Graham Phillips, a stringer, an RT contributor, went missing last week in the combat zone in eastern Ukraine. Only after the Ukrainian Security Services acknowleged it had detained RT contributor in Donetsk and following an interrogation announced a decision to expel the stringer out of the country with a subsequent denial of entry for three years, a representative of the SBU told RIA Novosti July 25.
Graham Phillips is telling his story in an exclusive interview to Radio VR’s Burning Point.
Says Graham Phillips:
I was taken last Tuesday, a week ago, and held for a few days by the Ukrainian forces and I didn’t have any contact or communication with the outside world all that time. And then, next, I kind of came back into the land of the living… it is a different land, it is Poland. I was basically kicked out over the border and deported. I’ve been told I'm banned from Ukraine for three years.
…The next joke I found is that my files have been deleted. The SBU released this video of me that they recorded in parts, when I was getting deported physically at the border itself at a small town on the Polish border near Lviv. I said that the SBU had been professional, they had seemed to be up until that point. But then, I I’ve taken my computers and discovered that they’ve wiped all the files and then my accounts start to come under attack, one by one. So, my Facebook goes down or there are postings about the Ukrainian propaganda that I can’t access. The passwords have been changed and my backup email is changed, so that I can’t even recover. I’ve lost some accounts. Then, Twitter.
So, basically, you come out and you just kind of try to get yourself together. I mean, initially, it is a real rollercoaster, because they took me into this car in Kiev, this Volkswagen van. The two SBU officers wouldn’t say where we were going or what was happening to me. We passed Kiev, then got a little further touring out along this road to Lviv. And then, I started to ask more questions as to what it is we are doing, where we are going. And then, eventually, it becomes clear that I'm being deported and that we are basically driving right across Ukraine to deport me to Poland, which I still don’t find exactly understandable.
I mean, I'm not Polish and we passed Boryspol Airport. So, instead, they zip me alone in this van with the driver and the two SBU officers and we go right across through Ukraine. It is a weird mixture of emotions, because I'm looking out – it is a beautiful sunny day and it is a swan’s song, a farewell to Ukraine. I understood that I'm banned for three years. And I'm kind of looking and thinking that I'm almost feeling offended that this country is banning me, because I'm looking at it and feeling that I like Ukraine. I’ve always been fond of Ukraine. That’s why I chose to move there.
And what was happening then, I felt that you can’t defend Ukraine. I mean, you can’t defend the actions of the Kiev Government and they also don’t feel completely in congruence about these people in the west of Ukraine that we went through. They are kind of living lives of a normal city and are going about their business, whereas in the east, basically, this EuroMaidan, which was all driven by the west and by the center of Ukraine, but it then spiraled into the civil war that is inflicting numerous deaths on these people of the east. I mean, these people in the west are so far away.
… I found myself in a position of a journalist, who’s always wanted to be positive about Ukraine, having to say some very hard things about Ukraine. My reports, as you know, are mostly videoing people and getting the reaction of real people in real situations talking their words and they’ve got me deported. I am kind of giving them a platform to express their views. If this is how it has to be when you give people an opportunity to really tell their story, the real story, authentic, on the ground, as it is, the real report and if that is going to result in the level of repression which we have in Ukraine – kicking you out of the country – then, it just has to be that way.
…And I feel it is something that I can’t walk away from, even if deported, even if banned. I mean, there’ve been all these losses that, maybe, I’ll continue working in Europe. Why not? It’d be fine to kind of take a step out, but I really don’t feel that way. I really want to get back in and keep on doing my job, that they tried to stop me from doing…
There I said that the SBU officers that took me to the border were alright, which, in fact, they were. I mean, I wasn’t particularly beaten. The guy that was with me obviously was. And I saw that was quite traumatic. I mean, if a journalist is to be taken into captivity, you lose a lot – you lose the tongue that you could be reporting another story. But you get an insight into the situation…
…There was this irony of being driven out of Kiev and looking at these flags that they’ve got all over for the EU, and thinking that at the moment Ukraine is in fact frantically colliding in all directions with everything that is the opposite of the EU. I mean, at the moment, everything that you could consider, that you could have, the kind of representation epitome of the EU values, these are things which you claim are in flagrant, in direct contravention. And Ukraine, at the moment, is rocketing in the other direction. It is moving so far backwards, as a country, in every single direction: from politics to economy, to freedom of speech, to rights of the individual.
…You do see that practice of a country which wants to conduct what it is doing, which is in the east of Ukraine you can describe as genocide, you could describe it as war crimes. It doesn’t want these things to get out. And it will do whatever it needs so that these things can’t be seen.
…I mean, Ukraine at the moment is in a state of anarchy. You get taken by army, as I was. It doesn’t answer to anyone. You get taken into custody and you have soldiers sending messages from your phone. You have your accounts hacked and your files deleted. All of your rights are violated. Your property is stolen. And then, you do kind of have to try and comprehend. But then, on the other side, if Poroshenko is saying that we’ve signed the association agreement, you do have to sort of try and reconcile this with the state position that is ostensibly an EU or an aspiring EU nation.
… You know, I sensed the real difference going back to Ukraine two months after I’ve been there before, in the situation of real deterioration. I mean, we have the situation in Horlivka the other day. The shelling is getting more indiscriminate. And you do have a situation where you just feel that the value of life in Ukraine almost doesn’t amount to anything. I mean, you are having slain civilians almost every day now, killed by shelling. And now that is almost at the level of just being a statistic. You’ve almost lost the sense in Ukraine as a nation, as any sense of civilization, as any sense of human values.
And we’ve also never really taken in the scope of the situation in Ukraine...
I came close to it back there with the Ukrainian soldiers, I came close to that situation when you don’t feel that you are going to come out the other side. And you have to really let that resonate. But also, I think you have to not walk away.
…And what they are doing, they are getting more extreme every single time. I mean, okay, this time I'm alive, but, as I said, they’ve hacked every single account, they’ve gone beyond every single ethical code of practice. This is a banana republic that you are talking about at the moment, how they are conducting themselves. This isn’t a country, this isn’t anything apart from…you can almost describe it as a dictatorship where the Government collapsed and Poroshenko seemingly is set on perpetrating this war backed up by the EU and the US, which has this raison d'être, the kind of afterthought of what is going on at the moment, with the overall aim identified as being really eradicating the Russian culture, the Russian people in the east of Ukraine.
I mean, that is targeting of infrastructure that you are seeing, you are seeing targeting of facilities and you are seeing an atmosphere of fear created so that people leave, the people are evacuated. And so many that have fled, they never want to go back. So many have left Slavyansk that never want to go back and never feel they can go back, because they feel they will be arrested, they will be taken away and that they will be in need without a fee, which is handed down on the basis that Ukraine is now in a war footing. And so, things that are being perpetrated currently are being perpetrated on that basis by the Ukrainian military, that it is on a war footing. And they are using that as the scapegoat to get away with war crime...
I mean, these people say to you in bomb shelters – the Kiev Government doesn’t think of us as people, they think of us as subhumans. My reporting is what the normal people speak. And these aren’t people that the Kiev Government considers as people. The Kiev Government thinks they are almost fodder to be fired upon. And you are willing to go back with the weapon I have, which is my camera, which is words and to represent that real situation.
…Why can’t it be that we can have a realistic appraisal of Ukraine? This idea, this jingoistic, nationalistic perpetrated pro-Ukraine propaganda that there is one Ukraine and all the soldiers “Slava Ukraini!”, I mean, this is a war that is being fought on catch phrases, on propaganda, on jingoistic slogans. It doesn’t have any relevance or any application to the real situation. Why is it that you can’t sit down and really look at what the situation is? And on that basis we draw the borders to redefine what these countries are – these countries that were once able to be part of one, but can clearly never be that.
…I'm one thing, as a British citizen I’ve got one level of treatment from the Ukrainian soldiers. But I saw big soldiers kicking these kids in the face. And they think that they are fighting Russians. That’s what they tell you. They are fighting Russians. But they are really not. They are fighting local people that don’t want to be a part of the Kiev Government that made a key mistake after EuroMaidan, a nonelected Government. Why didn’t you elect the Government? Why didn’t you put in an administration that was democratic instead of a coup Government, a junta Government which has turned into a tool of a President who, when you speak to the people of the east, is described as a bloody warlord?
He seems very largely set on perpetrating almost a scorched earth policy in the east of Ukraine. People of the east of Ukraine are standing up against that and they feel that they go right on their side, and they feel that they are going to win, and that is what they say to you “For Victory!”. And they feel that what will come out of it is that their culture and their history protected and preserved, and that is something that they are not going to surrender or give up.
And who they are fighting on the other side are the men who equally come from the places in the east of Ukraine or even the center of Ukraine, and who come from that culture but are just at the moment under this propaganda machine that tells them that they are fighting Russians. But really, they are fighting their own people that did exactly the same thing that the EuroMaidan did, which was – take control of administrative buildings, stand up, protest, start a movement. But, unfortunately, they haven't ever been given the same position in the media, the same legitimacy in the media, the same narrative in the media of the peaceful protesters. From the start they’ve been labeled separatists and now that is actually something they feel proud of.
And that is something that you, I think, as a journalist have to sort of stand up and say, that what you stand for is information and what you believe in is the fundamental right of freedom of speech, and all these things which are subsumed in this EU that Ukraine just has no idea how far away it is from. This sets Ukraine, whatever is left of Ukraine, this sets it back by a lifetime. But, as part of it, also, it destroyed so many lives that it will never be the same. You know, people have lost so many people and there are these wounds and these scars that will never heal. So, it is something that you just kind of have to comprehend.