As war rages, Ukrainian blacklist Myrotvorets, which means “Peacemaker” in Ukrainian, continues to add to its website the names of activists, politicians, journalists, and even children, who’ve spoken critically about Ukraine or the current conflict. In addition to intimidating those on the list by branding them as terrorists or publishing their personal information, threatening the free flow of information about the ongoing war, however, many also suspect the blacklist is a kind of hit or kill list.
Founded in late 2014, Myrotvorets’ blacklist has expanded to include the likes of former US Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Irish MEP Clare Daly, Journalist Glenn Greenwald, and comedian Jimmy Dore. But while media and a myriad of press freedom organizations reported and widely condemned Myrotvorets’ 2016 mass leaks of journalists’ personal info, which was followed by a slew of targeted online and in person harassment, and even violence against journalists and others on the list, few in the mainstream are speaking out about Myrotvorets in wartime, ignoring and even downplaying the list’s severity on a number of occasions. As I aim to demonstrate, the media’s hawkish bias appears to be the reason for its conspicuous silence.
Why Many Suspect Myrotvorets is a Kill List
While the mainstream media currently downplays assertions that Myrotvorets threatens or otherwise intimidates those on its list, a visit to its website means certain exposure to aggressive, threatening language. Gory photos of deceased and even decomposing persons, presumably Russian soldiers, are posted on the front page of the Myrotvorets website, and two of the front-page captions translate into English as “It is necessary to exterminate the occupants on Ukrainian soil like rabid cattle!” and “RUSSIANS AND OTHER ENEMIES SHOULD BE KILLED AND [NO ONE SHOULD] BE AFRAID TO DO SO!”
Troublingly, Myrotvorets has labeled deceased persons on the list, including the daughter of Russian Philosopher Alexander Dugin and Russian journalist Darya Dugina, and Italian journalist Andrea Rochelli, as “ЛИКВИДИРОВАН,” or “LIQUIDATED,” and the private information Myrotvorets has published about journalists has been followed by threats, harassment, and fatal shootings. Journalist Oles Buzina and legislator Oleh Kalashnikov, for example, were shot days after their personal information, including home addresses, were published on Myrotvorets in April 2015. Even former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had been critical of Zelensky, has been marked as “ЛИКВИДИРОВАН” on Myrotvorets since his recent passing.
While the choice to label deceased persons’ photos as “liquidated” alone does not prove Myrotvorets’ involvement in any individual’s death, the tactic at best intimidates others on the list, and at worst communicates that the website is taking credit for, or otherwise bragging about, the deaths: all possibilities are abhorrent.
Myrotvorets’ Suspected Ties With the Ukrainian Government, NATO, and the United States
While disturbing in its own right, Myrotvorets’ activities become more unsettling when one considers its likely ties with both the Ukrainian government and the West.
Ukrainian officials appear to be involved: there are suspicions, in fact, that Ukrainian official and former Ukrainian Member of Parliament Anton Gerashchenko founded or has managed Myrotvorets in some capacity. A 2019 Al Jazeera article, in fact, describes him as the founder, and he has publicly praised the list in the past. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, further, also seemingly approved of Myrotvorets’ 2016 journalist info leaks, writing on Facebook that “[a] friend sincerely fighting [apparently referring to Myrotvorets’ actions] is more important for me than opinions of liberals and latent separatists who think too much of themselves.”
Dr. David Miller investigated Myrotvorets’ Ukrainian and Western ties for MintPress News, finding that the website was previously hosted on NATO’s servers in Brussels. He reports that Myrotvorets is a project of InformNapalm, which claims to be a volunteer initiative to provide information to the public, but is actually a “special project” of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense according to a leaked 2015 government powerpoint. A US State Department report on Ukraine also explains that Myrotvorets “reportedly maintains close ties to the country’s security services.”
In lieu of a Ukraine-based address, moreover, Myrotvorets lists Warsaw, Poland and CIA metonym Langley, Virginia, as its locations on its front page. While the reasons for the Langley, Virginia location are unclear, the address listing forces speculations as to Myrotvorets’ potential US intelligence connections. As Miller concludes in his MintPress News report: “It seems likely a key reason why the Nazi kill list remains online is that it is protected by the regime, the U.S. government and NATO.”
Media Voices Take Myrotvorets’ 2016 Journalist Info Leaks Seriously
Before the current war in Ukraine, Myrotvorets was controversial amongst the mainstream media, especially due to its leaking of thousands of journalists’ private information in 2016, and the following mass harassment and even journalists’ deaths.
A multitude of press freedom organizations publicly responded to the 2016 leaks, with European Federation of Journalists President Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard saying, “We know that some journalists on the list already faced threats. We call on Ukrainian authorities to guarantee the safety of all journalists in Ukraine. They should not be harassed just for doing their job.”
Likewise, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Executive Director asked Ukraine’s then President, Petro Poroshenko, to condemn Myrtovorets’ activities in a press release, and “to clarify publicly that the Ukrainian Interior Ministry is dedicated to protecting journalists and apprehending the people responsible for threatening them, in contrast to Interior Minister Avokov’s previous statements” supporting Myrotvorets.
Myrotvorets’ 2016 leaks also garnered mainstream press coverage. Covering the list in a New York Times article, for example, reporter and Myrotvorets listee Andrew Kramer discusses the personal fears that come with being on such a list, even one holding little weight outside a Ukraine notorious for corruption:
When my name recently appeared on a “terrorist” list of journalists published by a website with close ties to the Ukrainian government, I viewed it with a mix of trepidation and sarcasm. Trepidation because it suggested powerful people in Ukraine, a democracy that aspires to the free flow of information, were going after me and others on the list for simply doing our jobs: reporting both sides of the war, including the pro-Russian rebel side. And sarcasm because, this being Ukraine, the list was not likely to have much credibility elsewhere.
Washington Post Reporter Andrew Rother further elucidated how Myrotvorets’ activities at the time directly jeopardized journalist lives:
Myrotvorets, which also publishes the names and addresses of pro-separatist fighters, has been accused of providing targets for violent reprisals. Two days before the pro-Russian journalist Oles Buzina was shot dead in Kiev last year, his name and home address were published on Myrotvorets. The leak prompted a sharp backlash. An open letter signed by 38 Ukrainian and international correspondents said that some of them had received threatening phone calls and e-mails.
Considering the Washington Post’s efforts to highlight controversies surrounding Myrotvorets in 2016, wartime Washington Post’s choice to simply describe Myrotvorets as an NGO assisting the war effort is a jarring one.
Ultimately, 2016 coverage of Myrtovorets’ activities demonstrates mainstream media and adjacent organizations’ awareness of the organization and the larger dangers it harbors towards journalism and free speech. If this awareness exists amongst the same groups today, it is being suppressed at a critical time.
Wartime Media Reporting and Fact Checking Downplay Myrotvorets’ Potential For Harm
Despite mainstream outrage over and condemnation of Myrotvorets in response to its 2016 information leaks, wartime conventional coverage of Myrotvorets is rare and, when it does occur, frequently glosses over the organization’s true origins and nature. The skimpy coverage of the alleged hit list persists despite the frequent addition of new names to Myrotvorets’ blacklist and the ongoing war in Ukraine, which requires critical news coverage and reporting.
A Fall 2022 Rolling Stone article aiming to smear Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, for example, briefly touches on Myrotvorets. After Waters explains that he’s on a “kill list,” Rolling Stone reporter James Ball downplays Waters’ concerns in his description of the list and the organization behind it:
Waters’ claim [about a kill list] isn’t true, but it isn’t completely false, either. There is a list maintained by a far-right Ukrainian organization that contains hundreds of thousands of enemies of Ukraine, from alleged members of the Wagner private military company to journalists accused of cooperating with puppet governments in the Donbas region. The site, which has been roundly internationally condemned — but not taken down by the Ukrainian government itself — claims not to be a kill list but rather “information for law enforcement authorities and special services.
In a 2022 fact check, Newsweek similarly calls Roger Waters’ assertion he is on kill list “misleading,” concluding the following:
Mirotvorets does not advocate violence against those on its database, and there is no conclusive evidence that it’s ever been used as a “kill list,” as Waters claims. Also, while the list has been used by Ukrainian authorities and agencies to keep track of those whom they suspect of undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty or promoting the Kremlin’s agenda, it has no known or official links to the Ukrainian government.
And a 2022 disinfowatch article, finally, attempts to debunk Myrotvorets’ potential as a kill list, claiming that the “kill list” framing is about undermining the organization’s, and Ukraine’s, credibility:
Publicly exposing the private details of individuals and groups on the list may indeed expose them to certain risks. However, the website is not connected to the Ukrainian government nor is it a “kill list.” the founder of the OSINT group, Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins himself recently criticized those who continue to misidentify Myrotvorets.
Notably, disinfowatch, which purports to be a “leading Canadian foreign disinformation monitoring and debunking platform,” partners with organizations including EU Eastern Stratcom/EUvsDisinfo, NATO StratCom Center Of Excellence, the United States Department of State Global Engagement Center and the US Embassy of Canada. In the quote, further, it cites intelligence proxy Bellingcat as an authority source despite increasing public skepticism surrounding the organization’s ties and reliability. At best, disinfowatch’s Western affiliations mean the website cannot purport to be neutral on issues surrounding international relations; at worst, its existence, in tandem with the existence of similar groups like EUvsDisinfo, perhaps suggests the development of a Western “anti-disinformation” infrastructure or network that actually works to smear dissenting viewpoints and perspectives.
Functioning as “limited hangouts,” the articles above ultimately leave out or minimize information central to claims alleging Myrotvorets is a hit list or otherwise intimidates journalists and others, such as the website’s threatening language, gory imaging choices, and the previous incidents whereby Myrotvorets’ published information was followed by cases of harassment or harm to those on the list. In fact, readers voice concerns about reporting quality in the comment section of Newsweek’s fact-check article on Myrotvorets, where one reader responds, “This is a travesty. Daria Dugina’s photo has ‘liquidated’ pasted over her face on the [Myrotvorets] website, which is … awash with graphic and violent images. What you call ‘fact-checking’ is fact-concealing.”
Critically, the articles above also incorrectly or disingenuously report on Myrotvorets, downplaying the websites’ threatening demeanor, language choices, and imagery. While the Newsweek and disinfowatch articles assert that Myrotvorets has no relationship with the Ukrainian government, further, information from several sources and publications, including MintPress News, Al Jazeera, and even the US Department of State, demonstrates a clear affiliation between the two, as I’ve previously highlighted. And to provide evidence that Myrotvorets is not a kill list, the articles all highlight Myrotvorets’ own claims that it is no such thing, as if the organizations’ claims about itself can be taken at face value.
Save for rare episodes such as the International Press Institute’s complaint that Serbian journalist Aljosa Milenkovic was listed on Myrotvorets, CPJ’s call to protect journalists after Ukrainian journalists Sevgil Musaieva and Sonia Lukashova were placed on the list, and UNICEF’s late 2022 demand that Myrotvorets remove the personal information of minors on its website, wartime complaints from press freedom and adjacent organizations about Myrotvorets remain rare and limited in scope, despite uproar regarding the 2016 Myrotvorets’ journalist info leak going mainstream. Today’s relative silence on Myrotvorets, despite the apparent hit list’s growth, means the organization goes unscrutinized at a critical period, making reporting or commenting on Ukrainian affairs without fear of retribution a difficult task.
Left Unchecked, Myrotvorets’ Activities Threaten Critical Journalism
Ultimately, the news reportage on Myrotvorets in 2016 and in wartime appear as night and day. Despite negative press surrounding Myrotvorets’ mass leaks of journalists’ personal information in years past, the mainstream media currently downplays growing concerns about Myrotvorets’ questionable ties and threatening disposition in wartime.
Portraying uncritical, indefinite support of Ukraine as the only solution to the conflict, the mainstream media’s pro-war bias has manifested inconsistent misreporting on modern Ukrainian affairs, including radio silence on Ukraine’s Nazi ties and largely Ukrainian-instigated violence killing over 14,000 people in the Donbass region before the war. When it comes to Myrotvorets, this pro-war bias appears once again to have hampered the media’s collective ability to tackle a critical story.
Unless the current status-quo changes and Myrotvorets is properly investigated by the press or other relevant investigative bodies internationally, the organization’s practices threaten critical journalism about the war in Ukraine and in general, scaring dissident voices into silence out of fear from intimidation and even harm.