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.

Russia blocks release of Ukrainian journalist held hostage for over a year

Halya Coynash
Dmytro Khyliuk was abducted in early March and is held hostage somewhere in Russia, with the Russians constantly breaking promises to allow his release

Dmytro Khyliuk Photo from his Facebook page

Dmytro Khyliuk Photo from his Facebook page

Dmytro Khyliuk, a journalist for the UNIAN press agency, and his father were abducted by the Russian invaders from their Kyiv oblast home back in early March 2022.  While the Russians did finally release his elderly father, they took Dmytro away and have been holding him hostage ever since.  According to UNIAN Chief Editor Mykhailo Hannytsky, Russia has broken every agreement to release Khyliuk and several other civilians. Until now, the Ukrainian authorities had asked Dmytro’s media colleagues and family to refrain from reporting on him, presumably in order to not endanger behind-the-scenes negotiations.  The latter have meaning only if commitments are upheld.  Since the Russians are refusing to keep their side of recent agreements and release him, there is no longer any reason to avoid publicity. 

The Russians seized parts of Kyiv oblast, including Khyliuk’s village Kozarovychi, almost immediately after their full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022.  He was living with his parents, and his mother was in ill health, and so, although he understood the danger he faced, he refused to think of leaving.

The Russians had searched the family’s home at the beginning of March and taken away telephones and SIM-cards.  According to Hannytsky, he had received text messages from Khyliuk regarding the damage to the village, empty shops, etc., but none, that the Russians could have objected to, about the deployment of their military, for example. 

Shortly afterwards, a rocket hit their home and they were forced to stay with a neighbour.  Vasyl Khyliuk recounted in an interview shown on the Television Marathon (the united television coverage since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion) how the Russians had begun hunting down the men from the village.  He explained that he and his son had gone to have a look what was happening and to clean up a bit (after the missile).  Five Russians with machine guns had descended upon them with foul abuse and shouting.  It was that evening that father and son were seized and taken prisoner.  This seems to have been 3 March, and local residents reported that the Russians claimed that the two men had had communicated with the Ukrainian Armed Forces and law enforcement bodies.  Father and son were held prisoner, first at a warehouse in Kozarovychi until 11 March, when Vasyl Khyliuk was released.  Dmytro was taken away, and when his father asked the Russians when he would be released, they said that he would return “when the war ends”.  

Kozarovychi itself was liberated on 31 March when the Russians were forced to retreat. It is not clear whether Khyliuk had already been illegally taken to Russia by this stage, or whether the Russians took him and, perhaps, other hostages with them when they retreated.  He is known to be in Russia, however not where.

Khyliuk’s friends and colleagues helped rebuild the family’s home after it was hit by a missile and one colleague is ensuring that his parents receive his salary and any help they need, until Dmytro is released.  Both are elderly and frail, and the strain of not even knowing where their only son is being held prisoner, must be taking a huge toll.  Dmytro has only been allowed one very brief letter to his family, in which he was able to say only that he is alive, well and that “all is fine”.

That was clearly what he had to say in order to have any letter sent, but the truth is likely to be very different.  The conditions in which all Ukrainians are held prisoner are known to be appalling, and the situation is particularly bad for civilian hostages. 

In February 2023, Maksym Kolesnikov, a Ukrainian POW released in an exchange of prisoners, confirmed that in the prison in Bryansk oblast (Russia) where he had been held, there were a huge number of Ukrainian civilian hostages.  Kolesnikov himself had lost 30 kilograms while in captivity, but still stressed that the plight of civilian prisoners was even worse.  At least the Russians acknowledged the POWs, and, since they had an interest in exchanges of prisoners, did treat them marginally better.  Civilians, on the other hand, have no recognized status since Russia is committing a war crime by abducting them and taking them to Russia. Although the Ukrainian authorities cannot give figures for the number of civilian hostages, they do report that some 2,500 Ukrainians have been returned since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, with only around 100 of these civilians.

During an interview after his release, Kolesnikov said that the Russians were themselves aware that the situation was insane and that they had simply abducted civilians.  “It is very hard,” however, “to admit that their country is committing such a crime.  They try, therefore, to claim that the civilian hostages are not really civilians, that they were ‘spies’, ‘saboteurs’ or helped the Ukrainian Armed Forces by directing fire, etc. “ 

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