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Ukraine's Foreign Ministry demands explanation after Germany's TV report from occupied Mariupol

by Martin Fornusek February 2, 2024 2:45 PM 2 min read
A grave is pictured in front of destroyed residential buildings in Mariupol on May 31, 2022. (STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)
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A visit by the German ZDF TV channel's correspondent to Russian-occupied Mariupol without Kyiv's consent violated Ukrainian law, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko said on Feb. 2.

ZDF published a report from Mariupol on Jan. 29, addressing the life of locals under Russian occupation.

"We call on ZDF to provide an official explanation. Violating Ukraine's laws may impact the media's further work in Ukraine," Nikolenko said on the social media platform X.

Armin Coerper, the ZDF Moscow bureau chief who visited Mariupol, said he and his team had to receive documents from Russia to access the site.

"I would like to make it very clear that this does not mean that we recognize this occupation by Russia," Coerper stressed on ZDFheute.

Mariupol, a southeastern Ukrainian city on the shores of the Sea of Azov, was captured by Russia after a long and bloody siege in the spring of 2022, culminating in the battle of Azovstal.

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The first Russian bomb hit the outskirts of Mariupol an hour after video journalist Mstyslav Chernov arrived to the city on Feb. 24, the first day of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. For 20 days that followed, Chernov’s team captured Russian blows strangling the city block by block.

Russian forces carried out numerous atrocities during the siege, largely destroying the city and killing thousands.

Coerper said that the ZDF team was able to move around Mariupol freely and talk to locals.

"Mariupol is not a ghost town, I want to make that clear," the journalist said.

"There are new books and new curricula in schools. The history lessons, of course, all of this now follows the Russian narrative."

While saying that the majority of the local population appears pro-Russian, the journalist added that "if there are still people in this city who are pro-Western, then they are probably much more reserved and may also fear reprisals if they talk to us."

Nikolenko commented on ZDF's report that "distorting reality is not journalism."

Apart from thousands of Mariupol's residents killed by Russia, around 100,000 people of the city's pre-war population of 500,000 left before the siege. After the city's capture, Russian authorities began attracting Russian citizens to settle in.

Russia also began rebuilding the city after the destruction caused by its own forces, presenting it as Mariupol's "rebirth" for propaganda purposes.

In an editor's note to ZDF's report written on Jan. 30, the channel said that "Moscow bureau chief Armin Coerper traveled to Mariupol as a journalist to get an independent picture of the situation in the territories occupied in violation of international law."

"In its reporting from Ukraine, ZDF never left any doubt that Mariupol is territory illegally occupied by Russia and who is the aggressor and victim in this war."

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