This wasn’t your average run to the border.
A CBC News crew working in Crimea was told not to record or film, and then told to get out of the area during reporting work on Monday.
CBC journalists Susan Ormiston, Tracy Seeley, Ousama Farag and I wanted to take a look at one of the checkpoints recently established by Russian troops in northern Crimea. We set out early this morning from the regional capital, Simferopol.
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As soon as we passed a sign for the border with the Ukrainian mainland, our driver started to get nervous. He slowed down as we moved forward. Out of the left side of our vehicle, we saw soldiers in green camouflage manning positions dug into the ground. Several military transport trucks were parked closer to the checkpoint.
We moved back somewhat, where we took photographs and shot video. But soon, a black car rolled up to our position. A man who called himself Victor said he was the local commander of the pro-Russian defence forces. He shook our hands as we asked for permission to record in the area. He told us he’d come back with an answer. He did not. But a few minutes later, two different men wearing dark coats returned. The conversation was short: “get out of here and do it now.”
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We did. Our crew returned to the city of Dzhankoi, about 40 kilometres away. We interviewed several people there, including the owner of a pizzeria who invited us back to his shop for lunch. After a few slices, we noticed two guys who just sat down for coffee. They kept eyeing us, while making phone calls.
We suspected they were with the pro-Russian militia in town. When we loaded back into our van, two BMWs were following us. One broke off pursuit inside the city, while the other tailed us for several kilometres down the highway toward Simferopol.
It’s clear the Russians and their supporters in Crimea don’t like journalists — especially those from abroad. There’s a feeling here that the international media coverage has been one-sided, so foreign journalists have been branded spies and provocateurs.