Jailed RFE/RL Journalist Appeals To Biden For Help To Win Freedom For All Detained Crimeans

RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko (file photo)  

Imprisoned RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko has appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden and U.S. lawmakers to do more to free the more than 100 political prisoners detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) over their activities in Crimea.

Yesypenko, who has been in detention in Russian-occupied Crimea since March, made the appeal in a letter read publicly for the first time on October 21 at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington.

"There can be no greater hell than being trapped in these four walls day after day, month after month, for half a year now, only allowed outside on command for a few breaths of fresh air and then back to your cell, helpless to change a thing," Yesypenko said.

He called on Biden and members of Congress to send a "clear signal" to Russian President Vladimir Putin that "America stands with Ukraine, which has demanded time and again that the occupying power put a stop to violations of human rights in Crimea and release all political prisoners."

Vladyslav Yesypenko is detained by FSB officers in Crimea on March 16. Vladyslav Yesypenko is detained by FSB officers in Crimea on March 16.

The letter was carried by hand to the United States by Yesypenko’s wife, Kateryna Yesypenko, who is currently visiting the United States to meet with members of Congress and U.S. State Department officials as part of an effort to raise awareness of the situation in Crimea. Kateryna Yesypenko read the letter during a briefing at the Ukrainian Embassy.

In the letter, Yesypenko tells Biden and the U.S. lawmakers that the only thing that keeps him and the other prisoners going "is your profound understanding of Ukraine’s situation and your stated intent to unite the democratic world against Russia’s aggression and secure the release of Kremlin’s political prisoners."

Yesypenko’s letter details how he was "abducted" by the FSB and graphically describes torture by electric shock that was "melting" his brain and making it feel like his heart would burst out of his chest unless he waived his right to a lawyer and testified against himself.

He has previously said in court that he was tortured for two days from the moment he was detained until his transfer to a detention center in Simferopol in Crimea.

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The journalist names several other people, including Oleksiy Bessarabov and Volodymyr Dudka — two Ukrainian men sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2019 for plotting sabotage in Crimea — who are among more than 100 others who were "unlawfully detained and thrown behind bars" and now await sentencing.

Many, he says, were coerced into confessing after being tortured and threatened with death, and after enduring threats against their families and loved ones.

"We are doing all we can to resist, renouncing what we said under torture, speaking out in courts, writing letters to the outside world, to let you all know we are not giving up," he said.

Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova told the briefing that Yesypenko was arrested just for doing his job and that he is one of 115 prisoners from Crimea who are currently held on political charges.

Kateryna Yesypenko brought the letter to Washington. Kateryna Yesypenko brought the letter to Washington.

She appealed for urgent action, saying every life put on hold "must lead to immediate response from all of us, not only from Ukraine, but from all around the world who believe in the same values and principles and who believe this is not the way to behave in the 21st century."

Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to Crimea.Realities, was detained on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence. The father of one had worked in Crimea for five years, reporting on the social and environmental situation on the peninsula, before being detained.

A court in Simferopol on July 15 formally charged him with possession and transport of explosives. He pleaded not guilty and faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has described the case as the latest example of the Kremlin’s campaign to target independent media outlets and called it "a mockery of justice."

Press-freedom advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, along with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and the U.S. State Department, are among those who have called for Yesypenko’s immediate release in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing.

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