(New York, NY) — The politically-motivated arrest of Vladyslav Yesypenko, a Ukrainian journalist based in Crimea and a contributor to a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) affiliate, is an unacceptable attempt to silence a Crimean journalist, and Russian authorities should release him immediately, PEN America said today. PEN America is concerned that Yesypenko may have faced illegal, traumatizing methods of interrogation and condemns his arrest. 

Yesypenko was detained on March 10 in the Russian-occupied Crimea by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation. Yesypenko is a freelance journalist for the Krym.Realii Project, a Crimean radio access program that is part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian language service. To date, nearly 60 journalists affiliated with this project have faced pressure to either stop working for RFE/RL or leave Crimea altogether. 

Following his detention, Yesypenko was accused of illegally manufacturing firearms after an object resembling an explosive device was allegedly found in his car. On March 16, the FSB claimed that Yesypenko was also engaged in espionage and had been collecting information about Crimea for the Ukrainian security services. 

“The politically motivated nature of Yesypenko’s arrest is undeniable,” said Polina Sadovskaya, director of Eurasia Programs at PEN America. “Vladyslav Yesypenko, and many Crimea-based journalists like him, have been targeted and threatened for their attempt to sustain a free press in Crimea. They have been charged according to the Russian criminal code—the legal system of an illegitimate occupier. As Russia continues to aggressively and unabashedly punish those in opposition to the annexation of Crimea, the international community must mobilize in support of basic freedoms.” 

According to his colleagues at RFE/RL, Yesypenko’s lawyer has been unable to meet with him since his detention. Instead, court officials have given Yesypenko a new lawyer, Violetta Synieglazova, who has often been involved in cases against Ukrainian nationals. The court in Simferopol has already ruled to keep Yesypenko in custody until May 11, but this is subject to extension depending on future verdicts. Yesypenko’s arrest coincided with Russia-imposed celebrations of Crimean occupation, which marks its seventh anniversary this week. Schools, military programs, and pro-Kremlin community groups celebrated with patriotic events across the peninsula.   

Previously, PEN America condemned the arrest of Mykola Semena, a Ukrainian journalist who was arrested on “separatist” charges in Crimea and was released last year. PEN America was also instrumental in publicizing and advocating for the release of filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov, who was detained in Crimea in 2014 and spent more than five years in prison in Russia under terrorism charges before his release in September, 2019. In partnership with PEN America, Sentsov has since traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate for the release of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia and Russian-occupied territories.