Ukraine calls on international media to not legitimize Russia’s occupation of Donbas

Journalists of international media visiting war zone in Donbas during the press tour on 9 February 2022. Source: Joint Forces Operation 

Hybrid War, War in Donbas

Editor’s Note

Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Policy and Foreign Minister have called on international media to not refer to the Russian-backed statelets of Donbas as independent “people’s republics” or to their administrations as “separatists” so as to not assign them a sense of false agency. “The temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are under the full control of the occupying state, the Russian Federation,” the officials stress.   

The Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba appealed to journalists of Ukrainian and international media not to legitimize Russian occupation of Donbas and “rely on the facts in the coverage of the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict.”

They highlight that the Russian occupation administrations in Donetsk and Luhansk are not and can not be a party in talks with Ukraine because they are “under the full control of the occupying state, the Russian Federation.”

It is also wrong to refer to the occupation administrations as “separatists” or legitimate “people’s republics” because they are recognized as terrorist organizations with direct management, military, and other support from Russia, they say.

It is misleading to report about militants in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as allegedly independent “separatists” who have their own policy line, Ukrainian officials stress.

The full statement of Ukraine’s officials says:

“The war in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts is an international armed conflict that began [in 2014] with the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol by the Russian Federation.


This position is expressed not only by Ukraine, but also by the international community. In numerous statements, the Group of Seven, the EU and NATO leadership, and the individual countries of the Euro-Atlantic area emphasize that Russia is a party to the conflict, not a mediator.


The Trilateral Contact Group working on the settlement of the armed conflict consists of three parties: Ukraine, which is defending itself; Russia, which attacked; the OSCE as a mediator between them. The Normandy format includes Ukraine, Russia, and France with Germany as mediators. Thus, the Russian occupation administrations in Donetsk and Luhansk are not subjects, either in the negotiation process or in decision-making.


We ask Ukrainian and foreign journalists not to create false agency in the information space for those who don’t have this agency in the real world. The temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are under the full control of the occupying state, the Russian Federation.


As a democracy, Ukraine defends the standards of media freedom, and we strongly encourage independent journalism. At the same time, as a country that knows from its own experience the harm of Russian propaganda, we urge the Ukrainian and international media not to succumb to it and not to expose it to their readers and viewers.

The statement by Tkachenko and Kuleba was published on 10 February 2022, following a press tour for international media to the war zone on Donbas on 9 February 2022. Ukrainian officials visited the war zone together with journalists.

Participants included the Commander of the Joint Forces, Lieutenant-General Oleksandr Pavliuk, Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Hanna Maliar, Commander of the Land Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi and Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko were present.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, CNN, Reuters, Sky News, The Washington Post, and other media participated in the press tour, visiting positions of Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukrainian officials also highlighted that journalists of international media are free to visit the Russian-occupied side of Donbas but they should pass exclusively through Ukrainian checkpoints on the line of contact.

Earlier on 8 February 2022, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign affairs protested the Reuters article that presents the Russian occupiers as “separatists” and head of occupation administration Denis Pushylin as “head of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic,” thus legitimizing Russian puppets in public opinion and wording.

Russia has continuously attempted to legitimize representatives of the Russian-led "republics" as a side of the conflict in its diplomacy efforts. On 11 February, commenting on the latest peace talks in the Normandy Format between Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany, Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said that during them, the key controversy revolved around Russia’s insistence that Ukraine hold a direct dialogue with the representatives of the Russian proxy Luhansk and Donetsk “People’s Republics.” This comes from Russia’s goals to appear not as a side of the conflict, but as its mediator.


There are many facts and intelligence reports testifying to Russian control over the Donetsk and Luhansk so-called “republics."

Among the most recent reports of such control are ongoing drills in the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that are, according to Ukrainian intelligence, curated by Russian officers.

Largest-yet report on Ukraine invasion documents Russian army in Donbas

Ukraine's intelligence has also reported about the permanent presence of 800 Russian officers in Donbas, and the Ukrainian NGO “Security and Cooperation in Ukraine” released a lengthy report documenting the Russian regular army's participation in the occupation of Donbas. As well, a recent report by UK researchers traced 95% of all weapons in Donbas to Russian manufacturers. This data is corroborated by Ukrainian OSINT researchers.

Russian control over Donbas is also evident from the leaked correspondence of Putin's advisor Vladislav Surkov, which reveals Kremlin oversight over the appointment and activities of the "authorities" of the "republics" in 2014-2015. Ex-officials of the "republics" have made statements telling that the Russian army is fighting in Donbas. Official Russian data has shown that Russia funneled trainloads of ammunition and fuel to occupied Donbas.


Official data prove Russia funnelled trainloads of ammo and fuel to occupied Donbas in early 2015


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