(Repeats with no change to text)
By Peter Graff and Alissa de Carbonnel
KIEV/SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine, March 4 Two days
before Russian forces began the operation to seize Crimea,
somebody threw two Molotov cocktails through the window of Black
"It was a warning to us, so that we would stop," recalls
Alexandra Kvitko, editor-in-chief of the only independent
television station in the southern Ukrainian region. "But we
Less than a week later, with Russian troops fully in control
of the peninsula, Black Sea TV was cut off from broadcasting on
Monday. It still reaches cable and satellite viewers - Kvitko
estimates less than a third of its normal audience - but on
Tuesday the authorities cut off the power.
The staff set up a small generator and are feeding old
movies to cable viewers, but the studios and editing machines
the channel uses to prepare its news reports are cut off.
Reporters are still out on the streets, but they doubt they will
be able to produce the evening news.
It is punishment for daring to broadcast a reality different
from the only one accepted by the pro-Russia authorities in
Crimea, says Kvitko.
"There is propaganda, on the Russian channels and government
channel of Crimea, which says that ultra-nationalists are coming
to force everyone to speak Ukrainian," she said.
"It is under firm control of the local authorities and
engaged in propaganda. It says the army troops are not occupiers
but protecting us, although it is not clear protecting whom from
whom. It says the Crimean authorities were elected properly,
Yanukovich is still president.
"We broadcast that the authorities in Kiev are legitimate
and that the Crimean authorities were not elected legitimately."
Specifically, Black Sea TV questioned the credentials of the
new pro-Russian Crimean leader, Sergei Aksyonov, installed last
Thursday in a closed session of the regional parliament, on a
chaotic day that was only later revealed to be the start of
Russian military intervention.
At the time, the parliament building was in the hands of
armed men, and no journalists were allowed inside to verify
whether enough lawmakers were present to make a quorum.
Russia's military operation in Ukraine has been accompanied
by a particularly assertive media campaign. At home, Russian
broadcasters, nearly all of which are firmly controlled by the
Kremlin, describe a Ukraine totally unrecognisable to anyone
with access to independent, Western or Ukrainian news. Moscow's
broadcasts also reach Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine.
As described in Russian news reports, Ukraine is being
overrun by gangs of anti-Russian fascist thugs. Moscow has even
asserted that hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking refugees
have fled a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Ukraine, a claim for
which no evidence has been found.
"This is all an information war. They are telling their
people that there is a huge outflow of refugees. Did you see any
boats of refugees out there?" said Ukrainian Major Alexei
Nikoforov, deputy head of a marine base in Kerch, the eastern
tip of the Crimea a 30-minute ferry ride from the Russian shore.
"There is no bloodshed, no Tatars with knives."
Washington has described the putative threat to Russian
speakers as a "trumped-up" case to justify Moscow's invasion.
Foreign media have not found evidence of any serious danger
for Russian speakers. An early vote in Kiev to reduce the
official status of the Russian language was quickly dropped.
While there are far-right groups among the coalition that
toppled pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich, they appear to
be a small minority.
But stories of threats are widely believed in
Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine, particularly in Crimea.
"I have spoken Russian all my life. When I go to the
pharmacy, I won't even understand my prescription," said worried
pensioner Alla Batura, 75, in Sevastopol.
The state-controlled message has also helped turn Crimeans
against Ukrainian and foreign media crews. Aksyonov, the
pro-Russian leader, was shown on television describing Western
media as working for spy services to foment revolution.
"Whenever I watch TV or look at news online, I want to smash
in the reporter's face," said Mikhail, a businessman who turned
a reporter's questions against him, whipping his telephone out
to film at a pro-Russian rally outside a Ukrainian navy base,
where Russian troops have besieged Ukrainian forces.
"Why are you journalists lying? Where does your Russophobia
Tension ran high outside another Ukrainian military base in
Feodosiya, where a crowd of more than 200 people massed around
the gates calling for the Ukrainian troops to surrender.
A cameraman from Ukraine's INTER TV who approached to try to
film the scene was mobbed by an angry crowd who shouted
"Traitor!" and chased him away.
"Journalists are turning everything inside out. It's all
being shown inside out, as if this were an occupation. It's not.
We are celebrating," an unshaved burly man in a black leather
jacket and baseball cap said, waving away journalists.
Kvitko said her 15 journalists were still on the streets
filming, but it was not clear if they would be able to compile
their evening news report without electricity in the studio. Her
staff receive constant threats.
"We are afraid. Of course we are afraid. But we still work
for the people of Crimea," she said.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn and Natalia Zinets;
Editing by Will Waterman)