Ukrainian journalist missing in Russian-occupied territory

By Bryan Pietsch | Originally published: The Washington Post

An undated portrait of Victoria Roshchyna. (Victoria Roshchyna/International Women’s Media Foundation)

Victoria Roshchyna, a Ukrainian freelance journalist, has been missing since she went on a reporting trip to Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine two months ago, raising concerns among family, colleagues and advocates that Russia could be holding her captive.

Roshchyna was last heard from on Aug. 3, according to the International Women’s Media Foundation, which said in a statement that it was “extremely concerned for her safety.”

Elisa Lees Muñoz, the IWMF’s executive director, said in a phone interview that Roshchyna’s colleagues — other journalists covering the war — have expressed growing concern about the disappearance.

“That they went public with this is really indicative of their desperation,” she said, as drawing attention to such a case can sometimes be “considered a provocation” by the missing person’s captors.

The Daily Beast on Wednesday published a report from Kyiv about the disappearance by Anna Nemtsova, a Russian journalist whom Lees Muñoz described as a friend and colleague of Roshchyna’s.

“I think it’s time to raise hell and publish,” Nemtsova told Lees Muñoz. “At least if she’s in the basement, they’ll stop torturing her.”

Roshchyna told her family on Aug. 3 that she had made it through border checks but did not say where she was, according to the Daily Beast report. She had departed from Ukraine on July 27 bound for Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, traveling through Poland and Russia to get to the contested region, Nemtsova reported, citing Vladimir Roshchyn, Roshchyna’s father.

Roshchyn told Nemtsova that Ukrainian security services had informed him that his daughter had been captured by Russia. Ukrainian officials did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Roshchyna was held captive by Russia in March 2022, after she was captured by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. She was held for 10 days in Berdyansk, and later chronicled her time in captivity in a report for the Ukrainian news outlet Hromadske.

Her father told Nemtsova that he had told Roshchyna to avoid going to the front lines of the war following her kidnapping in 2022. He offered to pay her not to go, but she insisted on continuing to report from the most treacherous battlegrounds, where atrocities often go unseen because of the extreme danger to journalists and human rights advocates.

That persistence may have been unwise, according to other journalists and observers, who expressed dismay on Facebook at Roshchyna’s decision to venture into Russian-occupied territories after she had already been held captive once.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based press freedom organization, at least 17 journalists have been killed in Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion began last year. The toll includes Ukrainian journalist Maks Levin, who Reporters Without Borders says was executed by Russian forces, according to an investigation by the organization. He was found dead after he went missing in March 2022. Ukrainian writer Victoria Amelina died after a strike in June on a restaurant popular with journalists and aid workers in Kramatorsk, near the front lines of the war.

The IWMF recognized Roshchyna with its Courage in Journalism award last year. Roshchyna said of reporting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “I do not consider it courage but rather my professional duty.”

Siobhán O’Grady contributed to this report.