Paris, April 7, 2022 – In response to Russian forces’ release of Ukrainian journalist Oleksandr Gunko, the Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday issued the following statement calling on Russian authorities to stop detaining members of the press.
“Oleksandr Gunko is at least the fifth journalist to be taken captive by the Russian military. This recurring practice, an attempt to intimidate and discourage members of the press from reporting on the war, must stop,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Russian authorities must immediately release journalists Iryna Dubchenko and Dmytro Khilyuk, who remain in detention, and let the media work freely.”
On April 3, Russian soldiers searched Gunko’s home in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Nova Kakhovka, seized his phones and electronic devices, and detained him, as CPJ documented at the time. Russian authorities released Gunko, chief editor of the Nova Kakhovka City news website, on Wednesday, April 6, according to Facebook posts by his family members and Lera Lauda, the head of a local media agency affiliated with Nova Kakhovka City, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Lauda told CPJ that Gunko had been held in a Russian-controlled pretrial detention center in the Ukrainian city of Kherson. She said he was in good spirits after his release, and that Russian soldiers retained possession of his phone and laptop.
Russian forces said they would return Gunko’s devices by Friday, but Lauda added, “I think there is a high probability that some spyware or something like that could be installed there.”
At least two other Ukrainian journalists, Iryna Dubchenko and Dmytro Khilyuk, remain in Russian custody. Russian forces previously detained and released journalists Viktoria Roshchina and Oleh Baturyn.
Konstantin Ryzhenko, who was reported missing on March 30, wrote on Facebook on April 4 that he had narrowly escaped being detained by Russian soldiers. He is now in hiding, according to news reports and his friend Sergei Chernyavsky, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app.
CPJ emailed the Ukrainian and Russian Ministries of Defense for comment, but did not receive any replies.
[Editors’ note: This article has been changed in its third paragraph to clarify Lauda’s connection to Gunko.]