The war launched by Russia on 24 February 2022 threatens the survival of the Ukrainian media. In this “information war”, Ukraine stands at the front line of resistance against the expansion of the Kremlin’s propaganda system.
Ukraine's media landscape is diverse, but remains partly in the grip of oligarchs who own the majority of the national TV channels. The Russian invasion has had a big impact on the media, disrupting their work and even jeopardising their economic survival. In territories under Russian control – Crimea, annexed in 2014, Donbass and areas occupied by the Russian army in 2022 – the Ukrainian media are silenced and often replaced by Kremlin propaganda.
The “information war” with Russia was already harming Ukraine’s media environment before the Russian invasion. Media regarded as pro-Kremlin were banned by presidential decree, and access to Russian social media was restricted. This has intensified since the start of Russia’s invasion. Media carrying Russian propaganda have been blocked, while the Russian army has deliberately targeted journalists, media and telecommunications infrastructure to prevent the Ukrainian population from having access to independent news and information.
Since the 2014 Maidan revolution, several sets of media laws have been adopted regulating media transparency, access to information and the protection of journalists. The creation of the independent public broadcaster Suspilne in 2017 was the most emblematic of these reforms. A new media law that was adopted in late 2022 after years of preparation is designed to bring Ukraine in line with European media legislation. The application of martial law sometimes results in reporting restrictions for journalists.
The Russian invasion has weakened the Ukrainian economy and, as a result, media outlets have lost many subscribers and advertisers. Combined with other consequences of the war, such as material destruction, the disruption of supply chains and the forced exile of employees, this situation is threatening the survival of many Ukrainian media. Several hundred media outlets have had to close, while others have reduced their activity and placed their employees on temporary suspension without pay. Local media outlets are the most affected in the face of these challenges.
The war has transformed journalists’ work and the stories they cover. The Russian attacks taking place throughout the country have turned them all into war reporters. The Ukrainian media nonetheless continue to cover social issues and to play an essential role in exposing the corruption of the country’s elite. However, gender inequality in the media remains a problem, especially when it comes to giving a voice to experts on certain subjects – a problem that has been exacerbated since the Russian invasion.
Journalists are in greater physical danger than ever since the Russian invasion in late February 2022. They are often deliberately targeted by military fire despite displaying “Press” identification, and the number of reporters killed or injured has risen steadily. Before the war, they were sometimes the targets of physical violence, mainly during protests. Cyberattacks, breaches of the confidentiality of sources and restriction on access to information were also matters of concern.