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RSF investigates the whereabouts of captive journalist Dmytro Khyliuk

03.05.2023, 15:27

International NGO "Reporters Without Borders" released an investigation into the whereabouts of UNIAN journalist Dmytro Khyliuk, who was taken captive by the Russians in March 2022.

According to the authors, Khyliuk and his father were arrested on 3 March 2022 in the garden of their family house. The elder Khyliuk was released eight days later, but the journalist was kept in a series of makeshift prisons. One was at the Hostomel airport, which the Russians occupied at the start of the offensive. A great many prisoners passed through there. They were held in huge industrial refrigerators. A Ukrainian soldier told RSF he had been there at the same time as Khyliuk beginning on 12 March. During the same period, Yuri, a Ukrainian intelligence officer interviewed by RSF, was also arrested and detained. On 21 march, when he was transferred to Preventive Detention Centre No. 2 in Novozybkov, Khyliuk was already there. Roll-call was held twice a day, with the names echoing down the corridor. Yuri memorised the names that Ukrainian prisoners were forced to say aloud to their guards. One name was “Khyliuk.”

Khyliuk’s family has repeatedly requested information. Moscow has responded with lies or evasions. In a 19 January 2023 letter viewed by RSF, the Russian Federation Defence Ministry said about Ukrainian detainees: “The disclosure of specified information to other persons and organisations [apart from the International Committee of the Red Cross] is not provided by the Geneva Convention.” And, the letter added, “The Russian Federation unconditionally comply with the provisions of international humanitarian law.”

In another official letter of 12 January 2023 to which we have had access, the Investigative Committee of Russia, the country’s main agency in charge of enquiries involving federal institutions, insists that the “main investigation department has no information about the initiation of a criminal case against this person [Khyliuk].” Officially, then, the journalist is not detained, nor criminally charged.

“It’s as if he does not exist for them,” says Tatiana Katrychenko, coordinator of the Media Initiative for Human Rights, a civil society organisation that is following the Khyliuk case.

As RSF note, in the few weeks of the investigation they have collected several exclusive accounts that allowed them to follow the reporter’s trail from the time of his arrest on 3 March 2022 in Ukraine to his imprisonment in Russia.

“These accounts provide evidence of a forced disappearance and a State lie,” says Arnaud Froger, head of the RSF investigation desk.

A former prisoner, a soldier, gave another exclusive, first-hand account. He had been in a cell adjoining Khyliuk’s. The reporter, he said, had at first been held  with at least a dozen others in a collective cell in the prison’s old building, before being transferred in April 2022 to Cell 42.

He was then immediately placed in isolation, until at least late May. Members of Russian “Special Forces” interrogated him regularly about his activities, accusing him of disseminating “Ukrainian propaganda” and of “working against Russia.” Khyliuk was beaten on many occasions.

"Conditions at the centre are not the worst in the Russian penal system, but violence, intimidation and deprivation are customary. No visits are allowed. In a chilling account of the brutality inflicted on those arrested in Ukraine, Yuri told of being bitten by dogs set loose on him after he entered the Russian prison. After his arrest on 8 March 2020, he had to spend one night in a mass grave, using the bodies and clothing of those killed to ward off the cold," reads the RSF investigation.

According to the investigators, they interviewed five witnesses who confirm Khyliuk’s presence at the Detention Centre in Novozybkov in 2022.

"There is no question of his imprisonment in Russia. According to these accounts, at least 500 Ukrainians may still be held at that prison. The Media Initiative believes that Khyliuk is one of 123 civilians arrested in the Kyiv region and still held in Russia," the organization stresses.

As IMI reported, UNIAN journalist Dmytro Khyliuk has been in Russian captivity for over a year. His official status is not that of a POW, but of a civilian hostage. Such prisoners should be released separate from military prisoner swaps, but the Russians are not doing this.

On February 26, 2022, the occupiers entered the village of Kozarovychi, Kyiv oblast, set up their equipment there and started going house by house. During a battle in early March, a projectile also hit the Khyliuks' house. At that time, the whole family was at home – Dmytro, his sick mother, and father. The Russians started hunting down the village's men.

That evening they captured both Dmytro and his father.

The UNIAN editor-in-chief, Mykhailo Hannytsky, said that since the occupation, Dmytro had only been texting him about the broken house and the empty shops in the village. Dmytro did not disclose any information on the Russian troops. Whether the occupiers knew at that moment that Dmytro was a journalist is unclear. However, they still hold him somewhere in Russia and are unwilling to let him go, he noted.

"The Russian Federation has never fulfilled its promise regarding Dmitry and several other people. Their names were on the approved list. They agreed in the evening, and they did not bring them for the exchange in the morning," said Mykhailo Hannytsky.

Kozarovychi was de-occupied on March 31. Ukrainian investigators soon arrived in the village and took the testimony from Dmytro's father, Vasyl Khylyuk, about his son being captured and kidnapped. In May, state prosecutor Oleksandr Vinnytsky visited Kozarovychi and interviewed the journalist's father once more. The Prosecutor General's Office has opened a case regarding the abduction of civilians on the territory of the Dymer hromada. The investigation considers journalist Dmytro Khylyuk and his father victims. The case was opened under Part 1 of Art. 438 of the Criminal Code. This article, in particular, deals with violation of the laws and customs of war, such as abuse of POWs or the civilian population, deportation of civilians for forced labor, looting of national assets in the occupied territory, using means of warfare prohibited by international law, as well as other violations of laws and customs of war stipulated by international treaties.

In April 2022, the journalist's parents received a call from the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War and were informed that Russia had confirmed that the journalist was being detained there.

In August, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Dmytro Khylyuk's parents were able to receive a letter from him, in an envelope stamped "Russian Post Service". The letter contained one sentence: "Dear mom, dad, I'm alive, in good health, I'm fine."

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