(NEW YORK)–PEN America is deeply concerned about the imprisonment of Maksym Butkevych, a human rights activist and journalist, who is being held by Russian forces as a prisoner-of-war. False information contained in coverage of his capture and imprisonment reflects a Russian disinformation campaign attempting to undermine Butkevych and his work, PEN America stated. 

Maksym Butkevych was captured in June while serving with the Ukrainian army in the Luhansk region, a part of eastern Ukraine embroiled in conflict with Russia since 2014. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Butkevych had no combat experience and had openly expressed his opposition to militarism.

Russian propagandists have taken advantage of Butkevych’s capture to undermine his work. Propagandists have claimed that Butkevych is actually a fascist with strongly-held Nazi sympathies, as well as a punitive squad commander masquerading as an activist.  Butkevych’s father believes there is a risk that these campaigns are being used to separate Butkevych from other prisoners-of-war and to incriminate and torture him. Butkevych’s mother, Yevheniya, reported to openDemocracy that she had not heard from her son since his capture. Friends and relatives of Butkevych are deeply concerned for his safety and the impact of  the propaganda campaign against him.

“The sudden onslaught of propaganda against Butkevych is full of lies, and his service in the field of human rights is not a ‘cover’ for anything. ” said Polina Sadovskaya, Director of Eurasia Programs at PEN America. “We call on the international community to demand Butkevych’s release and to continue sharing and publishing the truth about Butkevych—the only way to drown out the lies.” 

For more than a decade, Butkevych has worked to support asylum-seekers via the No Borders Project while also helping to create and run both the ZMINA human rights center and Hromadske Radio. Hromadske Radio, founded on a commitment to freedom of speech, is one of Ukraine’s only non-commercial and non-governmental radio stations. He has also worked for the BBC World Service and a number of Ukrainian TV channels. Previously, he has served on the board of Amnesty International’s Ukraine Board and worked on a public council in Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057