I’ve never really blown this up before, because I generally believe in getting on with my work without fuss. However, to pre-empt anything which may be, I believe it’s time to get this in the public domain.
I was living in Odessa at the time of Euromaidan in late 2013, having previously lived 2 years in Kiev. Working as a freelance journalist, doing some English teaching to pay bills. My position on Maidan differed to other journalists due to what I’d seen in Kiev myself in my time living there. So, not receiving offers to cover Maidan, I started blogging about Euromaidan in November 2013, filmed there in January 2014, and went on from there – filming and reporting for my YouTube channel, doing occasional interviews for RT. In March of 2014, I went to Crimea to report for myself, having already travelled around all of the, then, east Ukraine.
In April, RT asked me to go to Donetsk for a week’s work. I went, continued working for them until July of 2014, after my 2nd deportation.
I went back to Donbass, of my own volition, in August of 2014, and continued working there. I accepted an offer to work, on a freelance contract with Russian channel Zvezda, in September, and worked with them until I ended our working relationship in March of 2015.
Since then, I’ve worked entirely for myself, via crowdfunding, in Donbass, Russia, across Europe, and the UK.
The UK Government, and Myself
My first contact with the UK government was after my 2nd deportation from Ukraine, in July of 2014, when I asked for their help. They flatly refused to give their help –
Yet, in similar circumstances, they did everything they could to help BBC journalists…
On the 18th February, the FCO wrote this to me:
We have been alerted to a number of social media updates that have caused some to raise questions about your presence in Ukraine in a journalistic capacity.
Particular things that have raised concerns include being photographed while wearing military uniforms, separatist insignia, or holding firearms. We are very concerned that you may be putting yourself in danger through these types of activities which could be seen as a blurring of the line between journalism and active involvement in a conflict.
I can only repeat that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel to Crimea, Donetsk oblast and Lugansk oblast. We advise against all but essential travel to Kharkiv oblast. Our travel advice is available here: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/ukraine. As we have previously discussed with you, we recommend that British Nationals leave these areas.
Your safety, and that of other British Nationals is a priority for us. Although we are not able to provide consular services within these areas, please do not hesitate to contact us either in London or at the British Embassy in Kyiv if you require consular assistance.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Now, this is dressed up as concern, which I took as being entirely insincere, given the refusal of the FCO to do anything to help me after my deportations. And they key part here: photographed while wearing military uniforms, separatist insignia, or holding firearms.
You may like or not like that I’ve done, and do that, but I’ve always been quite clear about the reasons for it: military uniforms when at positions so as not to attract danger to those I’m with by wearing more visible colours. Firearms, because I was doing reportage on firing drills, and as I always do, got as close to the action as possible (within reasonable boundaries) – by joining in.
The message from the FCO was clear in any case: We don’t like what you’re doing, stop it.
I replied, making the above points, to which the FCO didn’t reply. However, when I returned to the UK, Heathrow, on March 4th of 2015, after a near seven-month spell working in Donbass, what I believe to be a senior member of the British special services was waiting for me, and questioned me for 4 hours.
The interrogation, where I was held under the Section 7 terrorism act, was extensive, covering my working, and personal life. It was also, at times, provocative, with my being asked ‘why I was producing Russian propaganda?’, and even ‘why was I lying about events in Crimea, and Donbass?’.
The second one in particular produced a visceral response, where I defended my work: I was always on the scene, I always report the truth, with full integrity. How dare someone who has got all his information from second-hand, biased sources, accuse me, who had been there and seen for myself, of propaganda! After this, probably outburst, my interrogator momentarily chuckled, and said he ‘had to ask that’.
About my personal life, I have no secrets, and gave information already in the public domain. The same for my working life, no secrets, and I gave no information not in the public domain. My laptop was taken away for the duration of the interview, and returned to me after. It was old, and damaged, in any case I binned it shortly after. There was no confidential information on it.
I was released after 4 hours, with the special services operative making it clear that he’d been sent to do a job, even kind of apologising. It had neither been particularly stressful, or intense. It was just a bit inconvenient, my mum was waiting for me, I was already tired from speaking to the MH17 investigation for 6 hours that day.
But, ok, that was that. No one touched or bothered me in those couple of months back in the UK, and in fact I had no further contact with the FCO until I was arrested, and deported, from Latvia, in early 2016 – the powers hadn’t liked the way I’d covered a pro-Nazi demonstration there.
During my detention, I know that people called the UK FCO on my behalf. They said they were ‘aware of the situation‘, ‘doing what they could‘, etc. But they didn’t do anything to help me, and when I wrote to them after, also didn’t do anything to help me.
In September of 2016, a scandal kicked off, after some objected to the way I’d questioned Ukrainian terrorist Vladimir Zhemchugov. Judith Gough, UK ambassador to Ukraine, responded as such:
UK has no grounds to ban journalist Phillips from leaving his country – ambassador
British Ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough has said she was appalled by the behavior of British journalist Graham Phillips during the release of Ukrainian captive Volodymyr Zhemchuhov, however the UK government has no reason to prohibit him from leaving the country.
In a statement published on the official Facebook page of the UK Embassy in Ukraine on Friday, Gough said she watched the video of the prisoner exchange and was appalled by Graham Phillips’ behavior towards Zhemchuhov.
She noted that a lot of people called on the UK to deprive Phillips of the British passport. However, the UK government does not have sufficient grounds to do this. Phillips did not commit any offenses in the UK, which could become the basis for the British government to ban him from leaving the country, Gough said. If he violated Ukrainian legislation, it is up to the Ukrainian authorities to decide on appropriate actions in relation to Phillips in Ukraine, she added.
So, that’s that. But, things have been changing recently, as the UK publicly, sharply ups its support for Ukraine, with stronger statements of support, and increased military backing, and looks to take out anything non-aligned with that position, while sending out an aggressive message – the recent imprisoning of Ben Stimson, and the updating of travel advice to Ukraine. Specifically they’ve extended the threat of punishment to those who may ‘assist those engaged in conflict’. What’s the definition of ‘assisting’? They don’t say.
And now, it seems, they’ve come for me. The BBC have been sent to do a hit piece on me, read about that here. And that would then pave the way for the UK government to take action against me, knowing that any public outcry has been allayed. It wouldn’t be ‘action against a journalist‘, they’d make it ‘action against a Russian propagandist‘, and of course, the purpose of the BBC fishing trip, was for me to state on the record that I’m ‘returning to Donbass‘. Then it’s ‘Russian propagandist banned from Ukraine as threat to state security stopped at UK border as he attempts to return‘, and most people, knowing nothing of the real facts, have no problem with that.
So, that’s the story of what’s been, with myself and the UK authorities, and I’m not only ready for what’s to come, I’m determined they’re not going to get away with it.
Oh, and just as you’ll be reading this, in UK authority, my 3-year-ban from Ukraine official ends on July 26th, by the way. You’re late, clumsy, out of shape, out of luck.