New proof of life of Ukrainian journalist who is Russian state hostage
Dmytro Khyliuk, a Ukrainian journalist abducted by Russian soldiers in March 2022, is still alive, according to the latest information obtained by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The Russian authorities deny holding him but RSF has proof of his enforced disappearance and transfer to a prison east of Moscow
A reporter for the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN who was arrested in the garden of his family’s home north of Kyiv less than two weeks after Russia launched its invasion, Khyliuk has been tracked down by RSF after several months of research,
According to RSF’s information, he was removed from Pre-trial Detention Centre No. 2 in Novozybkov, a small town in the far south-east of Russia, on around 13 May 2023 after being held without any legal basis for just over a year in this prison, as RSF had previously established from several unpublished accounts attesting to his detention.
He was transferred to one of the prisons in the Vladimir region, located a few hundred kilometers east of Moscow. In a message to his family in early June, he said: “I am OK. I love you. Tell UNIAN that I am in prison in Russia."
He was seen twice in his new prison at the end of May, according to sources RSF met last month in Ukraine who prefer to remain anonymous for security reasons. Their accounts are further evidence that this journalist is a captive in Russia even though the Russian authorities have so far denied holding him or opening any legal proceedings against him.
“By holding this Ukrainian journalist who has committed no crime, Russia continues to flout the Geneva Convention. The use of civilians as spoils of war to extract information or brainwash them is yet another of the long list of atrocities Russia has committed since the start of the war. Dmytro Khyliuk is now a state hostage. He should be released unconditionally.”
The Vladimir region has 14 detention centers. According to RSF’s information, Khyliuk is held in either Penal Colony No. 7 (IK-7) near Kovrov or No. 6 (IK-6) in Melekhovo. The latter is a very high security prison with an appalling reputation. It has been made famous in recent years by the presence of Alexei Navalny, one of Vladimir Putin’s leading political opponents. A source told RSF that he had learned from former Russian prisoners that Ukrainians were also imprisoned there.
The presence of Ukrainian detainees at IK-7 was confirmed to RSF by two soldiers who were imprisoned there and who were recently released. However, they could not confirm Khyliuk’s presence in this prison, which holds 1,200 detainees. They estimated that at least 300 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are being held there.
Conditions at IK-7 are probably not as bad as at IK-6, but one of the soldiers interviewed reported several cases of dog bites, electrocutions and food deprivation that can be so severe as to cause detainees to lose consciousness. An average of around 15 detainees are crammed into cells designed for eight. The Ukrainians have no contact with the Russian detainees and are moved to new cells about every two months. Their only occupations are imposed ones – reading propaganda books portraying Ukraine as a country run by Nazis, or singing Russian patriotic songs. The prison seems to be mainly run by civilians but one of the sources also reported the presence of soldiers. Most of the detainees are regarded as “witnesses,” which means that no official charges are brought against them and they have no access to a lawyer.
One of the soldiers interviewed by RSF also reported that the head of the prison had told them that their presence in Kovrov meant that they were “soon to be exchanged.” If the prisoner release process has worked for some of the detainees, including this Ukrainian army soldier, should this be seen as offering some hope for Khyliuk?
Negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow over the fate of detained civilians are “progressing very slowly,” according to one of the advisers to the Ukrainian ombudsman in charge of the case. In recent months, only 34 food parcels have been distributed to prisoners on both sides of the border. Progress is minimal, given that, according to an ICRC tally, 10,000 people are missing – suspected of being held by Russia. The Ukrainian authorities estimate that at least 25,000 Ukrainian civilians are held captive and, like Dmytro Khyliuk, some have been held for more than a year.