Vladyslav Yesypenko, a RFE/RL freelance reporter was attending an event in Simferopol, Ukraine, marking the 207th anniversary of the birth of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, when he was detained on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence.
The charges of spying for the Ukrainian government were eventually dropped but Yesypenko continued in jail and was formally charged eight days later with possession and transport of explosives. According to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), an object “looking like an explosive device” was found in Yesypenko’s vehicle during his arrest. The FSB also claimed he had confessed to collecting data for the Ukrainian Security Service.
At first, Yesypenko’s lawyers were not permitted to see him. During that time, Russian authorities claimed Yesypenko confessed to the crimes he was charged with. On March 18, a televised confession by Yesypenko was aired, which his lawyer later clarified that his client was given a written text to read aloud.
On April 6, Yesypenko testified during a closed-door court hearing where he disclosed that he was tortured for two days following his arrest on March 10 and confirmed the charges against him were false.
Prosecutors have since admitted that a grenade that was “found” in Yesypenko’s vehicle did not have his fingerprints on it.
Since his arrest, media advocates and international organizations have called for his release and continue to engage in efforts to ensure Yesypenko returns home.
On October 21, Yesypenko’s wife Kateryna Yespenko traveled to the U.S. to deliver a hand-written appeal to U.S. President Biden and members of Congress in an effort to raise awareness of Yesypenko’s case along with those of other journalists working in Crimea.
The letter was read aloud by Yesypenko’s wife during a briefing at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
On February 16, 2022, Yesypenko was sentenced to six years in prison.
Vladislav Yesypenko holds dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship and is a freelance contributor to RFE/RL’s Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service. In 2014, Yesypenko leaves Crimea following its annexation by Russia, a move that has been denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries.
On April 20, 2022, Yesypenko was awarded the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.