RSF requests proof of life for Ukrainian journalist who is Russian “state hostage”

With prison conditions in Russia in the news again after opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death in a penal colony, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voices concern about the fate of a Ukrainian journalist held in a completely illegal manner in Russia for the past two years. A recently released Ukrainian prisoner of war told RSF he saw the journalist in May 2023 but there has been no trace of him since then.

The journalist, Dmytro Khyliuk, had a long conversation with the newly released prisoner of war on 12 May 2023, when they and 12 other Ukrainian detainees were transferred in a prison truck from Novozybkov prison, near the Ukrainian border in Russia’s far southwest, to the IK-7 penal colony in Pakino, a village several hundred kilometres east of Moscow.

As the journey took more than 24 hours, RSF’s source, who we are identifying as Ihor, had plenty of time to talk with Khyliuk, who had been held in a cell near Ihor’s at Novozybkov prison.

Imprisonment seemed to have been “pretty rough on [Khyliuk] mentally but physically he looked fine,” Ihor said, confirming that Khyliuk had spent at least three months in solitary confinement, as RSF already revealed.

“He was mostly worried about his mom, who is sick,” Ihor said. In the course of their conversation, Khyliuk told Ihor that he had repeatedly requested permission to telephone his family or UNIAN, the Ukrainian news agency he worked for, but the Novozybkov prison authorities never let him make the call.

The two men were separated after arriving at the penal colony. A few months later, Ihor was transferred to a third prison in the Mordovia region, a few hundred kilometres to the south, and was finally released in January 2024 without ever seeing Khyliuk again. Was Khyliuk also transferred to Mordovia? So far, there is no evidence to support this.

“This witness’s account constitutes new confirmation that Dmytro Khyliuk is being held captive in Russia. Unfortunately, neither the Ukrainian authorities nor the International Committee of the Red Cross have had any news from him for many months. Last week’s news of the death in custody of the leader of the opposition to Vladimir Putin only reinforces our concern, and the concern of this journalist's loved ones. We ask the Russian authorities to release him or, at the very least, to provide proof of life.

Arnaud Froger
head of RSF’s investigation desk

Where is Khyliuk? What is he accused of? Officially, nothing, according to letters from the authorities received by various lawyers in Russia. Vladimir Putin's regime does not even acknowledge holding him in its jails despite the many accounts collected by RSF attesting to his detention without any legal basis. Khyliuk was captured by Russian soldiers outside his parents' home in a village north of Kyiv on 3 March 2022.

When RSF met Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets in Kyiv at the beginning of February, he said Khyliuk’s detention was one of the cases raised in the course of communications with the Russian authorities about the thousands of civilians who were captured and imprisoned in the weeks following the start of the war on 24 February 2022.

According to the Media Initiative for Human Rights (MIHR), a Ukrainian NGO that defends journalism, at least 4,000 Ukrainian civilians are involved. Their fate is now more uncertain than ever. With a few exceptions – only around ten cases in the past year – they are completely omitted from the prisoner of war exchange agreements, which have accelerated sharply in recent weeks.

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