Last week, several publications published materials on how the Kurakhove City Military Administration purchased iPhones. In a few days, the head of the CMA referred to the authors of the texts as the “armchair warriors” and reported that the gadgets would be awarded and prove useful for the reconnaissance. We would like to explain what journalists lacked to protect themselves from such remarks, and why such cases became more important in times of the full-scale war.


We are talking about two procurement transactions of the Kurakhove City Military Administration of Pokrovskyi District in Donetsk Oblast, conducted in September and October. The total amount is UAH 970,500 for 20 such gadgets. One of them provides for the delivery of 5 iPhones 13 with 128 GB of memory, the other — 15 iPhones 13 with 256 GB of memory. No contracts have been published or specified by the procuring entities other than price, brand, model, and memory.

Thus, according to journalists, it turned out that each iPhone 13 with 128 GB of memory cost the Kurakhove budget UAH 42,000, and that with 256 GB of memory — UAH 50,700. According to Spending, both orders are already fully paid.

The first model was purchased from the Kyiv LLC “Gloria Techno-Group,” which since 2020, has been supplying budget organizations with computer equipment, the second — from the individual entrepreneur Nataliia Riabets, registered in Kyiv, who until the autumn of 2022 had supplied only food. In addition to iPhones, the Kurakhove administration ordered a diesel generator from her for UAH 1.5 million.

From December 9 to December 12, one or both of them were mentioned in a dozen publications and news sites. One of the first was the “Bykvu” information agency, which described the procurement of fifteen iPhones with more memory and focused on the fact that the city was being shelled. The next day, on December 10, “Nashi Groshi” published a material about both procurement transactions and compared them with procurement of smartphones in other regions.

User of Prozorro Denys Fateyev contacted the State Audit Service regarding one of the transactions — the more expensive one. He noted that it was probably overpriced by 30%.

Only on the evening of December 11, the head of the Kurakhove City Military Administration, Roman Padun, posted on his Facebook page, explaining that the iPhones had been purchased to reward the servicemen and will be needed for aerial reconnaissance (when used with drones). Apple products were chosen because such was the request of the military command. In addition, he accused the authors and distributors of the news of treacherous behavior.

What’s wrong with iPhone investigations?

All materials published before the evening of December 11 do not contain the procuring entity’s comments on the purpose of the procurement and an explanation of why Kurakhove chose these models. Probably, it was motivated by the time of publication — Friday evening and Saturday. Usually at this time, the official working day of officials and their press services ends, and they stop communicating.

Almost every journalist in practice faced a choice: to publish material on the weekend without a commentary, or wait until Monday and hope to be given a commentary. The second option was chosen, in particular, by “Suspilne” and local television “Kapri.” But what about the first scenario?

The Commission on Journalistic Ethics is based on the Ethics Code of Ukrainian Journalists, adopted in 2004 and approved with amendments in 2013. In particular, its 6th paragraph provides that respect for the right of the public to full and objective information about facts and events is the first duty of a journalist. In our case, however, every material without Roman Padun’s commentary is incomplete.

At the same time, the Code does not contain direct obligations to publish commentaries in the same material where there is criticism or a hint of it. So, the commentary can be published as a separate material or added to an existing one with an update note. The main thing is to convey this information to readers. At least, that was the case before the great war.

After Russia’s full-scale invasion, such criticism should be approached with double attention. After all, the enemy often uses our own materials in the PSYOP (information and psychological operation). The most striking example is the criticism of the former Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova, who allegedly spread fakes about the crimes of the Russian military, which Russian politicians used in international arenas.

An active part of the community and most journalists agree that anti-corruption in war is no less important than in peacetime. However, considering previous experience, such critical materials require greater efforts and checks because they can be used by the enemy.

For example, over the past 10 months, I have had several materials on procurement that I simply did not release due to lack of a commentary or at least postponed the publication of investigations until I used all the opportunities to obtain explanations.

One of them is a text about tactical sneakers for the military, which was purchased by the Poltava Regional Council. The publication of the material was postponed for two or three days — until the head of the regional council provided a commentary. In addition, the investigation contains an update with a comment from the manufacturer, who decided to comment on the procurement after publication. Readers were informed about the update with additional messages on the social networks of the publication.

Another example is a similar procurement transaction in Poltava, but of winter uniform. We were unable to receive a detailed commentary from the procuring entity and the regional council, which allocated funds from the budget late. Therefore, I warned the press service that the material would still be published and, if desired, a commentary could be added in the update or as a separate material. In both cases, to protect the military, the texts do not specify the exact number of kits and a detailed description of the characteristics of shoes and clothing.

Another case is the material on housing modules for the military. Having received no comment, I refused to publish it in the form of an investigation, although I already had some findings.

What could and should have been done?

In the case of iPhones, judging by the page of the head of the Kurakhove CMA Roman Padun, he could have provided an explanation at least on social networks. If this is not the case, then no material contains information that the publications tried to get a commentary, and they failed to do so. In my opinion, firstly, the reader is entitled to know about your efforts. And secondly, in this way, the journalist will be protected from the relevant questions in the comments. But it’s not 100% 😉

The second point is price comparison. Only one publication gave examples of market prices for iPhones purchased in Kurakhove. This is “Stopcor,” which published the investigation on December 12, but did not add a commentary.

According to Artem Nekrasov from Stopcor, in September 2022, the average price for an iPhone 13 with 128 GB in large Ukrainian techno stores was UAH 35,000-36,000. He assumed that Kurakhove overpaid from UAH 6,000 to 7,000 for each device. And in October 2022, iPhone 13 for 256 GB cost UAH 40,000-41,000. That is, we are talking about a probable overpayment of UAH 10,000 for each smartphone.

The rest of the publications only provided procurement prices and thereby enabled the reader as if to personally draw a conclusion about the overpayment. But journalists did not have any details of the contracts: whether the cost includes, for example, delivery, whether this price is fixed for a certain period, and so on.

At the same time, it is necessary to mention that in his response, Roman Padun did not provide explanations for the formation of the price of the procurement transaction, conducted without a tender — under a direct contract. Instead, he emphasized the emotional component — that is, “iPhones are intended for the military, and nothing’s too good for our defenders. And in general, this is nothing compared to the cost of the destruction.”

That, of course, is true. But at the same time, Padun noted that the funds for these iPhones were collected from taxes from the salaries of the servicemen themselves. You’ll agree that overpayment on each such gadget is inappropriate for both the servicemen and in any other area.

Recommended algorithm of actions before publication of investigations in wartime

In order for the investigative journalist to protect themselves and readers from disinformation and the material being used against the country, I advise you to follow this scheme:

  1. Do you have information that could expose corruption? Check sources and data in more ways than usual (for example, engage an area expert in the price check).
  2. Add a commentary from the expert to the material, indicate the name and position if they agree to the publication. If not, and it is inexpedient to publish the investigation without such a commentary, then it is better to postpone the publication until you come up with a way to improve it.
  3. If the expert does not agree to the publication of their name, but you trust them and your publication allows the distribution of materials without specifying a person, add their anonymous commentaryAttention: use it only if absolutely necessary because you, as the author, and your office will be solely responsible for spreading false information.
  4. Please note that the supplier, not the procuring entity, can sometimes provide a commentary on the procurement. So, try to get in touch with them too.
  5. If you feel you have done your best but have not received a commentaryplease, indicate it in the material and add that you are open to commentaries from the other party.
  6. Consider again before posting: will your investigation do more good than harm?
  7. If yes, do publish it. If the answer is no, postpone the publication until you figure out how to improve it.