Statement by Ukrainska Pravda on the detention of journalists Mykhailo Tkach and Yaroslav Bondarenko in Poland

The editorial board of the online media outlet Ukrainska Pravda (UP) understands the importance of adhering to security rules and identification procedures in border areas.

We respect the work of the law enforcement agencies of Poland, our neighbour and friend. At the same time, we would ask Polish law enforcement officers to follow the procedures to which they are bound by Polish law.

The actions taken by the Polish police on 27 February against Mykhailo Tkach, head of the investigative journalism department at Ukrainska Pravda, and videographer Yaroslav Bondarenko were not aimed at controlling and securing the border region. They show signs of the obstruction of and interference in journalistic work and failure to comply with the procedures for monitoring individuals.

As a reminder, a UP film crew consisting of Mykhailo Tkach, head of the investigative journalism department, and videographer Yaroslav Bondarenko was detained by Polish law enforcement officers as they were filming a story about the transit of products between Poland and Russia and Belarus.

While our colleagues were being detained, the Polish police searched their car, removed the memory cards from their cameras, and took all their phones and documents.

The UP reporter and videographer were taken to the police commandant's office in Łuków, where they were held for at least four hours. Our employees were questioned by both police officers and representatives of the Polish special services. They were not allowed to contact anyone at any point during this time.

Mykhailo and Yaroslav repeatedly asked the police to allow them to call a lawyer in Ukraine or to use the services of a lawyer in Poland. During questioning, law enforcement officers threatened to arrest our colleagues for 14 days and to use handcuffs on them.

After questioning, Mykhailo and Yaroslav were given back their memory cards. However, it transpired that some of the footage had been deleted. The battery charger was also damaged. The cameraman, Yaroslav Bondarenko, was forced to sign a document in Polish that he did not understand.

A day after the incident involving our journalists, Polish law enforcement officers have been unable to explain the reasons for their detention.

The version of events put forward by the Polish police keeps changing: from the initial one (that no one was detained and that "this is fake news") to attempts to attribute the detention to the language barrier and the need to identify the individuals and check their documents.

We have also recorded manipulations by the Polish police, who have claimed that our colleagues were filming railway infrastructure (this is not true, and the law enforcement officers could have verified this by watching the video) and did not have a permit to do their work in Poland.

We believe that the police were trying to censor journalistic work and create a chilling effect on Ukrainian journalists working in Poland.

We also wish to emphasise that the key point is the fact that representatives of the Polish authorities have taken unlawful actions to detain our journalists without legal sanctions and in violation of their basic human rights.

Identity checks may not take four hours: the Polish courts have ruled on this. The Polish law enforcement officers did not inform the journalists of the procedure, did not give their names and ranks, did not show their IDs, did not provide an interpreter, and did not provide a document on detention describing how to appeal against the law enforcement officers’ actions.

The incident was only resolved following an intervention from the staff of the Embassy and Consulate of Ukraine in Poland.

The statements made by the Polish police now look like attempts to shift the responsibility onto the Ukrainska Pravda journalists. They in no way justify the illegal detention and search of our colleagues. The editorial office has begun to take legal steps in conjunction with a Polish lawyer.

For our part, we would like to note that despite these circumstances, we plan to publish the story about transit between Poland and Belarus.