On 20 March 2023, Ukraine’s military operational command group in Donetsk region, as well as the army’s operational command for the Southern section of the frontline (Kherson, Mykolaiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kirovograd and Vinnytsia regions) published the details of new regulations restricting journalists’ access nearly 200 settlements across the regions. The regulations were meant to implement changes to an earlier decree by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which changed the rules for accreditation of journalists. The changes, initially announced on 27 February, created three zones of accreditation: green zones, where accredited journalists can work freely without restrictions, yellow zones, where they are allowed to work only if accompanied by a designated military officer, and red zones, where journalists are not allowed to work under any conditions.

Within the Donetsk region, a total of 52 settlements were included in the “red zone”, including the frontline city of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian and international journalists had up till now frequently traveled for reporting work, as it remains the heaviest site of fighting with Russian forces. Another 90 settlements were added to the “yellow zone”, while the rest of the Donetsk region was classified as “green”.

In Southern Ukraine, a complete list of settlements banned to journalists was not provided by the regional military command group. Ukrainian army representatives specified some of the locations included in the “red zone”: this included Snake Island, areas on the border with Moldova, six villages and one town in Mykolaiv region, settlements bordering the Inhulets and Dnipro rivers, as well as all “critical and military infrastructure” across the region. As for the “yellow zone”, this included the entire city of Mykolaiv, the Northern part of Kherson city, 24 other specified settlements, as well unspecified towns and villages along the Danube river, the Black Sea and the estuary of the Dnister river.

Journalists who fail to comply with the restrictions enforced in the “red” and “yellow” zones risk losing their accreditation, military representatives said.

Participants of the Media Movement, a Ukrainian group of media workers and outlets, published a statement in which they claimed that the division of zones proposed by the Ukrainian military was “unacceptable”. The statement’s authors drew attention to the fact that journalists were previously able to work in many of the settlements now included in the “red zone”, and that some of the cities now located in the “yellow zone”, such as Mykolaiv, are no longer sites of active combat. Moreover, the Ukrainian military would lack the personnel necessary to accompany all the journalists planning on reporting from the “yellow zones”, members of the Media Movement said.

“We warn about the inadmissibility of overly strict restrictions on the work of journalists and call for the immediate normalization of access to reporting on combat activities and on their consequences”, wrote the authors of the statement.

UPDATE: On 22 March, Ukrainian army representatives said the list of settlements included in “red” and “yellow” zones would be reviewed at least once per week, and that military officials could allow journalists to enter “red zones” in certain situations, signaling a less restrictive approach than that initially communicated on 20 March.

UPDATE: On 3 February 2024, the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian army signed changes to the decree on frontline accreditation of journalists. According to media reports, the changes significantly liberalized media workers’ access to frontline zones. In particular, military authorities deleted a norm which allowed for access bans in case of “situations endangering the life or health” of journalists. In addition, media workers gained full access to those “yellow” zones which civilians have regular access to. As for “red” zones, these were reformed to allow for the work of journalists in them under certain conditions and with an appropriate military escort.

1 case
Europe: Ukraine
Restrictions on access to information: Travel restrictions / access bans