Stanislav Aseyev was held in captivity from June 2017 through December 29, 2019. He was released as part of an exchange between the separatists and Ukrainian authorities.
Aseyev, who writes under the name Stanislav Vasin, was reported missing since June 2, 2017. Colleagues, family, and friends said they had no contact with him by on any medium for over a week when they went public with the news.
Aseyev, 27, who has referred to his efforts to chronicle daily life under conditions of war in the Donetsk region as “my education,” publishes unflinching texts and photos about current news and military developments, and posts about shopping, entertainment, and culture both in separatist and non-separatist controlled cities. He has also covered sensitive issues relating to the conflict, including reactions among Donetsk residents to the apparent assassination in October 2016 of the notorious Russia-backed separatist commander known as “Motorola.”
Former Member of Parliament Yehor Firsov, a long-time acquaintance of Aseyev’s, alleged in a June 6 Facebook post that Aseyev had been seized in Donetsk and forcibly held by Russia-backed separatist forces controlling the region, information he repeated in a June 7 Facebook post and a June 10 “Українська правда” (Ukrayinska Pravda) blog post, citing “unofficial sources.”
On July 16, Firsov shared on Facebook that a group of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine’s war-torn eastern Donetsk region confirmed that they were holding the blogger from eastern Ukraine. Aseyev’s mother was given written confirmation, according to the post, and was allowed to visit him in separatist custody. Firsov also wrote that the separatists have accused Aseyev of espionage and threatened him with up to 14 years in prison. “His only hope is the exchange of prisoners,” he said. The separatists, who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, have repeatedly denied having any information about Aseyev.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Human Rights Watch both report that, according to their sources, Aseyev was detained by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). CPJ reported that the head of a volunteer group that works to release political prisoners in Ukraine told an independent broadcaster that the separatists detained Aseyev for his “pro-Ukrainian stance” and for “spreading information about the so-called DNR, which in militants’ opinion, is not true.”
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases in which DNR’s security ministry forcibly disappeared civilians, holding them in custody for weeks without any contact with the outside world and subjecting them to ill-treatment. A special DNR cabinet decree enables the ministry to hold people for up to 30 days, and sometimes longer, without charging them or even acknowledging their detention. Such a decree blatantly violates international legal protections against arbitrary detention, applicable both during conflict and peacetime.
Aseyev also reports for other Ukrainian publications, including Зеркало недели (Mirror Weekly) and Тиждень (The Ukrainian Week).
On October 22, a court in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) convicted Aseyev on extremism and terrorism-related charges, in a case that has become emblematic of the Russia-backed separatist conflict in Ukraine’s eastern region.
RFE/RL, the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, PEN Ukraine, and Human Rights Watch demanded Aseyev’s freedom in a press conference in Kyiv the same day. The bipartisan U.S. Congressional Press Freedom Caucus called for Aseyev’s release in August 2018, describing him as “one of the few independent journalists to remain in the region under separatist control to provide objective reporting.” 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, U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel, and Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich have all pressed for Aseyev’s release.
On November 29, 2019, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, urging him to seek Aseyev’s release. A month later, on December 29, 2019, Aseyev was released as part of an exchange between the separatists and Ukrainian authorities involving dozens of prisoners from both sides of the fighting.