war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Donbas militants reported to be using torture to get ‘confession’ from seized journalist

Halya Coynash
The Kremlin-backed militants who have seized Stanyslav Aseyev (Vasin) are believed to be using torture to extract a ‘confession’ from the 27-year-old freelance journalist, and to be putting severe pressure on his mother.

The Kremlin-backed militants who have seized Stanyslav Aseyev (Vasin) are believed to be using torture to extract a ‘confession’ from the 27-year-old freelance journalist, and to be putting severe pressure on his mother.  For understandable reasons, Yehor Firsov, the former Ukrainian MP from Donetsk, who knows the journalist, is not naming his sources, but previous videoed confessions from people in militant custody give strong grounds for fearing that Aseyev is being subjected to such treatment. 

Aseyev, who writes under the pseudonym Stanyslav Vasin, disappeared in militant-controlled Donetsk on June 2, with this first reported by Firsov, a former MP, on June 6.  The journalist’s real name was revealed on 9/10 June by a colleague writing in Dzerkalo Tyzhnya and then by Firsov in a blog written in English for the international media. 

Aseyev had been in Donetsk since the beginning of the war in early 2014, and had published as Stanyslav Vasin, for prominent media, such as Dzherkalo Tyzhnya and Radio Svoboda.  Tetyana Yakovych, who works with Aseyev on Donbas.Realii says that his material has given people a glimpse of life in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DPR], and did not touch on openly ‘political’ subjects. 

He had been scheduled to send material about life on June 3, and was also supposed to come to his mother’s home on that day.  When it became clear that all contact with him had been lost, his mother and friends went to his flat.  They found the door broken in and that a lot of things had gone, including the laptop that Aseyev wrote on.

Most chillingly, his Facebook page was still active and letters were being sent, trying to obtain information about his contacts, etc.

By June 10, Firsov had ascertained that Aseyev was being held by the so-called ‘DPR ministry of state security’.   Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] and the particular department seeking the release of hostages are aware of the situation, as is the OSCE monitoring mission.  There  have been calls from abroad, from the Committee to Protect Journalists, for example.  The latter, however, “calls on the Ukrainian authorities to employ all resources at their disposal to find and ensure the safety of Stanyslav Aseyev (Vasin)”.  It is the militants who have taken him prisoner, and they answer essentially only to Russia. 

Firsov wrote again on June 20, reporting that the DPR militants are trying to beat out a ‘confession’ to justify his ‘arrest’ and for ‘charges’ to lay against him.  “Terrible pressure and blackmail are being exerted both on him, and on his mother.  His mother virtually cut off all communication with Ukrainian representatives a week ago”.

The politician also wrote of a mounting propaganda campaign with material appearing on pro-Russian and separatist sites.  These claim that the journalist had not been seized by the DPR ‘security ministry’ and had been ill and in hospital.  It was only after Serhiy Rakhmanin named Aseyev in Dzherkalov Tyzhnya and other media followed suit, this version asserts, that the journalist was detained.  Firsov considers such attempts to twist the story to be part of the information war underway. 

He stresses that he first learned of Aseyev’s disappearance on June 4 and that they saw that people had broken into his flat and taken his computer the following day. By June 6, material had appeared on the journalist’s Facebook page which those who know him were clear had not been written by him.

Firsov has since been able to obtain the telephone billing information which confirms that the phone call on June 2 when Stanyslav told his mother that he was coming into Donetsk had in fact been made from the building in Donetsk of the so-called security ministry.

He is therefore in no doubt that Aseyev was ‘arrested’ by the militants and his identify discovered quite separately from any revelations in the Ukrainian media.

Firsov is further convinced that it was necessary to make his real name known.  The militants already knew who he was and it was clear that they will not release him without the active engagement of all possible avenues, including the UN and OSCE, and the relevant group involved in the Minsk negotiations. 

Aseyev wrote under a pseudonym for very good reason.  There are very few independent journalists in areas under militant control, with many of those who are now living outside Donbas having been held hostage for months, or in Maria Varfolomeyeva’s case, well over a year.  Others, especially in the first year of the war, were seized and brutally tortured. 

There are around 120 Ukrainian military or civilians currently held prisoner, with these including 63-year-old religious specialist Ihor Kozlovskyy; 23-year-old civic activist Volodymyr Fomichov; at least one Luhansk blogger Edward Nedelyaev.  They are also holding two young football fans Vlad Ovcharenko and Artem Akhmerov who were seized on Oct 10, 2016 soon after Ovcharenko’s flashmob photo with the Ukrainian flag and his open comments to a journalist from Germany’s Bild. 




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