The United States has called the arrest of a journalist in Russia-annexed Crimea for allegedly spying on behalf of Kyiv “another attempt to repress those who speak the truth about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”
“Russia continues to prosecute Ukrainian activists and target independent voices on the peninsula,” State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted late on March 17.
The tweet came one day after Vladislav Yesypenko, who 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, was arrested on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence.
The Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence Service has described the move as “propaganda” ahead of the seventh anniversary of Moscow’s forcible annexation of the region on March 18.
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.
Yesypenko, along with a resident of the Crimean city of Alushta, Yelizaveta Pavlenko, was detained on March 10 after the two took part in an event marking the 207th anniversary of the birth of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko a day earlier in Crimea.
Pavlenko was later released.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has called Yesypenko’s detention “deeply troubling,” noting that it comes at a time “when the Kremlin is employing harassment and intimidation against any possible alternative voice in Russia-annexed Crimea.”
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted amid a wave of public protests.
Rights groups say that, since then, Russia has moved aggressively to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation.
Moscow also backs separatists in a war against Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.