Now that our friend and colleague Simon Ostrovsky is safe and sound, let’s take a look back at some of the great work that he’s done for VICE News.
Simon spoke with families of Ukrainian soldiers barricaded inside their base, who complained about the difficulty of getting food past the pro-Russia protesters outside. Russia's supporters explained why they want Crimea to separate from Ukraine, and Simon negotiated his way through a Russian checkpoint to interview an officer on the Slavutych, a Ukrainian battleship stuck in the harbor of Sevastopol.
Simon travelled to the Kherson region of mainland Ukraine to both the Ukrainian and Russian checkpoints. At the Ukrainian checkpoint, Simon went inside one of their tanks and spoke to the commander, who said that he would defend all invaders despite his Russian blood. At the Russian checkpoint, the exchange wasn't quite as cordial.
Some people might say that two weeks isn't enough time to prepare for referendum to separate from the country that you've been a part of for the last 70 years. But that's not what a reported 95.5 percent of Crimeans thought, according to the official vote count. Simon visited the polling stations in Simferopol, including predominantly Tatar areas, where the pro-Russia fervor was noticeably absent.
The day after Crimea's referendum, Simon tried to figure out what country he was in, and what — if anything — had changed.
On April 14, pro-Russia protesters stormed a police station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka. Simon was there as they seized the building. Inside, the demonstrators attacked a police officer accused of pushing someone off a ledge while the person was trying to display a Russian flag. Later that day, a video emerged on the internet showing a man purporting to be a Russian army colonel giving orders to troops in eastern Ukraine. The video was later debunked.
Before his work in Ukraine for VICE News, Simon worked on a number of documentaries, including a look at young Israelis squatting for the sake of their heritage, the cash bonanza at the Sochi Olympics, and an investigation into North Korean workers in Siberia.
Israeli settlers have been slowly nibbling away at Palestine's West Bank territory for four decades. Some 300,000 settlers now occupy outposts that range in size from plywood shacks to full-blown suburban housing complexes. Simon travelled from Tel Aviv to the remote West Bank outposts where young Israelis were squatting for the sake of their heritage. But first, Simon popped in for some quick counter-terrorism training with a member of Israel's Special Forces — just in case.
Israel is the world’s biggest exporter of military drones, used around the world for everything from surveillance to precision rocket attacks on speeding cars in remote locales. Israel’s drone program hasn't stirred as much controversy as its American counterpart, but not because their targeted killings are any less fatal. VICE sent Simon to a drone testing airfield in Israel to find out what their latest eye-in-the-sky can see.
The Olympics are as much about money as they are about sports. Between broadcasting rights, merchandising, sponsorships, and construction of the Olympic venues, there's a lot of money to be made. In the case of Russia's Winter Olympics in Sochi, there’s more money to be made than ever before, especially if you're a friend of Vladimir Putin.
In Sochi, a group of uniformed Cossacks attacked members of the protest group Pussy Riot with pepper spray and horse whips. Just moments earlier, Nadya Tolokonnikova, Masha Alyokhina, and a handful of other members headed out of a cafe toward the Sochi seaport, where they prepared to perform. As they were putting on their neon ski masks, about a dozen Cossacks descended on the group, thrashing them with whips, throwing them to the ground, and kicking them as police officers stood by. The police allowed the mini-pogrom to continue for about ten minutes.
North Korea has come up with a new way to bring cold hard cash into its isolated country: export North Korean workers to slave away in the Siberian forest (often without telling them they're no longer in North Korea). VICE set out to investigate these camps and almost landed in quite a bit of trouble.