Former journalist Iryna Levchenko was allegedly abducted by Russian forces in Ukraine in early May 2023 and has reportedly been held by Russia ever since.
Levchenko worked for years as a reporter for several news outlets but left journalism after Russian forces occupied the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol in late February 2022, according to media reports and Sergiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU), a local trade group, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Tomilenko told CPJ that Levchenko had stopped her work for “security reasons,” and that the NUJU “connect(s) her detention exclusively with her journalistic background.” She had not worked in any capacity since then. Her husband, Oleksandr, is retired and was not a journalist.
Tomilenko told CPJ that Levchenko worked as a reporter covering local news and social issues for the Noviy Den local newspaper, local news website Mltpl.City, and national newspaper Fakty i Kommentarii. “I know Iryna Levchenko personally; she is a professional journalist with a good reputation,” he said.
Arrest and detention
In early May 2023, Russian forces detained Levchenko and Oleksandr in Melitopol, according to media reports and reports by the Institute of Mass Information, a local press freedom group, and NUJU. Levchenko’s relatives lost contact with her on May 5 and asked not to publicize her detention until May 30, as they hoped she and her husband would be released, those reports said.
Tomilenko told CPJ that Levchenko and her husband face extremism charges and that their whereabouts were unknown.
Russian authorities have repeatedly detained journalists in Ukraine since first occupying Crimea in 2014.
Both Iryna and Oleksandr have health issues, according to NUJU, which did not specify the nature of those issues.
According to NUJU’s regional branch of Zaporizhzhia, which includes Melitopol, the pair were held in “inhumane conditions, almost without food, in a cold basement, on a concrete floor,” and were “subjected to physical and psychological torture.” Iryna was later transferred to an undisclosed location, according to that report.
In October 2023, CPJ emailed the Russian-controlled Melitopol administration for comment about their detention and for information about the charges against Levchenko and her husband but did not receive any reply. CPJ also emailed the Russian Ministry of Defense and the press service of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office but did not receive any reply.