WASHINGTON -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, delegates to the PEN Congress in Manila, and speakers and attendees at a press conference in Kyiv today all raised their voices to call for the release of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) contributor Stanislav Aseyev, who is marking his 30th birthday today -- the third spent as a prisoner held incommunicado by Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region.
Zelenskiy acknowledged Aseyev's birthday in public remarks, stating that he “has been in prison in the DPR [Donetsk People's Republic] for more than two years," and that the Ukrainian government is “applying maximum efforts for his return and the return of all our citizens.” Zelenskiy made the statement at a press briefing on today’s meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group, the body overseeing negotiations among the sides to the conflict, about the next stage of prisoner exchanges.
Aseyev was also the subject of a press conference convened in Kyiv by RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, former Russia-backed separatist prisoner Ihor Kozlovskiy, Center for Civil Liberties chairwoman Olexandra Matviychuk, writer and PEN Ukraine member Olena Styazhkina, and Human Rights Watch Associate Director Tanya Lokshina (via video link), who called for his freedom and the release of fellow RFE/RL contributors Oleh Halaziuk and Mykola Semena. Fly stated that all three “have taken great risks, and now have been paying significant prices, for their work to bring the truth about the areas they have been reporting from.” He added, “we hope that the government of Ukraine, the authorities who are holding them, [and]the Russian government will do everything possible to make sure that they all are released and able to travel freely.”
Meanwhile, in the Philippines’ capital of Manila, the 85th PEN Congress opened with a flashmob in support of Aseyev. PEN International President Jennifer Clement urged conference delegates to stand in solidarity with Aseyev, who is a member of PEN’s Ukrainian chapter. The delegates held up signs bearing the hashtag #FreeAseyev.
Aseyev, who also wrote for the Ukrainian publications Mirror of the Week and The Ukrainian Week, published dozens of posts about the effects of Russia's intervention on daily life, schooling, politics, and culture from 2014 until he was seized in the summer of 2017. Separatists have reportedly accused him of espionage and threatened him with up to 14 years in custody, although RFE/RL has no knowledge of him being formally charged by any recognized authority of any crime.
In August 2017, the Ukrainian government included his name among those officially listed for a possible prisoner exchange. The One Free Press Coalition, OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media, U.S. Mission to the OSCE, bipartisan U.S. Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus, U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio, and U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel have all called for Aseyev’s release. Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich has added her voice to efforts on his behalf, writing, “It goes without saying, I am with you in your struggle on behalf of Stanislav Aseyev.”
RFE/RL has also urged the release of Ukrainian Service contributor Oleh Halaziuk, who has been held by Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk since August 2017. Crimean contributor Mykola Semena was convicted of separatism by a Russian court in 2017 and is banned from practicing journalism and leaving the peninsula.
RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda, together with its subsidiary Donbas.Realities and Crimea.Realities regional units, averaged 5 million monthly visits to its website in 2018, 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 34 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 2.6 billion times on Facebook and YouTube in FY2018. 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.