PEN America to honor imprisoned Ukrainian journalist at gala

NEW YORK (AP) — A Ukrainian journalist imprisoned in Crimea will be honored next month at the PEN America gala. Vladyslav Yesypenko, arrested last year and sentenced recently to six years in a Russian labor camp for alleged possession and transport of explosives, is this year’s recipient of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award.

Yesypenko, 53, is a freelance correspondent for Krym.Realii Project, a Crimean radio program and news source run by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He has denied the allegations and has said he confessed after being tortured and threatened with death. He was arrested in March 2021 by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

At the time, he had been working on a video report about how life has changed in Crimea since it was annexed by Russia eight years ago.

“Since February, the horrors of Russia’s war on Ukraine have been laid bare for all the world to see. But Russia’s campaign to suffocate Ukraine dates back much further, and intensified in 2014 with the illegal occupation of the Crimean peninsula,” Suzanne Nossel, CEO of the literary and human rights organization, said in a statement Tuesday.

“Indomitable reporters like Vladyslav Yesypenko have provided a portal to enable the world to see Russian occupation for what it is, an exercise of force aimed to stifle the will of free people.”

While in detention, Yesypenko wrote a letter, published by Krym.Realii, in which he contended that “Nothing shows the ugly nature of the occupying power as the constant filling of the cells with new people who were detained on fabricated evidence.” Referring to his treatment by the FSB, he added: “It didn’t break me, but my hair seemed to turn gray.”

His wife, Kateryna Yesypenko, will accept the award on his behalf during the May 23 gala at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Other honorees will include author Zadie Smith and Audible founder Donald Katz.

The PEN award, called the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award when established in 1987, is given to writers and artists imprisoned for their work. Over the years, numerous honorees have since been freed, including the 2017 recipient, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov. He was released from a Russian prison two years later.

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