Odessa – My Nostalgia for Summer of 2013

Graham Phillips

Everyone knows Samuel Johnson’s adage about ‘when a man is tired of London Londonhe’s tired of life‘. Well, I’m guessing that’s not quite the same for Kiev, which in late 2012, with the rise of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism, I was quickly tiring of, albeit not quite ready to return to a London which I’ve always loved, but, only having embarked from in 2011, wasn’t just ready to return to yet.

However, leaving Kiev in early 2013, I did spent some time back in the UK, and in London, pondering the next move. Belgrade, Prague, Riga, all were considered as I looked to continue something which had started in 2011 for the first time, spending some time living out the UK.

But, after some long walks and lengthy deliberations, the decision came out as Odessa, a city I’d fallen in love with when visiting while working for What’s On magazine in Kiev, 2012. So it was, driving across Europe, and western Ukraine, I set off in July of 2013 –

And so it was, I arrived, and, with a long-term plan of making a life in Odessa, set about making the most of summer in Odessa – cycling along the beachfront on my bike, catacombs, hitting the beach, swimming, barbeques, vineyard tours –

And, of course, the city’s legendary nightlife too –

So, you can understand, when I look back to summer of 3 years ago, I feel real nostalgia. It was Odessa, when it was Odessa. There was a normal mayor, order, everything was good. Russians were there on holiday. Ukrainians were there. And they both got on great with each other, along with all the other nations there in that mega city by the sea, founded with Catherine the Great’s own money no less.

I guess, not to sound like the Wonder Years, that no one really knew back then, that that was the last summer of Odessa as it was. So, permit me for a bit of nostalgia as I look back to things as they were, 3 years ago in Odessa.

Graham’s Brexit Reportage Wrap-up – The 10 Key Facts

Graham Phillips

So, it’s all over, and here are the 10 key facts about my Brexit reportage project!

1. It was completely crowdfunded, via a campaign here on Indiegogo!

2. The project took just over a month, all inclusive, starting on the 12th June, here in Calais, France –

Finishing up here, Billingsgate Market, on July 13th –

3. In total, the Brexit reportage project videos – over 80 in total – got over a million hits – on my channel alone!

4. The Brexit reportage made 2 major news storiesin the Daily Express, and Breibart.

5. There were three videos to get over one hundred thousand hits apiece, these were –

Almost 450,000 hits on this as I spoke to Ukrainian fans in France. Not everyone connects that a country working closely with the EU is in the throes of a bloody civil war, I wanted to shed light on this –

Hollie, this anti-Brexit protester, has almost 200,000 hits, though I didn’t encourage many of the negative comments in her direction

This video of an altercation at an anti-Brexit demo, March for Europe, is well over 130,000 hits now –

6. The Brexit reportage project brought you reportage from 4 countries – France, Latvia, Denmark and the United Kingdom. Here, Latvia –

And Denmark –

7. The Brexit reportage has been watched in over 200 countries – 217 to be precise, with the UK the most popular –

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However the reportage was also watched in São Tomé and Príncipe, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa. Although true, just the one second there 🙂
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8. Funding for the project came from 13 countries, the number 1 – South Africa!

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9. For this reportage project, I travelled some 8000km, including a trip to Scotland! The plan was to show some more unknown parts of the EU, then come back to the UK –

10. Finally, this project was a complete success – meeting all the goals set out! And it was entirely because of those people who chose to back this, via Crowdfunding, making real, independent journalism possible.

I’ll be contacting everyone who got involved in this project, and fulfilling, hopefully exceeding even, all the pledges made to you! Once more – thanks again, you made something wonderful happen!

Updates (#5) I’ve Got a New Russian Visa, and all getting a Russian visa…

Graham Phillips

I’ve wrapped the Brexit reportage project, and have spent this last week travelling around the Netherlands, working on MH17, and more. More on that to come soon. For now…

With the inevitability of Ignatius from Confederacy of Dunces casting up Fortuna, the BBC’s useful idiot Daniel Sandford likes to cast things up which supposedly indicate my ‘connection to Russia’ etc. Back in March, as I was deported from Latvia, Dan was suspicious about my ‘multi-entry visa’ from Russia.

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Well, that one has expired now in any case, and, after application I received a new Russian, multi-entry visa, last week. So I’d like to tell you quickly, it’s neither suspicious as Sandford makes out, or like this, as a Twitter wag conjectured:

Getting a tourist visa to visit Russia is simple for anyone. Getting a multi-entry, one-year visa which allows you to work is a more involved process, and without the right know-how, it can even be rather complicated. Last year in London in March of 2015, back from near 7 months in Donbass, I set about making my first application for a multi-entry Russian visa.

Before this, I’d only had tourist visas for Russia, my trips there in 2009, 2011, and 2014, well that was a bit different. July 2014 saw me deported from Ukraine after being captured by Ukrainian forces while covering war at Donestk airport. They detained me for 3 days, then deported me into Poland, for some reason, banning me for 3 years for my work supposedly ‘supporting terrorism’ – i.e. telling the side of the war in Donbass they didn’t want to be told.

RT then immediately called from all sides telling me they wanted to ‘fly me to Moscow‘ etc etc. But that turned out to be false, or they were even just lying to me. All RT wanted to do was keep me onside with them to record an interview about my release, for which they booked a tv studio in Warsaw and made a huge deal of.

Then, after that, despite knowing I was left Poland, car, along with many of my belongings stolen by Ukrainian forces, little money it was ‘goodbye Graham, we won’t be needing you any more.’ They not only withdrew all visa support, they let the Russian embassy in Poland know about this, and they promptly refused to give me any visa at all.

So it was, cut off, hung out to dry in Warsaw, I made the call – got on the next flight to London, got a one-entry tourist visa, in one day, next flight to Moscow, Lugansk Blockadedown to Rostov, and crossed over into Lugansk (photo, arriving in an abandoned city, booming with shelling), at that time under blockade, going on to spend the next near 7 months in Donbass, ultimately making an exceptional application to Russia to let me leave via Russia, as clearly Ukraine was no longer an option, I was banned from there, and death threats emanating from there ever-growing.

So it was, I left in March 2015, was back in London looking to get a new multi-entry visa so I could return to work in Donbass, entering through Ukraine clearly now not an option as per the above. In the first place, I didn’t exactly know where to begin, all those who’d so confidently said ‘we’ll help you out‘ suddenly rather slower to reply to messages.

Anyway, I googled, explored all the options, and couldn’t really find a way how a freelance journalist, not contracted to any company, could get a multi-entry, one year visa for Russia. It was rather a strange situation, people from a Russia which appreciated me as the ‘western journalist telling the truth about Donbass‘, or even just not be a Russophobe, as is the standard for most western journalists writing on Russia – Luke Harding, the above Daniel Sandford, and on – kept writing to me expressing gratitude and invitations to Russia.

In this time also, March to April of 2015 in London, Russian media kept calling me, asking me for Skype interviews and so on, which sometimes I did, others not. Graham LondonBut, the truth behind it all was that all of March I had no idea how I’d get a Russian visa to even return. Well, in March, April, I started casting the net out. Of course, it wasn’t all visa application, this photo from a day out at one of my favourite places to visit in London, Greenwich.

In April of 2015, I eventually found a contact in Russia, Sergey, who ran a news agency which had used several of my videos in the past. From early Facebook forays, Sergey indicated he may be able to help. And, unlike so many others, followed up on this with a letter, and documentation supporting my application for a Russian multi-entry visa, to work as a freelance, independent journalist.

However, in the first place, my multi-entry one year visa application didn’t quite go through, and I was instead given a three-month, double-entry visa. So, in May of 2015, I embarked on that for a then near-3 month working trip to Donbass, by this time already simply working for myself, via crowdfunding, earnings from YouTube.

HelsinkiIn this time, Sergey went to bat for me again, and in July of 2015, I left Donbass to go to Helsinki (pictured) to apply for what would be my first multi-entry Russian visa. Why Finland? Well, it couldn’t be Russia, Helsinki was easy to fly to, and there it was where I waited a few nice, slightly boring if I’m being honest, days while my application went through.

Go through it did, first multi-entry visa for Russia issued, and in August of 2015 I was off to do my Crimea project of that year, then staying working in Donbass, and Russia, until late May of 2016. I was then back in the UK until leaving last week to start work on my MH17 documentary (more on that soon), and, like last time, applied for another multi-entry Russian visa, with Sergey’s support. Still, filled out all the paperwork, as last time, paid the visa fees, as last time, but, a bit easier this time, it all went through ok, and last week I was issued with a multi-entry, one year visa for Russia.

So, what to say about applying for a Russian visa – there’s a process to go through, and it’s not necessarily the easiest, in terms of you do need pretty concrete documentation. However, it’s certainly both do-able, and possible, and the embassy, visa centre have in my experience always been professional. There are various agencies online who say they they can provide this, but, I don’t know Graham Russian Visaabout that or them enough to advise. Also of course, if you work for a company, teaching English etc, they’ll sort this out.

Getting a visa, which allows you to work, for a year is a pretty big deal, for any country. I’d advise in the first instance, visiting Russia on a tourist visa, and making enough connections to allow for those whose pledges of assistance will not quite stand up to requests for that to really happen. I could end this with a screenshot of the chap whose firm assurances of assistance subsequently gave way to ‘write to Ramzan Kadyrov on Facebook’.

But, I’ll simply say this, it should never have been necessary for me to get a Russian visa to work in Donbass. If Ukraine were a normal country, I’d still be able to go there to work, travel to Donbass through Ukraine, and would certainly do so. If I were a BBC journalist, be sure the FCO would have stood up for me when deported, rather than pretended they didn’t even know me.

Here’s the truth about Ukraine – any journalist working there is only doing so because they dutifully pump out the Kiev line. And for the rest of us? Well, I’m grateful that Russia, where I’ll also be doing reportage, is a country which allows independent journalism, enables it by giving visas, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to work over there.

Useful links – 

Visa policy of Russia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_Russia

VFS – Russian Visa Application Centre

http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk/

An example of Russian visa support site

https://www.visatorussia.com/

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. 

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Brief Guide to the Ukraine War and How I Got Involved in It.

Graham Phillips

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen a surge in viewers from the UK, Europe as my Brexit reportage has gained some traction.

And with that, followers come to Twitter, viewers scroll through my videos, and a question arises for, judging by comments, a not inconsiderable number ‘what’s with all this Ukraine thing‘. So, as concisely as possible, in 10 points, here we go –

Graham What's On1. I lived in Kiev, Ukraine, for a couple of years, from 2011-13 (I went there to work as a journalist pre Euro-2012, working mainly at What’s On magazine), and Odessa from summer 2013 until spring 2014, visiting almost every part of the country in my time there. When Euromaidan started, in November 2013, I immediately recognised far-right factions I’d covered in my time in Kiev, behind it. Pictured, Oleg Tyagnibok of Ukrainian neo-Nazi party Svoboda, who I’d done a lot of reporting on in my time in Kiev.

2. The above, plus knowing that Euromaidan didn’t represent the whole country of Ukraine (always divided broadly along west, ethnic Ukrainian, east, Russian, centre, a mixture) meant from the very start, I didn’t support it. As almost all the western media did, this limited my employment options. When I Euromaidangot a surprise offer to do some work with Russia Today, RT (who’d seen my blogs on the theme), I went with it. RT back then, isn’t as we think of RT today, and back then it gave me the opportunity to report things as I saw them.

3. Euromaidan powered along, fuelled by US money. I went to film it in January of 2014, and was aghast at what I saw (above, pictured) – at the core, a mob of radicals and hangers along, powered along by external finance, external stirring, western media condemnation of police taking any action, description of a molotov-throwing mob as ‘peaceful protesters‘, and a gulled central, and western, Ukrainian middle class taking daytrips down there for a part of the ‘revolution experience‘.

4. My time on Maidan filled me with a deep foreboding of what was to come next. But, I headed back to Odessa, hoped it would pass, hoped the country I was Yanukovych Ukrainevery fond of, had written articles defending pre Euro-2012, would somehow find a way to avoid the disaster which Euromaidan had made me sure it was hurtling towards.

That didn’t happen, president Yanukovych (pictured, unpopular with many, but under him Ukraine had been stable) was overthrown, the mob took over, a wave of destructiondisorder and mob rule followed (yet, the western press glossed over the violence by protesters, accentuated that by police, and passed off a violent overthrow of government as a ‘revolution of dignity‘), and action spread, including to Odessa, where I started filming that for my YouTube channel.

I also went to Crimea, and filmed the reality of the situation there – an ethnic Russian population now under real threat from the new Kiev powers, with their stringent anti-Russian agenda (shape of things to come? Parliament was hastily convened after Euromaidan just to repeal the 2012 law giving the Russian language official status) , holding a referendum to reunite with Russia, something Black Sea Fleetwhich was done, I covered, and which reflected the huge will of the people.

Were Russian forces there? Of course, Russian forces were there, the Black Sea Fleet (pictured), and Russia had an allowance of up to 25,000 troops in any case. Without them, Crimea would surely have seen the same scenes of chaos as Kiev. When it came to polling day, referendum in Crimea, the ‘little green men‘ of which the western media fixated, were actually nowhere to be seen.

5. Around this time, my own position, in being vocal in criticism of Euromaidan, had negatively impacted on the corporate teaching business, and life I’d built up in Odessa. And not just me, as I witnessed any number of Facebook arguments between those Ukrainians who had formerly been friends, now Maidan-polarized.  With my business coming apart, I took a sabbatical and took off around the east of Ukraine, filming street interviews to see what people were really feeling at that time –

Nikolaev – 

Donetsk – 

Kharkov – 

Lugansk – 

Mariupol – 

I had started, and then concluded that trip in Crimea – at referendum time – early March 2014, then March 16th.

I didn’t see any other western correspondents there on referendum day, despite press access being easy. In any case, I was the only one there going into polling stations, speaking to people. And I filmed a Crimean referendum which reflected the will of the vast majority of people on the peninsula. The rest of the Ukraine 1Crimea11I’d visited around this time? Tense, fracturing, coming apart. No one knew exactly what to expect, all hoped there wouldn’t be war. Crimea, on the other hand – optimism, and hopes for a future, as part of Russia (which, historically, it always had been, only given to Ukraine by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 in a gesture never expected to have any real significance, given it was all the Soviet Union).

6. I returned to Odessa, but things were clearly moving, in flux. I had already shut up shop there, as far as work was concerned, instead spending time filming the ever-escalating demos in the city, just for myself actually, I never offered, and RT never asked for this although we were still doing interviews via Skype. Anyway, in early April, a travel blockade of sorts was imposed between Ukraine Ukraine Russia flagsand Russia – Ukraine, effectively stopped letting in Russian journalists, at least male ones, finding pretence to turn them back at the border.

With action escalating, not able to get anyone there, RT called and offered me a week’s correspondent work in Donetsk, so on 7th April, I made the 700+km drive from Odessa to Donetsk. (Photo, Nikolaev, en route)

7. What was happening in Donetsk, and other parts of Donbass, was both similar to, and the opposite of Euromaidan. Similar, in as much as many of the same tactics were being deployed – activists taking over administrative buildings, cheered on by crowds of locals. See here, as things began in Donetsk –

But it was different in that this was anti-Euromaidan. These people wanted not Europe, but Russia. And they found a western media which didn’t describe them as ‘peaceful protesters’ etc as on Maidan, but as ‘masked men‘ and ‘terrorists‘…

8. I was mostly based in Slavyansk in April, May, though travelling all around the Donbass region. I watched, and reported on, the situation turn from a conflict, into a war. And, why did that happen? Kiev refused to in any way negotiate with Donbass, the breakaway republics, instead the newly appointed ‘Euromaidan government’, John Kerryunelected, but installed with widespread western backing, again backed by the west in this, sent in not the president, prime minister (Turchynov and Yatsenyuk, pictured, with John Kerry), or negotiators, but in mid-April, sent the army into Donbass. Ukrainian forces began by taking up positions around the towns and cities under DPR control, in Donbass. Through April, Donbass saw an increasing escalation of incidents, a car shot with passengers killed, the army moving positions closer. May of 2014 began with pro-Russia activists in Odessa being burned alive after an attack by pro-Ukrainian activists. This triggered an immediate, sharp escalation in Donbass, with Ukrainian forces then making attacks on Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, and more.

May 9th saw another bloodbath in Mariupol, as Ukrainian forces went into the city, and opened fire, on Victory Day, with the aim of crushing the rising pro-Russia movement.

Poroshenko Ukraine9. The above, and further antagonism from Kiev after referendum results on May 11th delivered a vast majority in favour of breaking away from Ukraine, saw the situation escalate during May of 2014. The election of Petro Poroshenko (pictured) as president on May 25th, and his pledge to defeat the ‘terrorists’ as he called them, within hours, saw real war start on May 26th with Donetsk airport taken by the DPR as a pre-emptive measure against Kiev sending forces there, and fierce battle by Kiev to retake it.

That was followed by then fierce battle between sides, and regular shelling of DPR and LPR towns, by Ukrainian forces. Outnumbered and outgunned, with in-fighting and tactical errors, the DPR and LPR lost swathes of territory in July of 2014, and in August, with Lugansk surrounded, cut off from Donetsk, it almost looked to be game over.

However, fightbacks in late August, early September saw a wave of territory retaken by the DPR and LPR. War continued over winter, with key strategic point, and symbol, Donetsk airport (below), taken in January 2015, Debalstevo in February.

10. So, the last big change in territory was February of 2015, but war has waged, with different degrees of intensity, since then. From May on of 2015, Ukrainian shelling of Donbass got very intense, with multiple casualties. Here, Gorlovka, May 26th, an 11-year-old girl and her father killed, mother maimed –

Now, I speak a lot about ‘Ukrainian shelling’, but surely there’s two sides? There’s no question, that DPR and LPR forces shell Ukrainian positions. And the people’s militia have been blamed for fatal shelling attacks on Mariupol (note the Ukraine warheadline here ‘rebels shell’, in the Guardian, yet when it’s Ukrainian shelling, western media does the ‘both sides exchange blame’ line) and Kramatorsk – whether they are actually responsible for these, is debatable. But there is no debate that thousands of deaths have been caused by Ukraine shelling civilians areas of Donbass. I’ve been there dozens of times – homes burning, bodies lying, no military positions anywhere near, and only one direction the shelling could have come from – Ukrainian positions.

Of course, they always try to blame the people’s militia, for ‘shelling themselves’. Shockingly, the fact that thousands of deaths in Donbass has been caused by Ukrainian military shelling, has remained largely unreported by western media. As for MH17, by the way, there’s a lot more to it than the immediately arrived at verdict of a ‘separatist BUK’ – I’m working on a documentary about that just now.

EuromaidanAn issue with Ukrainian military is that there’s no such thing as the Ukrainian army anymore, in the aftermath of Euromaidan (pictured here), any number of radicals, extremist splinter groups and so, such as the Pravy Sektor, headed down to Donbass to wage war. These groups have frequently said they don’t answer to President Poroshenko, and do what they want etc. Here, a Ukrainian fighter, Vita Zaveruha, just decides to shoot a village in Donbass ‘for fun’ –

Now without actual Kiev backing, no real territory can be taken – and of course, Kiev wants the appearance of abiding by Minsk-II – but regular shelling of Donbass, by Ukrainian forces, goes on to this day with fatalities and casualties fewer than there were, but still a regular occurrence, this video from Donetsk, end of June –

And about the ‘meme’ of Donbass, the ‘Russian involvement’ the western media go on about (ever fuelled along by Ukraine’s president Poroshenko, just there in the Wall Street Journal), but the Russian media largely deny exists. Well, it’s somewhere in between. There’s clearly been some Russian military assistance – a 17,000 km2 territory, of the DPR and LPR, fending off a country of some 550,000 km2 with its own army, tanks etc. However, much of what is passed off as ‘Russian involvement’, ‘Russian army, tanks’ etc – here, typical unsourced Motorola Donbassspeculation passed on by the Atlantic Council – is done so without any actual evidence at all.

I can say categorically from my time there, the Russian regular army have never been there, however there have been quite a lot of Russian citizens, many with military experience (pictured, notable DPR commander Motorola). There have been volunteers from many countries, from Brazil to the UK. Yet, the vast majority of fighters on the people’s milita side in Donbass has always been local men. A few of my photo of the peoples’ militia ‘opolchenie’ here, provide examples –

Donbass militiaDonbass militia 1 Donbass militia 2And whatever hardware Russia has either sent, or turned a blind eye to crossing the border, it’s been a long, long way from the latest Russian military hardware, most of the hardware on the Donbass side is from Soviet times, in cases reconditioned and yes, a significant amount captured from Ukrainian forces.

So, it’s a war, it’s an information war. And believe me, the BBC, to name just one example, have been completely dishonest in their coverage of it. So much so I’ve long refused to have anything to do with them. They deliberately go in, find the odd extremist who wants to ‘recreate the Soviet Union, is on a holy war’ etc (incidentally they lied to get my video footage for this documentary, on that theme), then show them as representing the whole movement. The BBC, always so good at finding nice people on Euromaidan. Speaking to people, letting them express their opinions and wishes in a favourable light, as they did so often on Euromaidan –

That was never done in the corporation’s deliberately dehumanising coverage of Donbass. Instead, it’s been stitch-ups, getting into locations by saying they’ll show things honesty, standing there and reciting the standard ‘Russian aggression’ mantra. It gets a bit comical at times even as here Ian Pannell stands at Donetsk airport saying most of the shelling is ‘outgoing’, before fleeing when interrupted by incoming shelling.

There’s no such thing as a clean war, and no question a lot of things have been done on the DPR side – from Strelkov’s shooting of ‘looters’ in Slavyansk to complaints of cars stolen, houses squatted, others. Yet, in any people’s uprising, as in Donbass, there will be those simply waiting to exploit the situation for their own ends. On the Ukraine side, Ukraine should have been a regular country, with a regular army, yet they’ve been even worse. I’ve filmed bodies of civilians tortured, killed before Ukraine forces fled from positions –

Ukrainian forces took me captive, seemed drunk, acted generally like a shower of guerrillas, stole my car, I’ve spoken to a litany of people who’ve passed through checkpoints where Ukrainian soldiers have demanded bribes, stolen iphones, worse. Interviewed people who said Ukrainian forces put them on their knees, demanded they sing the national anthem at gunpoint, others said Ukrainian forces looted everything from their homes.

Ukraine’s special police took this man, returning home from Belarus with his wife and 3-month-old child, and tortured him to death after they found a text message conversation with a classmate of his, in the people’s militia –

And then there’s the, always-disputed, but in this case real-looking video of Ukrainian soldiers burying a ‘pro-Russia separatist’ alive.

All said and told, it’s a bloody complicated war indeed. However, I hope after reading these points, at least some things are a bit clearer.

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.