WASHINGTON -- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) welcomed the release today of Stanislav Aseyev and Oleh Halaziuk, two contributors to its Ukrainian Service who were taken captive by Russia-backed separatists in 2017 because of their reporting from Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.
“We are thrilled and relieved that Stas and Oleh have been released,” said RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, who had urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to seek the men's release during a meeting in Kyiv on November 29. “They were held incommunicado for 2 1/2 years, not because of any crime they committed, but because they reported the truth about Russia’s occupation of their homeland," he said.
"I want to thank President Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian government for their commitment to Stas's and Oleh's freedom, and to express our gratitude to the activists, lawmakers, and officials around the world who were their voice while they were unable to speak for themselves," Fly said.
"I deeply appreciate the efforts of the Trilateral Contact Group to make this happen," Fly added, referring to the representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) tasked with overseeing conflict negotiations in eastern Ukraine.
The release of Aseyev and Halaziuk came as part of an exchange between the separatists and Ukrainian authorities involving dozens of prisoners from both sides of the fighting. The two men are due to arrive by plane in Kyiv with other released prisoners at approximately 7:00pm local time.
Stanislav Aseyev, who contributed to RFE/RL's Donbas.Realii reporting unit, was held incommunicado in Donetsk since the summer of 2017. A published author and member of PEN Ukraine, he was alleged to have been sentenced by a separatist-controlled court to 15 years in a penal colony on extremism and terrorism-related charges in a case that become emblematic of the Russia-backed conflict.
RFE/RL contributor Oleh Halaziuk was also detained by Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk in 2017 and was held incommunicado until his release.
RFE/RL colleagues and friends mounted an international campaign to demand the reporters' freedom, aided by statements and expressions of concern from Ukrainian President Zelenskiy and numerous Ukrainian officials; PEN America and PEN Ukraine; the One Free Press Coalition; the Committee to Protect Journalists; Human Rights Watch; Amnesty International; Reporters without Borders; and the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU). OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media Harlem Desir; the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; U.S. Charge d’affaires in Ukraine William Taylor; U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio; Congressional Caucus on Freedom of the Press co-chairs U.S. Representatives Steve Chabot and Adam Schiff; and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel also called for their release.
RFE/RL Crimean contributor Mykola Semena remains under house arrest in Simferopol after a Russia-backed court, citing criticism he published of Moscow's forcible annexation of the peninsula, convicted him in 2017 on a separatism-related charge and banned him from journalism.
RFE/RL's Donbas.Realii project was launched in 2015 as part of the Ukrainian Service following Russia's incursion into eastern Ukraine to provide accurate news and information to audiences otherwise captive to Russian state media. The Ukrainian Service, together with its regional units Donbas.Realii and Krym.Realii, averaged more than 6.8 million monthly visits to its websites in FY2019, and sets a standard in the Ukrainian media market for independence, innovation, and professionalism.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 37 million people in 26 languages and 22 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed over 3.6 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2019. 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.