In Media critique, Ukraine

July 22, 2014

Hello Toronto Star editors,

We recently attended a two day conference in Yalta, Crimea organized by antiwar activists in Ukraine and Russia. We are writing to express our disagreement and concern over your editorials of July 19 and July 22, both of which argue a belligerent ‘time to stand up to Russia’. In our view, the editorials airbrush away the murderous civil war which the Kyiv government has been waging in the southeast of the country for the past four months.

Map Ukraine 3Kyiv calls its war an ‘Anti Terrorist Operation’. It is visiting untold horrors on the people of eastern Ukraine–artillery, mortars and fighter aircraft strikes against towns and cities; kidnappings, torture and murders of citizens by the rightist and extreme right militias that are fighting alongside (or in many cases directing and leading) units of the reluctant, conscript Ukraine army; cutting of water, electricity and other life support systems to targeted urban areas.

Doctors in Luhansk recently reported to the Special Monitoring Mission of the OSCE that the Luhansk region alone has seen 250 deaths and 850 wounded from the war, mostly civilian. We know from UN agencies that the war has sent more than 100,000 people into Russia as refugees and tens of thousands into exile within Ukraine. Most refugees in Russia are obtaining assistance and even jobs. Those in Ukraine have reportedly found little government assistance.

Your wire service stories over the past several months have made little more than vague references to the harsh realities of Kyiv’s war. They refer to “fighting” and “conflict”, attributing it to no one. Your readers are left to sigh and regret the cruel randomness of war.

A news organization like yours should do a better job of reporting this war. Echoing the ‘blame Russia’ political offensive of governments like Canada, Britain and Australia doesn’t meet that need. And a very peculiar political offensive it is—the hawkish governments don’t fault Russia for starting the conflict. Its origin is something of a state secret. No, Russia is blamed for failing to intervene as a policeman and “shackle its dogs” in eastern Ukraine. Intervene against whom, for what?

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has arisen because the people there have refused to accept what they consider to be an illegal change of government in Kyiv in February. They do not accept the sharp shift in political direction and alliances on which the new government is embarked. Kyiv has decided to embrace austerity Europe and it is being drawn into the fringe of the NATO military alliance. Many people throughout Ukraine do not accept this course, particularly in the east.

The people in the east began to protest the change of course in March. They wanted talks with the new government, a new constitutional arrangement, and respect for their historic economic and cultural specificity. Their political demands, initially, amounted to acquiring something equivalent to the status of a Canadian province or U.S. state. But the Kyiv government, which includes representatives of extreme right and fascist parties, responded with force and violence. Thus began the spiral to war.

Why is it Russia’s responsibility to curb and repress the self-defense movements that have sprung up in the east? Why is it not, rather, Kyiv’s responsibility to end its war and enter talks with its rebellious population? Your thoughtless and uncaring editorials contribute to the reckless spiral of violence upon which Kyiv has embarked. And it is disappointing to see that a newspaper that prides itself on independence from the governing party in Ottawa and a more caring view of society would be drawn so entirely into the Harper government’s orbit of backing a civil war regime in Kyiv.

There are well informed views to which you could give space. In a model of investigative journalism, Robert Parry has published in Consortium News exposés of western political leaders and journalists rushing to judgment, without the facts, on responsibility for the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. A recent article in Counterpunch by Ukrainian journalist Vladislav Gulevich (now living in exile in Russia) has criticized the reporting of Amnesty International for its failure of balance in identifying and apportioning blame for human right violations.

One of us recently wrote a critical assessment of the monthly report of June 2014 of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Ukraine, noting its report was, “scandalously biased in favour of the government in Kyiv, describing Kyiv’s war in the southeast as a necessary ‘security’ operation. We read in the report, ‘Of particular concern is the continued erosion of the rule of law and the limited capacity of the Government to protect residents from the ever increasing acts of violence…’ (meaning the ‘violence’ of the citizens trying to defend themselves from the bombings of the government’s armed forces–point 176 of the report).”

“Even this UN report, however, cannot entirely exonerate Kyiv: it had to note the poor reception and resources made available in Ukraine to Tatars who have chosen to leave Crimea and to refugees from the war zone in southeast Ukraine.

Canadians need accurate information on the situation in Ukraine. We are confident when they receive that, they will not hesitate to demand:

  • an end to the bombings and shellings by the Ukraine army and militias in eastern Ukraine;
  • a withdrawal of military intervention forces from the region;
  • and a negotiated political settlement in which the right of the people in eastern Ukraine to political self-determination is respected.

We urge you to open up your pages to a diversity of views so that Canadians can make up their minds in an informed way on where they stand and what they think their government should be saying and doing.


Radhika Desai,
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Alan Freeman,
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Roger Annis,
Vancouver BC


Appendum, July 23, 2014
In its edition of July 23, the Toronto Star publishes an article by its Washington Bureau writer, Mitch Potter. He was assigned to Ukraine in March and April, 2014 during the panicked weeks following the decision of people in Crimea to secede from Ukraine. In the article, Potter describes the many “likely” scenarios painted by U.S. officials of the crash of MH17. The aim of the journalistic exercise appears to be to assemble enough “likelys” that they become transformed to “certains”.

Potter concludes his article by citing a journalist of the UK Telegraph who says that he and other searchers have found an area that “makes for a very good match for a potential launch site” of a missile by self-defense forces. The journalist says they found a patch of ground with “scorched grass, melted fragments of plastic and discarded bottles”.

MItch Potter’s column was published the same day as news reports citing U.S. government officials stating they have “no evidence” linking Russia (or anyone else) to the plane crash.

Also in the news are reports over the shooting down of two Ukraine fighter jets yesterday. The expressed concern is for the jets and what their downings symbolize for the war they were part of waging. New York Times News Service says, “The loss of the jets was a significant blow to the Ukrainian military, which has a limited amount of air power, much of it inherited from the breakup of the Soviet Union.” The fate of the people who the jets were bombing does not factor into this or other news reports.


EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.

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