The Truth about Yulia Marushevska vs the Western Media Version

First in Series – Western Media vs Reality (#1)

Graham Phillips

PBS News in partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, with special correspondent, Nick Schifrin recently did something rather rare. They, as a western channel, went to Donbass, Donetsk (former Ukraine), and actually did a very good report from there.

I say very good, not excellent – strange emphasis on the two teenage girls in training, a very untypical example when most teenagers in Donetsk do as teenagers do anywhere. And how about a bit of speaking to the people working there, rather than just filming them? An interview with Zakharchenko, Pushilin too, just a few soundbites even, would have added to the piece.

But still, light years from the standard western media pantomime depiction of ‘separatists’, ‘Russian forces’ and so on. But then, what happens? Just a few days later, experienced American correspondent Schifrin goes to the southern city of Odessa, where I lived, have written much about, meets, and is clearly pretty taken with port chief, 26-year-old Yulia Marushevska –

Yulia

That’s understandable, no question Marushevska is beautiful, and charming, and Shifrin is hardly the first male correspondent to go a bit gooey in her presence. So who is she? Marushevska was an aspiring actress, activist at the time of Euromaidan, when in February 2014, she apparently had the idea herself to make a professionally-produced video (with a Hollywood team on board, Ben Moses no less, producer of Good Morning Vietnam involved).

The I am a Ukrainian video went huge, Marushevska spent most of the next year on a global PR tour of talks shows, and Saakashvili Marushevskaon. With that starting to run out of steam in June 2015, the southern-Ukrainian native accepted an offer from a man no stranger to PR himself, newly appointed Odessa governor, former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili – seriously need of a bit of distraction to silence dissenting voices – accusations of mass corruption in his own country, accusations that he was a career failure, jumping on the Ukraine bandwagon for personal gain, PR – and took up the position in Saakashvili’s team, of head of a newly created ‘Investment agency’ of Odessa government, with Saakashvili making reference to her having spent an Saakashvili Odessa(otherwise undocumented) ‘year of training at Harvard and Stanford.’

Doing nothing of note in this position, apart from dutifully turning up at Saakashvili’s various press conferences and public appearances (as left), Marushevska was nonetheless, in October of 2015, given the gig of head of Odessa customs, Odessa port itself one of the biggest, and most infamously corrupt, ports in Europe. Here, a rather inebriated looking president Poroshenko, unveils a rather embarrassed looking Marushevska, calling her ‘beautiful’ as he does so –

That relationship seems to have suffered somewhat since, with Marushevska recently reduced to making televised appeals asking for Poroshenko’s assistance, complaining about problems in implementing reforms.

Reform is something certainly mentioned in the PBS article on Marushevska, which begins ‘Yulia Marushevska has never been a customs officer before. Nor has she been a politician. But today, at 26, she is a member of Odessa’s regional government with perhaps its most difficult job: cleaning a notoriously corrupt customs house.’

The article, which could hardly have been kinder if Marushevska’s own mother had written it, goes on –

“Open Customs Area” will replace an old, dark building with offices in the basement. The building’s architecture is its message: customs officials who used to work in back offices will now have desks out in the open; workers susceptible to corruption will be replaced by computers; procedures will be simplified to prevent graft. The United States is helping fund the project.

It’s customs as a service, not as a barrier, for business,” she says. “It is a symbolic place and a symbolic project for whole Ukraine.”

Yulia Marushevska OdessaThe article goes in in this vein, giving Yulia an open platform, without any dissent from her winsome voice. For any insinuation that things might not actually be going all that well, the chief Ukrainian customs officer is cited to blame, going so far as to send someone to ‘spy and to control‘ on her. And in the event of her ultimate failure, just to couch things, we have ‘so long as the old elites are still in power, it’s not clear’.

Reuters, while generally favourable, were rather more objective about her back in their May of 2016 article, calling her on the, frankly ridiculous, unsourced, statement, that previously people ‘paid $5 million to get her job (getting that back through graft)’. They also Yulia Marushevska activistbrought up criticisms of Marushevska that she’s simply out of her depth, and more, trying to straddle the (surely incompatible) stools of doing a serious job requiring enormous amounts of administrative work, with the role of being a glamorous activist, pin-up symbol of Maidan…

But, none of that in the PBS article. None of the fact that Marushevska has reportedly been issued with 3 warnings, for incompetence. That in the first quarter of 2016, revenues from Odessa customs decreased by 30 percent, while in Ukraine as a whole, revenues were reported as up 21 percent, that the head of Ukraine’s Fiscal Service, Roman Nasirov, regards Marushevska’s reforms as having actually made things worse.

Yulia Marushevska Odessa 1More, for all her talk of reform, Odessa’s port under Marushevska still adheres to an antiquated system of customs only being open from 9am to 9pm, rather than the, by now standard, round the clock. More, businessmen have complained it’s simply not possible to get a meeting with Marushevska. Irate clients complain of tariffs increasing, but service actually deteriorating, with frequent delays preventing goods from getting through.

One recent incident involved the deputy director of company ‘Your Logistics’, representing 300 clients of Odessa’s ports, making the 500km trip for a pre-arranged meeting with Marushevska. He was kept waiting for 6 hours, and when Marushevska eventually failed to show entirely, made the trip back to Kiev, empty-handed, furious.

Instances like this have given rise to talk that, with no photographers around, Marushevska simply isn’t interested in putting in the actual, off camera, hard work the job demands. Social media – both Russian and Ukrainian – buzzes with talk that the girl of whom so many glamorous photos abound, either isn’t capable, or simply isn’t interested in what is a decidedly non-glamorous position, sitting in long meetings thrashing Yulia1out negotiations requiring volumes of paperwork. She’s in the gig only because she looks good, and is ever ready to talk up her under-fire boss Saakashvili.

And, despite the new, open-plan customs processing centre which Marushevska takes all journalists too for interview, reports are that corruption, and smuggling are actually increasing on her watch – the port of Chornomosk, next to Odessa, also under Marushevska’s control, is cited as a hotbed of cigarette contraband, bound for Turkey.

The PBS piece on Marushevska rounds off with her – “It’s war of past and future,” she says in the Open Customs Area. “A war against corruption, war against this old way of thinking, war against Soviet heritage, and war for a modern Ukraine.”

It’s a great soundbite, but speculation is mounting that all Marushevska is actually good for is a rousing soundbite, and a pretty face. However, it’s because of the latter, that in western media, you hardly ever hear of the former. For PBS, it’s a shame they managed to fight, largely overcome, the wall of Ukrainian, western propaganda in Donbass, only for their reportage, lured by the siren of Marushevska, to crash against the rocks in Odessa.

My University Years (Including Brandon Reed, ‘Gay stuff’ etc)

DundeeI see this come up, so as I go forward, with a wider western audience, of which I’m very appreciative, I’d like to be totally open about this, as with everything. I went to Dundee University between 1998 and 2001, majoring in philosophy, graduating in 2001 with a Masters of the Arts, BA degree.

In my time as uni, I got involved with student theatre, performing, and in 2000 put on a stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe ‘The Road from Dundee‘ with my friend Benni Esposito. Deciding to take stage names for this, Benni took Ben Darcy, and I came up with Brandon Reed, not exactly sure why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Road from DundeeRoad from Dundee 1 Road from Dundee 2 Road from Dundee 3

Well, our show ‘Road from Dundee‘, done for a budget of about a hundred pounds, was a huge success, five-star reviews, packed houses even a little tour, media attention, and on. I probably got a bit caught up in this, started going under the name ‘Brandon Reed’ even, and planning on a future career in theatre, television. I even changed my name at Uni to this. You know, I was 21, took it seriously, etc, and actually all that even took, to, as I recall my slight surprise, was asking the secretary in the Dean’s office.

Graham Phillips Rather me than YouAnyway, come 2001 at the Edinburgh Fringe, I’d done my finals, decided I wanted to leave uni, move to London, in any case. And Benni had decided he didn’t want to be involved in the shows this year. I’d taken on a solo show, taking material from a trip all around the US in September of 2000, and had also decided to write, and take the lead role, in a 7-person-play. Youthful enthusiasm and all that – I’d stay up all night alternating between revising for finals, and writing my productions.

Well, how did they go? Not well at all, it must be said! Scathing reviews, sparse audiences, 2001’s fringe was a spectrum opposite of 2000. And it certainly brought a few things home, having watched a lot of other productions I realised, I’m no actor, and a career in the theatre was not to be for me. And Brandon Reed, yeah, that was also going to go the way of what everyone confused it for anyway ‘Brandon Lee‘.  It was over.

Road from Dundee GrahamI’d had an amazing 2000, putting on a play which had worked out really well, with my best friend. 2001, however, was the proverbial back to earth, with a bang, bringing a lot of things home in the process. I called Dundee University to ask if they could change my name back, but, too late, I’d sat my finals as Brandon Reed, so I graduated in that name – albeit with a special letter explaining that actually, I’m Graham Phillips. 

I moved to London in September of 2001, and while I continued to do a bit of stand-up for little while, it was more of a social thing than anything, new in London, getting out meeting people, and so on. I wound it down, and early 2003 saw my final ever performance. It just wasn’t for me, but I’d tried it, done it.

With the media industry laying off staff en masse at this time, I’d found it impossible to break into the journalism – at university I’d been accepted on a Benni Espositoprogramme by the Guardian, and had also started freelancing, writing several articles for the Scotsman newspaper – such as here, here, and here. I started a different career path, spending most of my working life in London at the (now defunct) COI. 

As for Benni, unfortunately there’s a sad end to that story, that got a bit worse years down the line. He was a hugely talented artist, had been in a successful band, a gifted writer, performer. And perhaps with all of that, creative DNA and all, a tendency to not always do things in moderation.

Anyway, as I say, he’d been my best friend at university, we put on shows together, did fun things like a project for David Hasselhoff to be rector of Dundee University –

Hasselhof Dundee Hasselhoff Dundee 1

Spoofed Morecambe and Wife for posters for upcoming shows –
Benni Graham

Got dressed up for show, fancy dress nights –

Benni Graham1 Graham Benni DundeeGraham Benni Dundee 1

We’d gone out chasing girls. Drunk too much, on occasion. Hitch-hiked. It was uni, it was young, it was fun.

Benni portraitI moved to London in 2001, as I say, and saw Benni then only intermittently over the years. Sadly, I saw Benni succumbing, rather than overcoming as he wanted to, to his vices. Whether this was a factor or not I can’t say, as his death, on January 3rd 2005, was from a long-standing medical condition. This portrait of him, the last, by Jackie Anderson. 

We’d kept in touch, seen each other just months before. His passing, at the age of only 33, was a huge shock to me, something I was sad about for a long time, still am if I think about it.

So, I was hardly gratified to see the Ukrainian gutter press splash all over a story in 2015 that I was ‘gay’ on the basis that they’d found online somwhere that old Morecambe and Wise photo of Benni and myself.

Screenshot (87)Not only is that claim totally incorrect, it was completely insensitive to the memory of my best friend. But, then, having decided I’m some sort of a ‘Kremlin propagandist‘, because they don’t like the news I report, I guess some people think they have the right to do anything, including attacking those who can no longer defend themselves, in the case of Benni.

It’s amoral, and I even consider it pretty inhumane, more so given the mass Benni and Grahamamount of rank homophobic abuse which was directed at me by ‘pro-Ukrainians’, call them as you will. However, I’m not going to go off screaming ‘infamy‘, I can take it, and I’m pretty sure Benni would have found it hilarious.

So, that’s that. And as for ‘Brandon Reed’ being brought up against me, I’m actually proud of the show we did ‘Road from Dundee‘. As for the rest, well, that was what told me that kind of career wasn’t for me, but I’d encourage anyone of 21, and not only, to try out a few things before deciding on what’s right for them!

Anyway, Benni mate, to you. And you can see more of Benni’s incredible paintings here.  All my uni photos here. 

Screenshot (88)

Real Open Source Investigation versus Bellingcat Open Source Investigation

Graham Phillips

Work begins soon on my MH17 documentary (more to come), and integral to it, will be open source investigation.

Screenshot (60)And I’d like to take this opportunity to say – this will be real open source investigation, not that which ‘citizen journalism agency’ Bellingcat (often cited by western media for their MH17 work – right). Their ‘open source’ investigation involves having, or being given a conclusion, then finding ‘evidence’ to back it up. Despite dressing it up as something newfangled, the ‘open source’ investigation of Bellingcat is more akin to the worst policework of previous centuries – get the culprit, pin the blame, then go backwards to find, or falsify if needs be, ‘evidence’ to make it stick. There is a reason Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat has been made a figure of fun on German television –

There is a reason why Bellingcat have been accused of manipulating images, had their entire working practice dismissed as ‘reading tea leaves’ by a leading Graham Phillips MH17image forensics expert. There is a reason why Der Spiegel apologised for using Bellingcat as a source. Because, Bellingcat, is nothing really to do with ‘open source investigation’ – it’s just appropriated the tag to pass off the age-old dark art of fabrication, falsification.

As work begins on my own MH17 documentary, be sure, this is real open source investigation. I have no fixed conclusion whatsoever about what downed the airliner. The evidence will determine the outcome, rather than vice versa. 

I’m always contactable, always interested to see, hear or read anything which may be of interest to my documentary. But, unlike Bellingcat, who have used the tag of ‘open source’ to circumvent proper practices of journalism, everything will be sourced, verified, fact-checked. 

My email address is, as ever – gwplondon@gmail.com

And we go forward on this hugely important project with integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the truth.

Upcoming: English Subtitles on My Films, an Event in London

Graham Phillips

I’m soon finishing up my Brexit reportage project – more on that soon! Next up, delighted to say that I’m already working with Sergey Yermolayev – the loyal subtitle-creator for many of my videos – to put English subtitles on the 2 films I’ve made (with Oleg Somov) – Aramis, and Crimea: Victory Day 2016.

Of course, this is a very big job, so I need to pay Sergey something. However, due to the exceptional generosity of one man from South Africa – Tiago de Carvalho – no crowdfunding is required, Tiago’s donations cover costs!

Here are the films as they are, in Russian. When English subtitles are completed, I’ll be arranging a special event in London to show them, and have a q and a, and much more, so look out for details of that! Email me on – gwplondon@gmail.com – if you’d like to be on my mailing list!

Aramis: 

Crimea: Victory Day 2016 

Go Lightly on Hollie

Graham Phillips

I’ve made over 4000 videos, mostly from the war in Donbass, and around 40 have amassed over 200,000 hits. There’s another one set to join that list soon, and there’s a bit of a story behind it.

On June 24th, day after the June 23rd referendum had seen a vote by the UK to leave the EU, I headed down to Downing Street to film, and chat with, the protesters out there, posting several videos from a fairly low-key evening which had been pretty good-natured, a bit quirky.

I went back, posted them up, as my series of crowdfunded Brexit reportage continued. Now, for the most part, I have an idea how videos will do, but once they are out there online, they take on a life of their own. Back in October 2014, in time of war, when I was going to Donetsk airport every day, interviewing Givi, Motorola, I was pretty sure each video would get big hits – although that’s never been the first priority of any of my reportage, similarly Debaltsevo February 2015.

As public interest (sadly) waned in Donbass, a popular video from there would be 10,000, rather than 100,000, generally similar numbers for my Crimea reportage, with the occasional breakthrough. As for this recent Brexit reportage, it started slow, with videos getting a couple of thousand of hits, building a bit of momentum to several thousand.

So, when I uploaded the videos from Whitehall last week, I expected about that. And in the first place it was about that, then, something a little different started to happen with the video interview I made with 19-year-old Hollie Robson (I initially misspelled her name as ‘Holly’ btw). The Daily Express found the videos, made an article out of them, and of all the ones features, it was the Hollie interview which started to rocket.

I felt ok about this initially – of course, as any correspondent, I like to see my work reach a wider audience. But then, on the Express, and my channel, I began to notice some of the comments about Hollie were crossing a line.

The interview with Hollie happened, like all my interviews, I pitched up to her with a camcorder, started asking questions, she was friendly, up for it, we recorded the interview exactly as seen, I explained I was making a video blog, and that was that. Ok, in the interview, a few things Hollie said came out a bit, perhaps, dippy. However, nothing that Hollie said would justify some of the comments made.

Now, on my YouTube channel, as a rule, I never touch the comments, it’s a free speech zone (some get sent to spam automatically, when I have time, I try to go through them, pick them up). However, as I saw more and more hurtful comments about Holly, and her friend contacted me to say this was affecting her, of course I began to worry for her.

Eventually, Hollie posted a comment herself, saying she’d tried to contact me, prompting me then to go to the ‘filtered’ section of my Facebook messages to retrieve these. We’ve chatted, Hollie’s explained how hurt she has been by some of the remarks made, and we’re meeting on Sunday to film another video with her.

I’d like to defend Hollie for the first video – she is a nice, friendly young lady, caught on the stump by a guy who pitched up with a camcorder. If some of her ideas are not always fully articulated, she is, after all, 19. I want to keep the comments section of my YouTube channel an uncensored zone, but I would ask people posting to please observe basic boundaries. Hollie is a young lady, and a nice, open person. Whatever you think of her views, there’s no need to cross the line from expressing opinions and feedback, into personal insult, nastiness. This isn’t a faceless entity we are talking about, this is a young lady who will read your comments, and be adversely affected by them. So, I ask, you, please, express your views, but keep to within acceptable parameters.

I’m sure that Hollie can express herself, and her views better, and I will be more than happy to give her the opportunity to do so. I ask that you wait for this video, watch it, and be fair to Hollie. I would also note that there have been a lot of recent comments defending Hollie, and taking issue with some of the harsher comments about her, and I applaud this decency.

Thank you, Graham