Simon Ostrovsky

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Simon Ostrovsky
Симо́н Остро́вский
Simon Ostrovsky.jpg
Ostrovsky in Kyiv, October 2016
Born (1981-02-02) February 2, 1981 (age 42)
  • Journalist
  • producer
EmployerPBS NewsHour

Simon Ostrovsky (Russian: Симо́н Остро́вский; born (1981-02-02)February 2, 1981) is an American documentary filmmaker and journalist. Best-known for his coverage of the Russo-Ukrainian War for VICE News, he reported extensively on events that unfolded in Ukraine in 2014, as the country's rising political tensions with Russia culminated in the Russian annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of the war in Donbas. In April 2014, Ostrovsky was kidnapped by pro-Russia separatists after they identified him as a person of interest at a checkpoint in the Ukrainian city of Sloviansk; he was held hostage and tortured for three days before being released as separatist forces retreated in the face of a Ukrainian military counteroffensive around the city. Later, in 2015, he filmed Selfie Soldiers, a documentary in which he followed the social media presence of a Russian soldier who had been deployed to Donbas, Ukraine, at a time when Russia denied having any military presence in the country's mainland.[1] He won an Emmy Award in 2013 for his work with VICE Media, and his series Russian Roulette was nominated for two Emmys. Ostrovsky, who is currently a special correspondent for PBS NewsHour,[2] is also a recipient of the Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award.[3]


Ostrovsky started his career in documentary filmmaking in 2007 after spending six years as a print reporter in Russia, where he covered Russia for The Moscow Times and then Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan for the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

In 2007, Ostrovsky produced an exclusive report for BBC Newsnight investigating government-sponsored child labor in the cotton industry of Uzbekistan,[4] which a US embassy cable published by Wikileaks credited with reigniting the global campaign against Uzbek cotton.[5] Ostrovsky traced the supply chains of multinational garment retailers like Topshop, Walmart and H&M to Uzbekistan, leading many Western cotton buyers to eventually boycott the country.[6]

In 2009, Ostrovsky exposed the use of North Koreans in work camps in Russia for BBC Newsnight, and linked their operations to the Russian Timber Group, a company owned and operated by the wealthy British Hambro family, which was paying the North Korean regime to use its workers in Russia.[7]

He revisited those camps with VICE Media founder Shane Smith in 2011,[8] and co-produced a separate report for VICE's documentary news series on HBO about the escape of defectors from North Korea in 2013.[9]

Ostrovsky has reported extensively on the North Korean practice of sending workers abroad. In a report for the UK's Independent newspaper he described how a "North Korean labour force tens-of-thousands strong, put in place across Asia," helped finance the regime in Pyongyang through contracts with Western firms.[10]

In 2013, VICE Media hired Ostrovsky as a producer for the second season of VICE on HBO, where he helped the program earn an Emmy as an "Outstanding Informational Series."[11]

In early 2014, he helped launch the company's new current affairs division, VICE News, with his investigation into allegations of corruption at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi[12] and coverage of the 2014 crisis in Ukraine. His series of unvarnished video dispatches from Ukraine titled "Russian Roulette"[13] won VICE News widespread acclaim and recognition as a burgeoning player on the media landscape.[14] The series was nominated for two Emmys,[15] won two Webby Awards in 2015,[16] the AIB Media Excellence Awards and the Lovie Awards.

In 2017 CNN hired Ostrovsky to its expanded investigations unit which also includes veteran investigative journalist Carl Bernstein.[17]

In 2018, Ostrovsky joined media start-up Coda Media as Investigations Editor and began contributing to PBS Newshour.[18][19]

2014 kidnapping by pro-Russia militants in Ukraine[edit]

On April 21, 2014, while producing "Russian Roulette," a series of reports for Vice News in eastern Ukraine, Ostrovsky's vehicle was stopped at a separatist checkpoint in the city of Sloviansk. One of the rebels identified Ostrovsky as a person of interest through a printed image, before taking him captive under the militia of the separatist pro-Russian leader, Vyacheslav Ponomarev,[20] who later said he was holding Ostrovsky for a potential trade. "We need prisoners. We need a bargaining chip," Ponomarev was quoted as telling The Moscow Times.[21]

Ostrovsky was imprisoned for three days, during which he was held in a basement, beaten and interrogated. Ostrovsky described the ordeal as "the worst three days of my life" in an account he authored for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper.[22]

In the article, Ostrovsky wrote: "A hat was pulled over my head and taped over my eyes. My arms were pulled tightly behind my back and taped together too. I was led down a set of stairs and thrown into an empty, damp room … I was punched and kicked in the ribs and fell over to the ground."

Immediately prior to his detention, Ostrovsky had been investigating Russian citizens' involvement in the pro-Russia armed groups of eastern Ukraine, something separatist forces were trying to hide at that early stage of the conflict, according to a video deposition he made for VICE News following his release. He had also attended several press conferences of Ponomarev where the rebel leader had threatened journalists.[23]

By April 24, Ostrovsky's detention had garnered considerable global media attention.[24] The security situation around Sloviansk had begun to deteriorate, as Ukrainian forces reached the outskirts of the city and began engaging separatist units with armoured vehicles. By approximately 6:00 PM, Ostrovsky was released by his captors. Approximately "five minutes" after his release, he ran into a Canadian media crew, who helped him flee the city after conducting a quick interview. Later that day however, Ponomarev falsely or unknowingly told media that Ostrovsky was still being held.[citation needed]

Selfie Soldiers (2015)[edit]

Selfie Soldiers: Russia Checks in to Ukraine is a 2015 video investigation into the Russian military's presence in Ukraine, reported and produced by Ostrovsky.[1] The documentary follows the steps of a careless Russian army soldier as he travels from Russia to the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, using selfies and other photographs the soldier has himself posted online. Selfie Soldiers departs from other such investigations into soldiers' social media posts when Ostrovsky re-enacts the photos himself to establish clearly that he has personally visited the locations where they were taken inside Ukraine and Russia. The film was awarded the prestigious Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award for its "innovative reporting"[25] and an American Society of Magazine Editors Award for "outstanding use of video"[26] in 2016.



DuPont Columbia University Award for Journalism; Overseas Press Club's David Kaplan Award - Citation


DuPont Columbia University Award for Journalism; ASME award (Ellie) - Video Award; Livingston Award - Finalist; Cine Golden Eagle finalist - Nonfiction content / Short – Documentary; Webby Honoree - Online Film & Video, News & Politics


Emmy nomination - Outstanding Video Journalism; Emmy nomination - Outstanding Coverage of a Breaking News Story; Webby Award - News & Politics: Series; Webby Award - News & Politics: Individual episode; AIB Award - Short News Report, Lovie Award - Best Web Personality/Host; Livingston Award - Finalist


IDA Documentary Awards – nomination


Emmy - Outstanding Informational Series


Banff World Television Awards - Nomination; One World Media Award - Nomination

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Selfie Soldiers: Russia Checks in to Ukraine - VICE News". VICE News. Archived from the original on September 15, 2018. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  2. ^ {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ "Simon Ostrovsky - Awards". Simon Ostrovsky. Archived from the original on November 25, 2020. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  4. ^ "BBC NEWS - Programmes - Newsnight - Child labour and the High Street". Archived from the original on June 20, 2017. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  5. ^ "Cable Viewer". Archived from the original on May 22, 2015. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  6. ^ Neena Rai And Grigori Gerenstein (October 19, 2011). "Western Buyers Boycott Uzbekistan's Cotton". WSJ. Archived from the original on October 5, 2019. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  7. ^ "N Koreans labouring in Russia's timber camps". BBC UK. August 26, 2009. Archived from the original on November 12, 2020. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  8. ^ "North Korean Labor Camps - VICE - United States". VICE. Archived from the original on December 2, 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  9. ^ Vice on HBO documentary on North Korean defectors,, retrieved April 23, 2014 Archived November 13, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Profit from its people: North Korea's export shame". The Independent. October 14, 2011. Archived from the original on June 7, 2017. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  11. ^ "Vice". Television Academy. Archived from the original on October 29, 2014. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  12. ^ "Why the Sochi Olympics are the Most Expensive in History". VICE News. Archived from the original on September 8, 2015. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  13. ^ "Russian Roulette". Vice. Archived from the original on January 14, 2022. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  14. ^ "Vice News Quickly Makes Mark With Ukraine Dispatches". The Huffington Post. March 13, 2014. Archived from the original on March 1, 2019. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  15. ^ "VICE News Nominated for Four Emmy Awards - VICE News". Archived from the original on December 10, 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  16. ^ "Russian Roulette". Archived from the original on June 2, 2019. Retrieved June 29, 2015.
  17. ^ "Simon Ostrovsky Moves to CNN - Cision". February 9, 2017. Archived from the original on October 26, 2019. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  18. ^ Story, Coda (January 29, 2018). "Simon Ostrovsky Joins Coda Story as Investigations Editor". Archived from the original on February 3, 2018. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  19. ^ "Fearing U.S. rejection, asylum seekers flee to Canada". PBS NewsHour. January 27, 2018. Archived from the original on November 29, 2020. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  20. ^ Ries, Brian (April 22, 2014). "Vice Journalist Captured in Eastern Ukraine". Mashable. New York City, New York: Mashable, Inc. Archived from the original on April 22, 2014. Retrieved April 22, 2014.
  21. ^ "Kidnapped U.S. Journalist Is 'Bargaining Chip' in Ukraine | News". Archived from the original on April 28, 2014. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
  22. ^ "How a VICE reporter spent three days as a captive of pro-Russian rebels". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on November 12, 2020. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
  23. ^ "Simon Ostrovsky on His Kidnapping, Detainment, and Release | VICE News". Archived from the original on June 21, 2018. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
  24. ^ "Simon Ostrovsky Has Been Released". Vice News. April 25, 2014. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved April 28, 2014.
  25. ^ "The Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards - School of Journalism". Archived from the original on February 8, 2021. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  26. ^ "ELLIE AWARDS 2016 WINNERS ANNOUNCED - ASME". Archived from the original on November 15, 2016. Retrieved March 23, 2018.

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