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.

Journalist Stanislav Aseyev held in Russian-controlled Donetsk ‘concentration camp’ for writing the truth

Halya Coynash
Stanislav Aseyev is turning 30 on 1 October, his third birthday imprisoned for his writing in occupied Donetsk

What do you give a journalist friend for his 30th birthday when he’s been imprisoned in the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk republic’ for well over two years with his only ‘outside’ contact being a forced ‘interview’ to a Russian propaganda channel?  Stanislav Aseyev’s colleagues from the Radio Svoboda Donbas.Realii project have given him their voice and are seeking to have that voice heard in the hope that it can help secure Aseyev’s release. 

They have released a powerful video clip in which well-known Ukrainian writer and President of PEN Ukraine, Andriy Kurkov reads an excerpt from one of Aseyev’s articles. In it, Aseyev expresses his belief that “only a real civil force with a local registration, represented by over one thousand people who are against the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ in the central square of Donetsk will be able to radically change the situation showing that Donetsk is capable of more than just a disgraceful parade of prisoners, but showing that once there were those who walked under the Ukrainian flag…”   “Something tells me that that number is quite real, that these people just have to recollect who they are and what they are fleeing from. That is why I am still here in Makiivka, not sharing the tears spilled over the ruins of Donetsk from a warm and cosy apartment in Kyiv.”

Aseyev was one of very few journalists who remained in areas of Donbas under militant control.  Writing under the pseudonym Stanislav Vasin, he wrote articles about life in occupied Donetsk for a number of Ukrainian media.  

Aseyev was born in Donetsk on 1 October 1989 and all his school and higher education were In Makiivka (a city very close to Donetsk) and Donetsk itself. Although he began writing fiction while still studying, it was only after the seizure of Donetsk by Russian and Russian-backed militants in 2014, that he began working as a freelance journalist and blogger. 

Until the end of May 2017, his articles provided invaluable insight into life in the so-called ‘DPR’. A mere pseudonym, however, was clearly not enough to prevent his identity being discovered.  In conditions where all Ukrainian television and radio stations had long been replaced by Russian or pro-Russian media, and where it was dangerous to voice any independent views and / or pro-Ukrainian sentiments, it was probably always just a matter of time before they came for Aseyev.

Two separate dates are now mentioned, however Aseyev’s disappearance was first reported by Yehor Firsov in early June 2017. He wrote then  that Aseyev had failed to come to his mother’s home of June 3, as agreed and that she and friends had gone to his flat, finding the door broken in and a lot of things missing, including his laptop.  There was a particularly sinister note, since his Facebook page was still active, with somebody sending letters from this account, trying to get information about his contacts. 

It was six months after he first vanished that the ‘DPR ministry’ first admitted they were holding Aseyev prisoner, and said that he was suspected of ‘spying’.

He is believed to still be held at ‘Izolyatsia’, the former factory and then arts and cultural centre which the militants seized in the middle of 2014.  The word means ‘isolation’, and is bitterly appropriate since this has become a secret prison which former hostages like Dmytro Potekhin describe as a concentration camp.

Although Firsov did report that Aseyev’s mother had been allowed, at least once, to see her son, it was only in August 2018, that Aseyev was shown publicly.  This was, typically, on the Russian state-controlled Rossiya 24 channel, with Aseyev ‘confessing’ to having worked for Ukrainian military intelligence. All international bodies had, until then, been prevented from seeing him for 15 months, and there have long been fears that his nearly total isolation in appalling conditions and without necessary medication was aimed at forcing precisely such a propaganda stunt.  The fact that this was for Russian television, in a program overtly trying to present Ukraine as responsible for the suffering of the last four years, only confirmed the suspicion that Aseyev’s fate lies in the hands of people “close to Moscow”. While it is extremely likely that physical torture has been applied, the militants have another lever against Aseyev – they can threaten to arrest or even torture his mother (see: Imprisoned Donetsk journalist Aseyev tortured for Russian propaganda TV ‘confession’ .)

There have been repeated calls from the OSCE, EU, Amnesty International and numerous media organizations for Aseyev’s release.  In early July 2018, PEN Ukraine issued a statement in which they called on both the Ukrainian government and international colleagues “to intensify their pressure on the Russian government, which controls the puppet authorities of the “DPR”, to immediately release Stanislav Aseyev, as well as all other Ukrainian political prisoners.

Like in all occupied territories, Russia or its proxies have made any form of independent journalism a dangerous occupation and Aseyev is not the only journalist / blogger to have been or be held hostage for his articles. At least one other journalist / blogger is currently held hostage, with Oleh Halaziuk having also dared to write truthful texts about life in DPR (details here).  The fact that both men, and some others released in the exchange of 27 December 2017, have paid with their liberty and been torture for writing truthful reports about life in occupied Donbas and / or for expressing pro-Ukrainian views that makes the very suggestion that local elections “in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and international norms” could soon be held in Donbas seem so preposterous.

Please share both the video and information about Stanislav Aseyev  It is very clear that any order for his release will come solely from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and only under our pressure. 

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