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Arrested Ukrainian journalist likely tortured for 'confession' on Russian propaganda TV

22.03.2021
Halya Coynash

Vladislav Yesypenko after being seized, Kateryna Yesypenko shows the birthday picture that their daugher drew for her Daddy who did not return as planned for his birthday on 13 March

A Russian-controlled Crimean TV channel has broadcast an ‘interview’ with Vladislav Yesypenko a week after the Ukrainian journalist was seized in occupied Crimea.  Yesypenko has very clearly been beaten and is almost certainly giving the answers demanded of him. This staged event on 18 March is tellingly similar to the ‘interview’ for Russian state TV which Stanislav Aseyev, the Donetsk journalist and writer, held and tortured by the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ for two and a half years, has confirmed that he gave under duress.

Yesypenko was detained together with a friend on 10 May a day after they had laid flowers at the monument in Simferopol to the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.  His companion, Yelizaveta Pavlenko, was subjected to an eight-hour search, but was not detained. 

The political motivation behind Yesypenko’s arrest was essentially clear from the outset, given the FSB’s refusal to allow independent lawyer Emil Kurbedinov to see him, and their use of FSB-appointed ‘lawyer’  Violetta Sinyeglazova.  She has been deployed in another, similar, cases, with her role invariably being to persuade a detainee ‘to confess’, rather than to properly represent them. Any lingering doubts should certainly have been dispelled by the stunt on TV Crimea24, during which Yesypenko, who has been deprived of his right to see the lawyer of his choice, is ‘interviewed’ by the channel’s general producer Oleg Kriuchkov

Kateryna Yesypenko is convinced that her husband has been beaten and tortured, and he certainly looks in a bad state.  During a press briefing on 19 March, Olha Skrypnyk, Head of the Crimean Human Rights Group, suggested that the FSB may have used various drugs against him, or simply deprived him of sleep over a prolonged period – a form of torture that leaves no ‘inconvenient’ scars.

Skrypnyk points out that the ‘interview’ starts off with a propaganda line about “the American branch of Radio Svoboda [RFE/RL] having supposedly commissioned certain stories.  It does, in fact, seem likely that Yesypenko is the victim of a Russian attack on Krym.Realii, which is one of the main sources of reliable information about what is happening under Russian occupation, as well as of the current escalation in tension between the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the new US Administration of President Joe Biden.  Yesypenko’s activities in Crimea were of a journalist nature and this is all that he essentially describes.  It is Kruchkov who assiduously manipulates his words, trying to turn Yesypenko’s journalist activities and photographs into ‘spying’.   In a situation where Yesypenko is totally under the control of the FSB, and knows it, he states that he “duplicated videos made for Krym.Realii for the Ukrainian Security Service.”  This seems a singularly useless form of ‘spying’, but Kriuchkov is there to make sure that nobody notices that Yesypenko is ‘admitting’ only to being a journalist, and to distort his words.

The story has already changed somewhat three times since 10 March, and may well again.  The  announcement from the FSB on 16 March which claimed to have “broken up spying and sabotage activities for the Ukrainian Security Service by Russian citizen Vladislav Yesypenko.” Also described purely journalist work. Yesypenko, they said, “took photos and video footage of infrastructure and places where there are a lot of people in the republic of Crimea”. 

The main target of the Crimea24 propaganda on 18 March seemed less the Ukrainian Security Service, and more Radio Svoboda’s ‘Krym.Realii’.  Radio Svoboda, or RFE/RL are referred to as “an American media holding” which is claimed to be “financed and totally controlled by the USA”.   RFE/RL is financed by US federal grants as a private grantee.  Unlike the Kremlin-funded Russia Today, or RT, which really is a propaganda vehicle for the state regime, Krym.Realii, and RFE/RL in general, have their own editorial boards, and are not ‘controlled’ by America.

Following the emergence of the video, RFE/RL President James Fly issued a second statement demanding Yesypenko’s release and suggesting that the ‘interview’ had been given under duress.

It was no accident that the press briefing was addressed by Mykola Semena, Yesypenko’s colleague at Krym.Realii, and a journalist who was himself persecuted by the Russian occupation regime for expressing his views about the occupation.  Semena, Yesypenko, Remzi Bekirov and around 10 other journalists have been imprisoned or persecuted for writing or speaking the truth in occupied Crimea.  It is Krym.Realii’s persistence in reporting truthfully about events, political persecution, etc. that have brought it under fire.

Kateryna Yesypenko gave an impassioned plea to Ukraine’s President, Ombudsperson, Foreign Ministry, as well as to the international community to help secure the release of her husband.  It was his birthday on 13 March, and Kateryna showed the birthday picture that their small daughter had prepared for her Daddy.

It is dangerous to be a journalist in Russian-occupied Crimea, but as the press briefing’s title stressed: being a journalist is not a crime.   

See also:

Journalist seized in Russian-occupied Crimea accused of ‘spying and sabotage’ for Ukraine

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