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3 Oct, 2009 04:55

Opposition journalists attacked in Ukraine

Speaking out against the Ukrainian authorities can be a life-threatening business. That is the view of a television crew of the country's leading opposition TV network.

The network representatives say they were violently attacked outside the court where a case against the broadcaster was being heard.

More comfortable behind the camera, Dmitry Dokunov is not used to being videotaped. He is usually the one doing all the filming, working as a cameraman at one of Ukraine's opposition TV stations in the city of Odessa.

Dmitry is now recovering from a six-hour operation after being attacked with a knife when making a report.

“The patient's hand was injured quite seriously,” said his treating physician, Aleksandr Smirnov. “Several tendons, which move the fingers, were cut. He lost blood because the artery was also damaged.”

The station where Dmitry works is known for supporting relations with Russia, criticizing corruption and condemning the country's recent move toward praising Nazi collaborators during World War II.

Authorities have been trying to shut down ATV, accusing the channel of being anti-Ukrainian.

As the two sides went to court, some of the station's viewers gathered to show their support. Ukranian nationalists were also there to rally against the channel.

Dmitry says his crew managed to film a group of masked men talking to police officers.
He claims they were attacked when he tried to investigate the conversation.

“I think they were nationalists because they were raising their hands up like this before attacking me! They took my camera and when I tried to take it back they sliced my hand with a knife!” Dmitry said.

The crew says dozens of policemen were on duty nearby – they were sent to the two rallies to prevent violence – but none of them came to help or pursue the attackers.

“We had to call for a separate police unit and they also didn't come! Finally when Dmitry's blood was all over the place some man gave us a lift to the hospital,” recounted ATV network’s chief editor, Natalya Perevalova.

Some Ukrainian NGOs have already accused the police of being on the side of the nationalists, claiming they ignored the attack on purpose.

The court hearing is now postponed, but several Ukrainian TV stations have received anonymous letters claiming Dmitry cut his own hand.

Ukrainian authorities are now investigating the attack and the country's chief of police has even said he was taking the case under his personal control. However, the station's management says there is little hope the attackers will ever be brought to justice.