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Separatists ‘demand Ukrainian channels go dark’

Leading Ukrainian cable operator Volia has reported pro-Russian separatists entered its premises and demanded that it suspend broadcasts of Ukrainian national channels 1+1 and Kanal 5.

The separatists are calling for Volia to resume transmissions of previously banned Russian channels, it is claimed. The incident is said to have taken place at Volia’s regional office in in the eastern city of Kramatorsk.

According to Volia, an individual claiming to represent the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic delivered a written demand that it cease transmissions of the two channels and resume broadcasts of Russian services that had previously been withdrawn on instructions from the Ukrainian National Council on Television and Radio.

The cable operator said it reached an agreement with the separatists that allowed it to continue broadcasting the two Ukrainian channels. 1+1 is well known internationally as a buyer of international formats, and has increasingly attempted to position itself as a programme exporter in recent years too.

Volia said that the situation in the region remained tense and that it has allowed all but essential staff to stay at home. The company said it would take all necessary steps to prevent violence against its employees.

According to other local reports, Volia employees agreed under duress to retransmit Russia’s Perviy Kanal/Channel One as part of a compromise deal.

The Kiev District Administrative Court suspended the licences of Russian channels NTV Mir, RTR Planeta and Perviy Kanal/Channel One in March and ordered distributors to remove them.

The Kramatorsk incident is the latest in a series of reported moves by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to force cable operators in the region to change their programming line-ups to reflect separatist political interests.

A week ago, a group of about 20 people reportedly entered the Kharkiv premises of Triolan, the country’s second largest operator, and made similar demands.

Smaller operators in the region have reportedly succumbed periodically to pressure to retransmit the banned Russian services. Service providers could theoretically face prosecution for carrying prohibited services.

The situation in Ukraine remains uncertain amid outbreaks of violence and political upheaval.