‘Ukrainian crisis’: how Reuters plays along with Russian propaganda

FILE PHOTO: The Thomson Reuters logo is seen on the company building in Times Square, New York. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

They were broadcasting round-the-clock videos of Maidan Nezalezhnosti in the last days before the Russian invasion, adding Ukraine Crisis to all news about Ukraine, referring to the occupation authorities in Donetsk and allowing their journalists to cooperate with the militants of the pseudo-republics. It is not about ‘Strana.ua’ or the Russian pseudo-opposition channel. It is about Reuters, one of the most significant information providers in the world. Further, in the article, what is wrong with its coverage of the war in Ukraine and why it happened?


Broadcast from Maidan

In the last few days before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Reuters is broadcasting video from Maidan Nezalezhnosti as if in anticipation of something, like a video from Downing Street, where the new British Prime Minister is about to be announced. However, this is not the case, says Serhii Karaziy, producer of TV Reuters in Ukraine and organiser of the broadcast. He explains the agency did not wait for the bombing of the capital but, in this way, showed what Ukraine looks like now, its very heart:

‘Ukraine has been the number one topic in the news for several weeks. Editors want to show their readers/viewers what this Ukraine looks like… if we were expecting potential bombings, we would have installed cameras elsewhere. There are many strategic objects in Kyiv. But no. It’s just that Maidan is important. And beautiful.’

Photo/ Serhii Karaziy/Facebook

‘Ukraine crisis’

On the same days, the agency’s news feed is full of videos from numerous speeches of world leaders, where they promise severe consequences for the Kremlin if Russia does invade Ukraine. And all this is marked as Ukraine Crisis. A crisis that has been going on for eight years? Would Reuters journalists call the bloody wars that lasted more than ten years the Yugoslav crisis? And what about the Syrian crisis? Afghanistan crisis? The Ukrainian media community has already addressed foreign media with an open letter explaining the problematic nature of such euphemisms. Here we can also find phrases such as Putin’s war, which absolves other Russians from responsibility. The correct options are ‘Russia’s war in Ukraine’/‘Russian invasion of Ukraine.’ It is important to emphasise that Russia is the aggressor, not just some Ukrainian internal crisis. However, in the materials, Reuters journalists are not afraid of the word war and use Russian war/invasion. What is the problem with putting it in the headlines?


‘Until recently, Russia, for the Western audience, was a powerful country which should be reckoned with and whose opinion should be listened to. It is very likely that among journalists, there are both sincere supporters of Russia and those who are financially incentivised,’  explains Professor Lidia Smola, Doctor of Political Sciences. She specifies that Ukrainians have a somewhat idealised image of Western journalism. And there are only people ‘with their prejudices and goals.’ Yes, postmodernism has played a destructive role. Because the statement that everyone can have their right view led to the famous phrase ‘not everything is so unambiguous,’ Professor says. 

To legitimise the illegal

But not only a conflict. The agency often uses another ambiguous vocabulary that plays along with Russian propaganda. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly reproached Reuters for this. We are talking about ‘separatists’ in Donetsk and Luhansk regions (here, it is better to use Russian proxies), the pro-Moscow Kherson region (a Russian-occupied region of Ukraine), and so on.

Photo/ Oleh Nikolenko/Twitter

This is how Oleh Nikolenko, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, addressed the journalists of the agency:

‘Reuters, don’t promote Russia’s propaganda vocabulary. Pro-Moscow Kherson region=Russian-occupied Kherson region. Grain exports=Stolen grain shipments. Military-Civilian Administration=Russian occupation administration. A footnote for Standards seems unconvincing’.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman stressed that there are no separatists in Donbas but a ‘Russian occupation administration’. And attention to such persons falsifies reality and ‘undermines efforts to bring Russia to account for its crimes.’ 

‘For Reuters, the reference to the occupation authorities demonstrates the position of neutrality. For us, it is a legitimisation of the occupiers. And here, the question arises not only of standards but also of ethics. Because it is hard to imagine that an American journalist could take a comment from a Nazi officer after the shelling of Warsaw or London, therefore, this is a manipulation of the principles of democracy and non-compliance with standards’, Lidia Smola believes.

However, the agency did not draw any conclusions. And then it talks about ‘the southern city of Kherson, which is held by pro-Moscow forces.’ The city is not held by pro-Russian forces. Kherson is controlled by Russian occupation troops, without whose support local gauleiters would never have the power and ability to annex the region to Russia. 


‘The votes mirrored a referendum in Crimea after Russia seized the southern peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 when Crimea’s leaders declared a 97% vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.’

And what is wrong with this sentence? Absolutely everything. Firstly, it legitimises the concept of pseudo-referendums, which Russia staged in the occupied territories of Ukraine and which were not recognised by civilised countries. This term should be put in quotation marks, or the part pseudo should be added. Secondly, the concept of Crimea’s leaders. These were not the leaders of Crimea, but the occupation authorities, set up and controlled by the Kremlin. And again, 97% for joining Russia in this sentence sounds like the fact of a legal vote. However, it is not so.


‘The Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic has controlled Donetsk city since 2014.’

This time, the agency legitimises illegal and unrecognised terrorist groups. It is necessary to use so-called or add Russian-occupied areas of the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

Cooperation with the invaders

But let’s not pick on words alone. The agency’s work directly on the scene also raises doubts. On June 3, the agency reported that its journalists, photographer Oleksandr Yermochenko and cameraman Pavlo Klimov, came under fire in eastern Ukraine. They were injured, and the driver of the car was killed. Our editorial board strongly condemns any acts of violence against journalists. There are several BUT in this unfortunate situation. First, the journalists were moving through the territory controlled by Russian troops between Rubizhne and Sievierodonetsk, where heavy fighting was going on at the time. Secondly, they were driving a car provided by militants of illegal groups. They appointed the driver of the vehicle. That is, the journalists were not only accredited by the occupation authorities of the unrecognised republic but also received assistance from them. However, the Ukrainian government called on international journalists not to cooperate with Russian invaders and illegal groups. 


Ukraine understands why Reuters makes all these mistakes. The principle of balance of opinions guides journalists. However, the problem is that it cannot work fully in this situation because there are no two equal sides in this war. 

As Ukrainian journalists wrote in an open letter to foreign media:

‘Another common error we observe is to report Ukrainian and Russian positions as ‘two equal perspectives.’ Russian positions are based on lies, propaganda and denial of the existence of Ukraine as a nation and state. Russian propaganda is not just ‘strategic communication’ or another point of view. It is using disinformation to justify killing thousands of civilians and continuing a completely unprovoked war.’

In this war, there is only one victim and one aggressor. And the whole world must understand who is who.

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