WASHINGTON—RFE/RL welcomes the announcement by PEN America of Ukrainian journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko as the recipient of the 2022 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award. He will be honored at the 2022 PEN America Literary Gala in New York on May 23, where the award will be accepted by his wife, Kateryna Yesypenko.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said, “Vlad is a symbol of the plight of many other journalists who are under pressure from Russian authorities in Crimea and elsewhere simply for doing their jobs. Bestowing this award now on a journalist whom the Kremlin has persecuted sends a clear message that the truth cannot be silenced. We appreciate PEN America’s support for Vlad and join them in demanding Vlad’s immediate release.”
Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was sentenced to six years in prison on February 16 by a Russian-controlled court in occupied Crimea. A former resident of Crimea who left for mainland Ukraine following the 2014 Russian invasion and illegal annexation of the peninsula, he would later return to Crimea periodically to report for RFE/RL on the social and environmental situation on the peninsula.
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Yesypenko in Simferopol on March 10, 2021, on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence; during his apprehension, the FSB claimed that it found an object "looking like an explosive device" in his automobile; he was later charged with "making firearms." Following his detention, Yesypenko was brutally tortured by Russian FSB officers, to force him to make a false ‘confession’ on Russian television.
Speaking at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington on October 21, 2021, Yesypenko’s wife read out an appeal from her husband. In the letter dictated from his jail cell, Yesypenko called on U.S. President Joe Biden and U.S. lawmakers to do more to free the more than 100 political prisoners detained by the FSB over their activities in Crimea.
Sixteen Ukrainian human rights NGOs, Ukrainian Ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova, and the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv denounced the verdict in online statements, as did Reporters Without Borders and PEN America. On November 15, 2021, PEN America honored Yesypenko at its annual event marking the Day of the Imprisoned Writer at an in-person rally outside of the Russian Consulate General and at a virtual reading and panel discussion on writers imprisoned globally. In December 2021 Amnesty International launched an online petition demanding Yesypenko’s immediate release. Press-freedom advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, along with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and the U.S. State Department, have called for the same in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing. In April 2022, the One Free Press Coalition, a group of the world’s leading media organizations, named Yesypenko’s case one of their “10 Most Urgent” in April 2022.
The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award is a powerful tool in PEN America’s year-round efforts to end the persecution of writers and defend free expression, serving as a springboard for PEN’s multifaceted advocacy for the writers it honors. Of the 51 jailed writers who have received the award since 1987, 45 have been released due in part to the awareness and pressure the award generates. Two RFE/RL journalists have been recognized previously by PEN America with this award – former Azerbaijani Service journalist Khadija Ismayilova in 2015 and former Turkmen Service freelance correspondent Rakhim Esenov in 2006.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 37 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 7 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2021. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.