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Ukrainian journalist allegedly targeted by enlistment officers as 'revenge' for investigation

by Martin Fornusek and Kateryna Hodunova April 6, 2024 2:18 PM 4 min read
Enlistment officers approach Ukrainian investigative journalism outlet Slidstvo.Info's journalist Yevhenii Shulhat in a Kyiv shopping mall in an attempt to give him a mobilization summons. (Screenshot of Slidstvo.Info's YouTube video published on April 6, 2024.)
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A Ukrainian investigative journalism outlet Slidstvo.Info said on April 6 that their journalist, Yevhenii Shulhat, appeared to be targeted by military enlistment officers as retaliation for his work investigating authorities.

Earlier in the week, Shulhat was approached by men in uniform who said they represented an enlistment office and tried to give him a enlistment summons. They were accompanied by a man who appeared to be there to lead them to the journalist. The media outlet said they identified him as an employee of Ukraine's Security Service (SBU).

Slidstvo.Info called the incident "revenge" for Shulhat's recent investigation into Illia Vitiuk, the cybersecurity chief of the SBU.

According to the outlet, Vitiuk's wife started making big earnings after her husband was appointed to the job, and bought an apartment in a premium residential complex in Kyiv below the market price.

The revelation comes a little over two months after the Security Service of Ukraine was caught spying on a different investigative media outlet, going as far as planting cameras in journalists' hotel rooms to record their New Year party.

After the scandalous revelation, the Security Service fired the employees implicated in the spying operation and pledged to stand for the freedom of press.

Slidstvo.Info journalist Yevhenii Shulhat. (Screenshot of Slidstvo.Info's YouTube video published on April 6, 2024.)

Shulhat recorded his encounter with the enlistment office employees, who approached him earlier this week in a popular shopping center in northern Kyiv at around 9 p.m. The footage of the encounter and associated investigation were published on Slidstvo.Info's YouTube channel.

The video shows two men in uniform who introduced themselves as employees of the Solomianskyi District enlistment office. They appeared to know Shulhat, approaching him and identifying him by name. They accused Shulhat of violating the rules of the military register, for having not properly registered with an enlistment office after turning 27 recently, reaching the mobilization age.

In turn, the journalist asked the men whether they were approaching him in connection with his recent investigation into Vitiuk. Both men denied this, claiming they did not know that Shulhat was a journalist.

Shulhat also pointed out that the two men recognized the journalist immediately and knew him by name. They tried to give him a draft summons, which he didn't accept, citing the suspicious circumstances. The uniformed people left soon after, saying that they noted Shulhat's "refusal to accept the summons."

Slidstvo.Info gained access to security camera footage from the shopping center, which they also published on their YouTube channel.

The footage reveals that before the uniformed men entered the building, they were accompanied by a man in plain clothes who appeared to give them instructions. Slidstvo.Info identified him as Oleksii Bilenko, who they said works in Vitiuk's cybersecurity department of the SBU.

Slidstvo.Info contacted the two men in uniform, who confirmed they were employees of the enlistment office but refused to provide further comments. The journalists were unable to contact Bilenko.

"This is revenge for (our) journalistic investigation, especially since, as it turned out, the person in the civilian clothes is an employee of the SBU," Slidstvo.Info Head Anna Babinets said in the YouTube video.

Shortly before Slidstvo.Info published their investigation, Vitiuk said in an interview with Ukrinform that a disinformation attack was being planned against him. The cybersecurity chief implied that Russian hackers could manipulate and plant false data to discredit Ukrainian officials. He also claimed that he submitted his asset declarations, which were in order.

The Security Service of Ukraine told the Kyiv Independent that "it is currently reviewing the information published by Slidstvo.Info," adding that the Defense Ministry and the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Force are also involved in the inspection.

The Security Service of Ukraine said that the results of the inspection will be announced later.

"According to the law, the SBU's workers are not empowered to give official notes or instructions on the enlistment offices' workers' communication with journalists," the Security Service's statement said.

This is not the first case of Ukrainian journalists accusing the SBU of pressure against the free press. Another investigative outlet, Bihus.Info, revealed in January that they had been illegally surveilled by an SBU department for months.

Bihus.Info proved the SBU was secretly recording some of their staff members using drugs during a New Year's party and then published the footage to discredit the outlet.

Mere days before the Bihus.Info scandal, two unidentified men approached the apartment of another prominent journalist, Yurii Nikolov. The men were aggressively banging on his door, demanding the journalist to open the door and talk to them, calling Nikolov a "traitor" and accusing him of evading military service.

Nikolov is known for his earlier investigations revealing corruption in Ukraine's public procurement.

Both aforementioned incidents sparked outrage among the Ukrainian journalistic community and criticism from the international public.

"Ukraine already has a big external issue to focus on in terms of the safety of journalists. If, on top of this, internal actors start attacking journalists, then the situation will become even worse," Karol Luczka, Eastern Europe Monitoring and Advocacy Officer at the International Press Institute (IPI), told the Kyiv Independent in January.

Recent campaigns against journalists raise concerns about press freedom in Ukraine
Investigative journalists in Ukraine came under two attacks in just the past week, one involving a threatening home visit and another using covert surveillance. The two incidents are the latest in a series of discrediting campaigns against independent Ukrainian media, often supported by anonymous p…
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