Is Ukraine offering journalists ‘gifts’ in return for complacent reporting?

“If your work correctly reflects Russia’s illegal actions, your prize amount will be increased as a token of our gratitude. Here, translated from English, is the most eloquent excerpt from the odd email received on Thursday by the editorial staff of several French media outlets, including 20 minutes. Email referring to the Visitukraine website. today, with a completely official look, which incorporates the logos of several Ukrainian ministries. Trying to bribe journalists? Evil actions of Russian hackers? However, his approach is somewhat worrying.

Last Thursday, some thirty French and Belgian journalists received a strange email the subject of which was “invitation” and the sender was “”. Written in English, the text of the email begins as follows: “We are Visitukraine. today and we offer you to participate in a guided tour through the liberated cities of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions. The sender then assured interested journalists that they could interview residents affected by the “Russian aggressor” and that they could “document the devastation caused by the army” of Vladimir Putin.

A “generous gift”

So far, nothing out of the ordinary. The worst thing happened next: in exchange for an article reflecting “illegal acts of Russia”, the sender promised a “generous reward”. And if the article is written “in the right way”, “the amount [la] the reward will be increased as a token of gratitude. An astounding approach, especially because of the site the email refers to, Visitukraine. today, is the official platform. This is an information portal for tourists who want to go to Ukraine where all the useful information is listed as specified by our Ukrainian colleagues from Odessa Diary.

The web portal, which went online in 2018 to promote tourism in Ukraine, was launched with the support of several local official agencies, including the National Tourism Development Agency or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Visit Ukraine. today it took on another dimension after the outbreak of war, notably by offering paid escorts to foreign journalists, diplomats or official delegations wishing to travel to cities liberated from Russian occupation. Foreign governments, such as the Netherlands, or Ukrainian embassies in China or the United States also refer to this site.

Cyber ​​attack or disinformation campaign?

Therefore, Visitukraine seems unlikely. today is behind this dubious proposition. Contacted, the site administrator confirmed 20 minutes that the email address used is not from them. To get to the bottom, 20 minutes enlisted the help of Sandoz, a computer expert who is widely followed on social networks for his video in which he puts scammers in the throes: “One thing is certain, the two domains ”” and ”” are entirely different. not on the same server/location.The email domain simply doesn’t exist,” he said.

Therefore, two options are possible. “Some cyberattacks are started with emails of this kind. Once the conversation started, we would click on links, even download stuff, and find ourselves hacked at best and at worst with ransomware,” explained Sandoz. Except that we never got a response from the intended email sender. The other option is perhaps more worrisome, akin to political action.

What would public opinion image of Ukraine if institutions offered to pay foreign journalists in exchange for complacent articles? Some kind of information war who 20 minutes and other international press titles have paid the price. Indeed, as of mid-2022, a nearly perfect copy of the site 20 minutes has been uploaded by a Russian disinformation network to spread pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian propaganda.

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