New York, August 1, 2014–Pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Lugansk region of Ukraine abducted at least one journalist on Thursday, according to a local press freedom group and news reports.
Separatists with the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic in Stakhanov, in Lugansk region, detained Yevgeny Timofeyev, a sports journalist who works for the local newspaper Futbolnoye Obozreniye (Soccer Observer), reports said. He was abducted from his home. The local news website Informator (Informer) said the separatists had detained Timofeyev in connection with his coverage of a sports game in Kiev and accused him of spying for the Ukrainian government.
Separatists also detained Yevgeny Shlyakhtin, who works in the information department of the Stakhanov mayor’s office, as well as a lawyer who was in the office at the time, according to Informator and the Kiev-based press freedom group Institute for Mass Information. Shlyakhtin is also a contributor to the Stakhanov municipal newspaper Stakhanovskoye Znamya (Stakhanov Flag) and other regional news outlets, the reports said. Regional media and journalists did not offer a motive for Shlyakhtin’s detention.
The three are being held at a municipal building in Lugansk that is controlled by separatists, the reports said.
Another journalist, Yuri Lelyavsky of the Lviv-based ZIK media company, has been held by separatists in Lugansk for more than week. It is unclear if his captors are the same that are holding Timofeyev and Shlyakhtin. Lelyavsky was detained on July 23 at a checkpoint set up by separatists, shortly after he filed a report for ZIK, IMI reported. He was accompanying a group of religious activists whose work he was documenting, and all of them were detained together, reports said. On Thursday, ZIK reported citing Kiev-based activists that Lelyavsky was being held in a Lugansk city building.
“Even sports reporters are evidently at risk in eastern Ukraine, where attacks, abductions, and detentions continue to come at journalists from all sides,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on the separatists to immediately release Yevgeny Timofeyev, Yuri Lelyavsky, and Yevgeny Shlyakhtin and to stop obstructing the press.”
The climate for press freedom in the volatile eastern Ukraine has deteriorated further following the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines plane in Donetsk region, CPJ research shows.