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Ottawa Citizen’s Pugliese sets out to discredit Mriya Aid

Feb 8, 2023 | Editorials, Featured

Melanie Lake with Ukrainian servicewomen at the end of her tour as Task Force Commander for Operation Unifier under which members of the Canadian Armed Forces trained members of Ukraine's Armed Forces. The photo was taken at the Yavoriv International Peacekeeping and Security Centre in Starychi, Ukraine near Lviv. The centre was destroyed by Russian missiles on March 13, 2022.

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

We have commented about Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese and his continued regurgitation of Russian propaganda on many occasions in the past.

To mention just a few of his biased anti-Ukrainian pieces, he has written:

• That the reason for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine was NATO’s decision to expand into East European countries who had previously suffered under Russian occupation;
• That “Chrystia Freeland’s granddad was indeed a Nazi collaborator – so much for Russian disinformation”, as the headline to his March 8, 2017 story read;
• That the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) were “Nazis” and that its commander, Roman Shukhevych participated in the 1941 massacre of Jews in Lviv, despite documented evidence that he had warned his troops against taking part in what he termed a “German provocation”;
• That the Galicia Division were also “Nazis” and participated in war crimes, This, despite the fact they were cleared three times by British and Canadian authorities, most recently by the 1986 “Commission of Inquiry on War Crimes”, headed by Justice Jules Deschênes.

Pugliese’s ties with the Russian Embassy in Ottawa are very close as evidenced by his “exclusive” interview with Kirill Kalinin, the Russian press secretary who got booted out of Canada by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2020.

Pugliese is a master of distortion in that he manipulates the facts to include only those that fit his political agenda and selects his sources accordingly while completely ignoring those facts that run contrary to his narrative. A classic example of this was his September 16, 2019 story in the National Post headlined “Canadian officials honour Nazi collaborators in Ukraine, angering Jewish groups”. The story referred to the August 21, 2019 ceremony of sanctification of the future “Remember” Memorial Complex in Sambir, Lviv Oblast, to victims of World War II. The ceremony was held to seal the compromise achieved earlier to move three crosses from the territory of the Jewish cemetery and to erect a monument to 17 young Ukrainians, members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), who were shot by the Nazis in July 1944.

To back up his claim that this ceremony angered Jewish groups he quoted Eduard Dolinsky, director-general of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee — a marginal group, not representative of the Jewish community in Ukraine at large. Its president, Oleksandr Feldman was a member of parliament for the pro-Russian “Our Land” party, which was created as a refuge for former members of the Party of Regions, headed by former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia following the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.

What Pugliese chose to ignore was the fact that the event was organized by the Kyiv City Jewish Committee and the Toronto-based Ukrainian Jewish Encounter and was attended by the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Yaakov Dov Bleich as well as the Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Patriarch Sviatoslav, the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphanius.

What he also chose to ignore was that the mainstream organization of Jews in Ukraine, Vaad (Hebrew for council), the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, issued a statement in which they expressed “full confidence in and support of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, the Kyiv City Jewish Community and Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich in their efforts to memorialize Nazi victims and organize the mourning ceremony in Sambir.”

This is very similar to what he did in his latest piece “Ukrainians raise questions about Ottawa charity as allegations swirl around donations”, a rambling 4,000-word discourse designed to discredit Mriya Aid, a charitable organization created by members of the Canadian Armed Forces to provide non-lethal military equipment, medical equipment and humanitarian aid for Ukraine’s Armed Forces. The online article was posted by the Ottawa Citizen on January 31 and the print edition story appeared on the front page of the February 4 issue of the Citizen.

As his primary source of information Pugliese chose to use Walter Lech, a Ukrainian doctor from the United States despite repeated warnings from Mriya directors that he was an unreliable source. Mriya’s Chairperson, Col. Melanie Lake, describes Lech as a “misogynist” who “has deliberately and persistently slandered, harassed and attacked” professional women. Lake told this newspaper Pugliese “had no interest in checking the integrity of the source.” At the same time, he chose to ignore many of Mriya’s written answers to his questions that did not fit his agenda. It is quite clear to us that the intention of this article was to raise doubts about the integrity not only of Mriya Aid, but of agencies that provide financial support to Ukraine in general. For more on Mriya’s response please see our story “Mriya Aid devastated by Ottawa Citizen article” and Mriya’s official response (www.mriyaaid.org/about/formal-response).

In a letter emailed to the Citizen’s Digital Deputy Editor Nicole Feriancek, the day before the print edition appeared Lake requested “the opportunity to provide our side of the story in the form of a rebuttal. She pointed out that the Citizen set a precedent for this which was set when the Simon Wiesenthal Center was given the opportunity to respond to an article about the National Holocaust Moment by Professor Lubomyr Luciuk with a column.

In a reply sent late on February 8, Feriancek rejected Lake's request for a rebuttal stating: “With respect to Mr. Luciuk’s opinion piece and the rebuttal by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, this is a practice allowed on occasion but not commonly.” She suggested Lake send a letter to the editor. “Most letters published are under 200 words, but you are welcome to write a little bit longer,” Feriancek said.

While that may seem like a token gesture considering Pugliese's piece was 4,000 words and, it's still more than they have done in the past.

When the National Post printed Pugliese’s 2019 story about the Sambir ceremony, James Temerty, founder of the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter, the main organizer of the event sent in a letter clarifying what actually took place, they refused to print it. Similarly, after Pugliese tarred the Galicia Division with the “Nazi” label in 2020, the Ottawa Citizen shut the door on the Ukrainian community even though they had submissions from the National Office of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Professor Emeritus Myroslav Shkandrij who was actually working on a book about the Division.

The Ottawa Citizen has been approached many times by members of the Ukrainian community who have very clearly pointed out that Pugliese is an unethical journalist who very carefully selects only those facts that fit his pro-Russian agenda and makes absolutely no effort whatsoever to provide a balanced report, but has done nothing about this. If regurgitating Russian propaganda was disgraceful prior to February 24 of last year, it is even more so today when Ukraine is being subjected to a full-scale genocidal war.

Our community must continue to point out to the Citizen and its parent company Postmedia that publishing Pugliese’s blatant anti-Ukrainian propaganda is a gross violation of all ethical standards that constitute responsible journalism. As such, Postmedia has no right to call itself a reputable and responsible media corporation “delivering sound, trusted and high-quality journalism to Canadians”.

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