones which get destroyed by russian forces.
            But that ofc was not covered by much media attention :-)

          • Quartermaster

            Much of what Russia is doing in Ukraine is a result of Obama’s weakness. There is no need for a large US presence in Ukraine. The west can supply weapons and equipment to Ukraine, and the west can teach them to use it. The Ukrainians seem willing to fight for themselves.

      • Cees Boogaart

        regarding facts, fact are both USA and its puppet Germany told Ukraine not to do anything against russian invasion in 2014 , like Germany also blocked after MH17 the dutch/australian proposal to send in 9000 armed troops to secure MH17 site.

  • Dirk Smith

    i watched every episode of this daily documentary. Indeed, the LPR-DPR terrorists were portrayed as humble and loyal fighters while Ukraine was portrayed as a corrupt third-world banana republic that is to blame for this. It’s unbelievable how the West continues to fall victim to simple Putinist propaganda. WAKE UP!!

    • Randolph Carter

      Dirk, if you sat through every episode then I take my hat off to you. Personally, I have found that Western journalism regarding Ukraine is a nauseating collection of Russia-supplied propaganda, lazy reporting and simple disinterest. Why is this war relegated to page 23 next to the tidal charts, whereas Syria, Iraq, Sudan and any other wars are on the front page? Recalling operations Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, etc, there was absolutely no question whether we would become involved or not. Everyone knew who Saddam Hussein was, and Tikrit, Mosul and Baghdad became household words.

      Ukraine stands alone. There are no reporters in the field, video of battles or the aftermath of destruction, effects on the populace in any area, or efforts to shut Putin down and return Ukraine to where she stood before the Euromaidan. I don’t even know of anyone who has heard about the Euromaidan, let alone the infiltration of Crimea, destruction of Donetsk and Lugansk, the Ukrainian death toll, or diaspora of her citizens. If you polled Americans and asked them to name /one/ Ukrainian leader, virtually all would fail, and I’d bet my paycheck that at least a few would name Putin simply because he’s the only name they could think of. When was the last effort to investigate MH-17? Ask who Nadia Savchenko is and observe the blank stare. My girlfriend in Lugansk has asked me “why doesn’t anyone care about us?” – it breaks my heart and I don’t know what to say to her.

      • Dirk Smith

        I don’t have a drop of Ukrainian blood, but I understand the ongoing criminality and subjugation Muscovy has put upon Ukraine & Eastern Europe the last 100 years. Ukraine doesn’t do much to create awareness about what’s going on. For instance, why isn’t ‘Winter on Fire’ being promoted in the USA? It received an Oscar nomination, but you can’t even buy it on Amazon and it’s never been released to theatres!!! In the meantime, ruSSia has released 3-4 propaganda films and promoted them all over Europe. (World Order, Crimea The Way Home, United Passions, etc.) Ukraine is defending Europe from further muscovite aggression and they continue to receive lip service and empty promises from the West. Although NATO is now finally responding, it took 10,000 Ukrainian lives to get that much!! It’s criminal.

        • Randolph Carter

          Interesting point – I didn’t know about “Winter on Fire”. It seems that it would make sense to release it, even if it’s only for money. Generally, I assumed the lack of interest in Western journalism was due to lack of interest on the part of the viewers. I don’t doubt that ruSSia has a better propaganda machine, but releasing a movie should be easy; enough movies come from European artists that I’m sure someone could help. Is the movie online anywhere? That would seem to be the next best (if not better) channel for distribution. An excellent question, but no answer that I can think of.

          And yes, the (in)action of NATO, the UN, and the comedy trio of Merkel, Hollande and Obama make me want to vomit.

  • zorbatheturk

    This invasion was authorized by the cockroach in the Kremlin, Vladof Putler. Like all KGB tools, he cannot do anything except steal and make trouble. He is a fascist. The world must unite against this evil creep and stomp on him.