(Washington, D.C.) — After today’s ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and Russia, PEN America sent a letter signed by 12 leading Ukraine experts and advocates to President Biden demanding his administration immediately impose sanctions on 15 individuals responsible for grave human rights violations in the notorious “Izolatsiya” (“Isolation”) prison in Donetsk, an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed forces. Among the signatories: CEO of PEN America Suzanne Nossel; former United States Ambassadors to Ukraine William Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch; former United States Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker; and several leading academics and foreign policy experts on Ukraine and Russia. 

“These sanctions would finally bring a measure of accountability to these perpetrators—and stop them from inflicting further pain,” said Stanislav Aseyev, a journalist and former Izolatsiya inmate who endured torture. 

“Moving urgently to sanction these perpetrators, operating under Russian influence, would reinforce your administration’s support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and your commitment to human rights, and could also serve to encourage the de-escalation of Russian aggression called for by Secretary Blinken,” the letter reads. “Moreover, imposing these sanctions would signal your administration’s commitment to the recently updated U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership and its provision of support for ‘accountability for those responsible for abuses of human rights in the territories of Ukraine temporarily occupied by Russia’ and the release of the people wrongfully detained in those territories.”

“Perpetrators of the Izolatsiya prison camp massacres continue to murder and torture the innocent with impunity,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “Survivors describe guards torturing captives with electric current and sleep deprivation. Believing in the sovereignty of one’s country cannot be a death sentence. The Biden administration can make good on its promise to defend human rights and democracy at home and abroad by sanctioning these 15 cowards who attempt to silence free expression with violence.”

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has lasted over seven years and has claimed some 13,000 lives, according to a report from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-14, Ukraine has been on the frontline of the struggle for freedom and democracy. Civilians in the occupied territories live in fear of surveillance, arbitrary detention, and torture. With no independent media, civil society organizations, or international observers, the areas of Donbas controlled by Russia-backed forces are a virtual black hole in the middle of Europe. 

On November 15, PEN America held an “Empty Chair” street action outside of the Russian Consulate in New York City in support of Ukrainian journalists imprisoned for their writing and speech on the occupied territories of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. American writers and journalists together with Ukrainian colleagues read out the words of Ukrainian hostages for which many have been targeted. The action was part of a series of events held by PEN America to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. The Empty Chair Action is a longstanding tradition of presenting an empty chair to symbolize and honor a writer who cannot be present because they have been imprisoned, detained, disappeared, threatened, or killed.

In 2019, two journalists imprisoned in Izolatsiya, Stanislav Aseyev and Oleh Halaziuk, were freed after PEN America advocated for their release.