(CNN) — Unidentified men attack journalists, brandishing guns, and snatch cameras. Local television channels are suddenly blocked or replaced. An international news organization is told by a hotel manager to stop broadcasting.
These are just some tales from the field in Crimea, the embattled Ukrainian peninsula that’s at the heart of the struggle between Moscow, Kiev and the West.
As the world watches a region on the brink of war, stories of harassment and internal pressures are making headlines. A U.N. envoy was threatened by armed men and driven out of the country. A Ukrainian worker must think carefully before answering his boss’ question: “Are you for Ukraine or for Russia?” European military observers, invited by the Ukrainian government, are stopped at a checkpoint by armed and masked men, one of whom says in Russian: “I’ve been ordered by the government of Crimea not to let anyone in.”
It’s on the media to help provide an accurate picture of what’s happening on the ground in Crimea. And now that picture is becoming more difficult to paint. Some would say, what’s happening, is downright disturbing.
A security camera in Simferopol, Crimea’s capital, captured the image of a Bulgarian freelance journalist and his assistant being attacked.
CNN’s Michael Holmes said the two were spotted as they filmed masked men “removing TV equipment from another television outfit and basically stealing it.” When those men saw that they were being filmed, Holmes learned, they pounced — wrestling the journalist to the ground, snatching the equipment and at one point even holding a gun to the journalist’s head.
In signs that the pro-Russian Crimean authorities are clamping down on dissent within the peninsula, at least two Ukrainian channels, 1+1 and Channel 5, have been blocked from ground-based broadcasting. The head of 1+1 told CNN that Russian state TV outlet Channel One is now broadcasting on its frequency.
And now, CNN, too, is feeling some heat.
“Tensions are high, even where we are at this hotel,” CNN’s Ann Coren told Wolf Blitzer during a Thursday broadcast from the confines of a hotel room. “Management came and approached us and told us that we are no longer allowed to broadcast from this hotel.”
The assumption, she said, is that the hotel is kowtowing to outside forces, either the Crimean government, which is known to be pro-Russian, or local militia. CNN has not shied away from reporting about Russian forces being on the ground in Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin denies, and that may have ruffled feathers.
“We’ve been operating here for over a week — happily, no problems whatsoever. But obviously somebody is putting pressure on the manager of this hotel and basically threatening to shut us down and kick us out,” Coren said. “Hopefully, hopefully, tomorrow we’ll still be here.”
CNN’s Matthew Chance, Diana Magnay, Ben Wedeman and Tim Schwarz also contributed to this report.
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