On Sunday 26 April, London-based Museum of Stepan Bandera organised guided tours focused on the history of national liberation struggle in Ukraine and the life of the controversial leader. However, there was an unexpected visitor: Graham Phillips, the notorious pro-Russian video journalist.
The museum which was opened in 1962 has a collection of Bandera’s personal belongings, but is not only focused on this historical figure. There is a wide selection of various print materials from the Archive of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), books, brochures, leaflets, newspapers and magazines. There is also a collection of drawings and other handcrafted items produced by Ukrainian prisoners in German and Soviet concentration camps. One of the most interesting items which embodies memory and historical continuities in an interactive way is a guestbook which is over half a century old: the first comment in it was made when the museum was opened, and visitors have been writing in it ever since.
Stepan Bandera was certainly a controversial historical personality, as well as the whole history of the OUN. This legacy remains divisive for the Ukrainian society and has not been entirely constructive for relations with other countries, primarily Poland. Moreover, Russia-Ukraine war has provided fertile ground for Russia’s manipulative juggling of the history of Ukrainian independence struggle, as part of its ‘weaponization of information’ strategy. It was not surprising, then, that Graham Phillips, perhaps one of the most infamous pro-Kremlin media journalists, turned up with a camera and attempted to break into the premises.
Phillips who has spent most of the time last year in Eastern Ukraine, produces propaganda videos for Russian media including RT and Zvezda channel. He has a long track record of crossing the line between journalism and propaganda, spreading disinformation, and disregarding journalist ethics. According to the tour organisers and to a video filmed by Phillips and his operator, he tried to get inside the museum, continuously repeating like a mantra something about ’Nazi collaborator museum’.
‘We asked him if he had registered for the event. Instead of replying, he suddenly started yelling that we were Nazis and fascists. When asked for a journalist ID, he showed something like a driving licenсe’, says one of the witnesses. ‘He was very professional, in his own way, of course,’ says the other, ‘he did not let us say a word, but rather was going on and on with his monologue about Nazi collaboration and celebration of WWII criminals, primarily for the camera’. In Phillips’s video, one can see, indeed, how he constantly turns to the camera and pushes the same line, turning the situation into a one-man show, instead of recording an actual interaction.
Eventually, the museum called the police, and it was only a matter of a couple of minutes until Phillips, still squealing about fascists, was escorted off the premises. ‘I don’t get him’, tells one of the visitors. ‘He could have registered, maybe even under a fake name, but he could have come legitimately. He could have looked at the items on display quietly and listened to the lecture, instead of breaking in and being kicked out with a scandal by the police. He could have gone to the British Library and studied the materials on OUN and Bandera if he’s so interested, instead of making a fuss’. For that matter, the methods used by Phillips and the likes are not the methods of investigative journalists or researchers, and instead of producing a valid critical analysis he deliberately generates unsubstantiated, biased and unethical statements.
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