Ukraine’s intelligence service asked a respected Danish journalist to prove she was not a pro-Russia propagandist by making pro-Ukraine propaganda.
Denmark’s leading chronicler of the war in Ukraine, Matilde Kimer, who has reported for Danish television from the front lines of the conflict since the Russian aggression began in 2014, revealed last week that Ukraine’s intelligence service had canceled her work permit and would only return it if she agreed to let the spy agency direct her reporting.
According to Kimer, an award-winning Moscow correspondent for Denmark’s public service broadcaster, DR, the proposal was presented to her by an officer from the Security Service of Ukraine, the intelligence agency known as the SBU, during a meeting this month in Kyiv that was also attended by two diplomats from the Danish Embassy.
The diplomats had brokered the meeting as part of an effort to help Kimer find out why Ukraine had suddenly canceled her accreditation in August, shortly after she made a reporting trip to the front lines around Mykolaiv, a strategically important Black Sea port where a Ukrainian counteroffensive had been playing out.
An interpreter who worked with Kimer in Mykolaiv told the Ukrainian news site Zaborona that after a misunderstanding at a checkpoint near the front line, which led to them being briefly detained for traveling without a military press officer, local officials had scoured the Danish journalist’s social media accounts.
Since Kimer had been based in Moscow for over a decade, her Instagram and Facebook pages are filled with images and video clips that show her reporting on everything from official addresses by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the 2018 World Cup in Russia to daily life in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, including Donetsk and Crimea. That, apparently, was enough for some Ukrainian soldiers to suspect that Kimer might be a Russian sympathizer.
Still, Kimer was eventually assured by a senior military press officer that she was free to continue reporting and returned to Mykolaiv, where she filed two short dispatches from the front line.
On August 1, she traveled back to Moscow but was denied entry at the airport by Russian authorities, who informed her that she would be deported — in apparent retaliation for her reporting on the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine — and told her not to even try to enter Russia again for the next 10 years.
Three weeks later, Kimer received an email from the Ukrainian military that her press credential allowing her to work there had been canceled, without explanation, at “the request of the Security Service of Ukraine.”
Kimer, who had reported on the Russian aggression in Ukraine from its first days, and continued to bring Danish television viewers visceral scenes from the front lines year after year, spent the next three months trying to get an explanation for why she was suddenly barred from reporting.
Eventually, her boss, Niels Kvale, the foreign editor of DR, enlisted help from Denmark’s foreign ministry, and Kimer was invited to the SBU headquarters in Kyiv.
Before the meeting, Kimer said in a Facebook post on Saturday, she had heard from three sources that “the security service considers me pro-Russian — and perhaps even a Russian agent.”
At the meeting, Kvale told me by phone from Copenhagen, “lots of different accusations were made against Matilde — a lot of talk of random photos from her social media profile, Facebook, primarily, photos that were taken by a photojournalist, her colleague, who went with her to Donetsk back in 2017.”
According to Kimer’s own account on Facebook, an intelligence officer named Oleg told her that photographs she posted on the social network from a May 9 Victory Day parade in occupied Donetsk was suspicious because it showed people and vehicles adorned in what the Ukrainians consider “illegal Soviet propaganda,” in the form of the orange and black Saint George ribbons that the Russians use to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, which have transformed into a show of support for Russian troops in Ukraine today. He also said that the fact that Kimer had been allowed to report from occupied Donetsk more than once suggested that her reporting must not have angered the separatist officials, which was also suspicious.
The intelligence officer apparently also believed Kimer’s deportation from Russia in August was part of a covert Russian plan, to give her a cover story that would allow her to continue promoting “Russian narratives” about the war.
Kvale told me that when Kimer and the Danish diplomats asked how she could convince the intelligence service that she was not a Russian propagandist, the official suggested that Kimer would have to agree to produce a series of “good stories” about the war, based entirely on video and photographs provided to her by the SBU, and post them on her Facebook page to prove that she was not pro-Russian. “She was quite shocked about the suggestion,” Kvale told me. “I mean, for us of course, it’s outrageous to even — we would never do a thing like this.”
When Kimer told the intelligence officer that she couldn’t base her reports on someone else’s material and needed to meet with her sources in person, the meeting ended abruptly.
“That was the understanding she came out of the meeting with,” Kvale told me, “that if she showed that she was not a Russian propagandist — that she could use this material for it — then they might reconsider whether she could be accredited.”
That left Kimer in the awkward position of feeling compelled to report that the Ukrainian intelligence service had tried to coerce her into joining its propaganda effort even if that might make it impossible for her to ever get her accreditation back.
“One of the reasons that we decided to tell this story is that we feel that this is an attack on our independence and the freedom of the press,” Kvale told me. “We didn’t really feel like we had any choice but to say publicly that this situation arose and this happened at this meeting.”
Ukraine’s intelligence service and the office of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have not replied to requests for comment since Kimer went public last week, and described the effort to coerce her into working as a propagandist to outraged Danish journalists.
“she has been offered one solution. She says that the security service will reassess her case if she agrees to write what they call "good stories" about ??. She has to use the material that the security service provides.— Henrik Moltke (@moltke) December 19, 2022
@matildekimer has refused that.”https://t.co/ulAnoayQNA
Kimer, who has produced more than 230 television and radio reports on the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year alone, is also the author of a book, “The War Inside,” based on her reporting from Ukraine, starting with the protest movement in Kyiv’s main square that toppled the country’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in 2014 and the first years of fierce, covert war in eastern Ukraine directed by Putin.
Last month, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark presented Kimer with the prestigious Ebbe Munck Prize.
Kimer is also a finalist for the 2022 Cavling Prize, Danish journalism’s equivalent of a Pulitzer, for her coverage of the Russian war on Ukraine. The nomination cites, in particular, a 24-minute documentary she produced in the city of Kharkiv in April about a young Ukrainian woman who was coordinating emergency relief for civilians, while simultaneously organizing her own wedding despite the Russian bombardment.