Paris, March 17, 2022 – Anyone with information about the whereabouts of missing journalist Oleh Baturyn must come forward and aid in finding him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On the afternoon of Saturday, March 12, Baturyn, a reporter with the Ukrainian newspaper Novyi Den, went to meet an acquaintance at a bus station near his home in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Kakhovka, in the Kherson region, and never returned, according to the journalist’s wife, who spoke with CPJ on the condition that her name not be disclosed, and statements by the Institute of Mass Information, a Ukrainian press freedom group, and the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, a local trade group of which Baturyn is a member.
Baturyn received a phone call from an acquaintance in the nearby town of Novaya Kakhovka, whom he did not identify to his wife; he went to meet that person without bringing his phone or any documents, his wife said, adding that he said he would be gone for about 20 minutes, but was still missing as of Thursday.
Baturyn’s wife told CPJ that he had recently covered the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We are deeply concerned about the disappearance of Ukrainian journalist Oleh Baturyn, and call on anyone with information on his whereabouts to come forward at once,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Journalists should be able to cover the Russian invasion of Ukraine without fear of retribution or abduction, and authorities should work to ensure their safety.”
Baturyn’s wife and local news reports said that, around the time the journalist went missing, cars labeled with the letter “Z,” commonly seen on vehicles affiliated with the Russian invasion, were seen near the bus station.
There are no Russian forces permanently stationed in Kakhovka, but Russian forces have occupied Novaya Kakhovka, according to reports.
The journalist’s wife said that, since the Russian invasion, there was no functioning Ukrainian police or military presence in Kakhovka, so she was unable to seek help from Ukrainian authorities.
“Only his colleagues and journalist friends are helping [to look for Baturyn],” his wife told CPJ. She added that her husband knows her telephone number by heart and would have called her if he was given the opportunity.
“There is nothing official, he has not called, we do not know if he is dead or alive,” she told CPJ, adding that her husband has an eye condition that requires daily care. “He wears lenses, when he takes them out, he is almost blind. He needs eye drops.”
According to media reports, multiple activists and human rights defenders have recently gone missing in southern Ukraine, and their whereabouts remain unknown.
Kakhovka Mayor Vitaly Nemerets was quoted in those reports as saying that he believed Russian forces had taken Baturyn to Novaya Kakhovka; however, Novaya Kakhovka Mayor Vladimir Kovalenko was also quoted as saying that authorities had searched for Baturyn in the city and concluded that he was not there.
On March 13, five Ukrainian members of parliament demanded the release of Baturyn, whom they believe to have been captured by Russian forces.
CPJ emailed the Russian Ministry of Defense and Main Directorate of the Ukrainian National Police in the Kherson region; the Russian ministry’s email returned an error message, and the Ukrainian police did not respond.
Previously, in July 2017, Ukrainian journalist Stanyslav Aseyev went missing in the eastern city of Donetsk; about two weeks later Russian-backed militants announced that he was in their custody, as CPJ documented at the time.
Those militants subsequently said that Aseyev, who contributed to the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Ukrainian Service, would be held for 15 years for alleged espionage, but then released him in a 2019 prisoner swap, according to news reports and CPJ research. During his time in custody, Aseyev gave a forced confession on Russian state television.
Editor’s note: Baturyn was reportedly released after being held for almost eight days by the Russian military, according to Facebook posts by his sister Olga Perepelytsia and his friend Ivan Antipenko.