I read a lot of conflicting information about myself, so would like to set a few things out. We will deal with criticisms here also.
I’m a British journalist, Graham William Phillips, full name, graduate of Dundee University, (Philosophy with History) one of the first Guardian Student Brand Managers, a trainee journalist scheme in the late 1990s. At university I did some student theatre, under the name Brandon Reed. Back then, I saw my career either as journalism, or writing for the theatre. (Photo from uni days, right)
After graduating, I moved to London in 2001, and with opportunities in journalism limited at that point, looked at other options to build a career. I spent most of my near 10-year career in London working at the (now defunct) Central Office of Information.
Then, at 30, I fancied a change, a reboot, live in another country, learn a language. Loving football, wanting to experience being in a country in the run-up to a major tournament, opportunities in journalism, and simply liking Ukraine, I moved to Kiev in 2011. Over the next 2 years, I worked at What’s On magazine, did some English teaching in addition, and studied Russian.
In 2013, I left Kiev (read about the reasons why, here), and returned to the UK for several months, contemplating the next move. I decided to go back to Ukraine, to live in Odessa. I was living there in November of 2013 (I’d built up my own company doing corporate English lessons, was working on a book), when Euromaidan began. Due to the time I’d lived in Kiev, and seem the radical elements behind Euromaidan, I didn’t support it. With the western media at the time almost entirely pro-Euromaidan, I took to writing blog posts telling the other side.
My position, differing as it did, brought me to the attention of the channel Russia Today, RT. We started doing Skype interviews, this coinciding with my starting to go out and film things of my own volition, including Euromaidan, Crimea. In early April, RT offered me the chance to go for a week’s work in Donetsk.
I went, and have worked in Donbass for most of the last 2 years. I had a fairly short working relationship with RT, ending after my 2nd deportation from Ukraine. I neither particularly enjoyed working with RT, nor have had anything to do with the channel since July of 2014. As a channel, I’m grateful for the opportunity they gave me, and proud of the work we did together, but can’t say I like the way the channel treated me as a correspondent, and certainly would never work with them again.
After RT, from late 2014 until early 2015 I worked with the Russian channel Zvezda. Since then I’ve worked for myself, funded by my YouTube channel, and crowdfunding campaigns. I was wounded while covering frontline action near Donetsk in November of 2014. Without wishing to boast in any way, I’ve been the western correspondent to report most from the frontlines in Donbass, including MH17 site.
I spent a month, as the only western journalist there, while the city of Lugansk was under siege, and bombardment, in August 2014.
I like doing interviews, and have filmed interviews with a lot of prominent people, from former Ukrainian PM Nikola Azarov, PM of Crimea Sergey Aksenov, Chief Prosecutor of Crimea Natalia Poklonskaya.
I’ve been called a ‘war reporter’, but much prefer filming positive things, and enjoy filming animals – as here, this recent trip to a safari park in Crimea.
In my time in Donbass, I raised around £65,000, given to helping victims of war there.
I made 2 films while in Donbass, and also reported extensively from Crimea. In March of this year, I reported briefly from. I live in London, love Great Britain, been a long term supporter of the England football team (pictured, Brazil 2014).
My work in Donbass has seen me awarded several medals. I speak German, and Russian, to a reasonable level.
You can read more about how I went from being a channel’s correspondent, to a crowdfunded correspondent, here. My most recent project was to report on the UK referendum, I’ve made over 30 videos on that. The project was entirely crowdfunded, on here – https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/uk-referendum-reportage/x/12236308
To some, I’ve become an object of hate. I stand accused of my reportage being ‘pro-Russian’, ‘one-sided’, or myself of having some connection with Russia.
As for my reportage, I’ve always done everything to cover both sides, but there are logistics here, deported and then banned from Ukraine, I couldn’t ‘cross to the Ukraine side’ or interview Ukrainian soldiers, in the way I’ve done with DPR, LPR, in Donbass. When it was possible, I interviewed Ukrainian soldiers as I did people’s militia.
As for Russia, I neither have, nor have ever had, any official connection with Russia. Neither the state, nor any state organisation etc, has ever been involved with my work. Quite the opposite, RT actually instructed me not to work in Donbass, after my 2nd deportation, withdrew all visa support. The channel Zvezda may report into the Russian state, but that never impacted on my work with them in any way – I recorded my pieces, sent them to Zvezda, then put them on my own YouTube channel – always my main focus. In any case I quickly ended my association with Zvezda.
I see some people calling me ‘Fiblips‘ on Twitter. That’s just … juvenile. All my reportage has always been absolutely honest, and objective – things, just as they are. Name calling … well it’s just that.
There are photos of me holding guns in Donbass. What to say? I took part, as part of filmed reportage, in shooting drills. And I posed for a few photos. Quite often, the militia guys would want you to pose with a gun, a bit of fun in often long hours without action, and I figured ‘why not?’. Building relationships with combatants was what got me to where I always wanted to be – filming at the sharpest end of frontline action. These photos can – and are – taken out of context. I never did, or would, engage in any combat, I took my duties as a correspondent seriously, kept to within acceptable boundaries.
These photos do look a bit silly to me when I see them, but then silly selfies are a part of war, and I always aimed to show every side of war, and everything, in my reportage.
I’ve seen myself described as a ‘sex tourist’, ‘sex blogger’ etc. Just, nonsense, I did keep a blog, there were some articles on the subject, but there were as many articles on abandoned buildings in Ukraine. As for writing about prostitutes, I’ve indeed done that, some years ago. And I always believe in being completely open about everything, and the point I put myself on the line to write these articles was my conclusion, that prostitution is unacceptable.
I had an incident early in my career where Ukrainian media claimed I triggered a tripwire, then claimed I’d been shot at, RT said a similar thing – and I was working for them at the time. It’s true I made a rookie error, didn’t capture what I’d stated on film, but I never claimed whatever it was that went off at my feet was the shot. Even pro-Ukrainian media initially said there was something which sounded like a shot. I based saying that on what I’d seen, a Ukrainian soldier pick up his gun, point it at me, a crack.
However, I hadn’t captured it on camera, I got absolutely caned for it, and it was the last time I reported something I hadn’t captured on camera. It was a rookie error, and a hard lesson, which formed the basis of my career since – facts as filmed, nothing sensationalised. As for RT, they caved, threw me under the bus. That’s just RT, as far as I’m concerned – an absolutely disloyal channel. When the going’s good, your best friend, as soon as the going gets tough under the bus.
Max Seddon of Buzzfeed wrote a much-read article about me. Some of it was correct, some patently incorrect. I’m certainly no stranger to criticism in any case, and I accept it that it comes with the path I’ve chosen.
Some may not approve of parts of my work in Donbass – interviewing POWs for example, gets attention. But I always did so reasonably, politely. And more, after my treatment in the two times I was in captivity by Ukrainian forces, including threatening with being killed, kept with a bag on my head for hours, interrogated, I did indeed feel an element of ‘why not’, when it came to my own interviewing of POWs – albeit I did so, as mentioned above, with decency.
Ukrainian media has accused me of being a Russian agent, an MI5/6 agent, both as untrue as the other. Gay (based on a Morecambe and Wise student theatre tribute photo) – nonsense, not that I’m homophobic. I get accused of being ‘anti-Ukrainian’ – it’s just not true, I was the correspondent writing articles in 2012 defending Ukraine before the Euros. But, I won’t defend the indefensible, and where are all these correspondents who wrote about how dreadful Ukraine was pre-Euro 2012, in any case?
As for being a UKIP member – indeed I joined them before the General Election of 2015, wanting to send out a message that the United Kingdom needed a referendum on EU membership. That referendum’s been, and I was for Brexit. I’m not a member of UKIP anymore, and haven’t been for a long time, but without their pressure the country wouldn’t have got to the referendum which was clearly needed.
I think that about covers it!