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Vladislav Yesypenko holds dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship and is a freelance contributor to RFE/RL's Crimea.Realities.

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- The authorities in Crimea have arrested a man for allegedly spying on behalf of Ukraine, a move Kyiv characterized as propaganda ahead of the seventh anniversary of Moscow's forcible annexation of the region.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on March 16 that Vladislav Yesypenko, who holds dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship and is a freelance contributor to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was arrested on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence.

According to the FSB, an object "looking like an explosive device" was found in Yesypenko's automobile during his apprehension. It also said he confessed to collecting data for the Ukrainian Security Service.

Yesypenko, along with a resident of the Crimean city of Alushta, Yelizaveta Pavlenko, was detained on March 10 after the two took part in an event marking the 207th anniversary of the Ukrainian poet and thinker Taras Shevchenko the day before in Crimea.

Pavlenko was later released.

Yesypenko's lawyer, Emil Kuberdinov, said on March 15 that he had not been allowed to meet with his client since his arrest.

"At a time when the Kremlin is employing harassment and intimidation against any possible alternative voice in Russia-annexed Crimea, the recent detention of Vladislav Yesypenko, a freelancer for RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, is deeply troubling. Yesypenko should be released immediately, so that he can be reunited with his family," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted amid a wave of public protests.

Rights groups say that since then, Russia has moved aggressively to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation.

The Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence Service said in a post on Facebook that with the arrest, the FSB was trying create the atmosphere the Kremlin needs to "celebrate the anniversary of the occupation of Crimea."

"Such propaganda on the eve of the anniversary is a convenient attempt to distract the attention of the population away from the numerous internal problems of the peninsula," it said.

"Russia is deliberately inflating the situation, trying to shift responsibility for the settlement process in eastern Ukraine to Ukraine."

Moscow also backs separatists in a war against Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

On March 15, the Russian-imposed authorities in the Black Sea peninsula temporarily lifted coronavirus pandemic restrictions to mark the seventh anniversary of the region's annexation with a variety of events organized by the pro-Kremlin Night Wolves bikers club, as well as patriotic events at schools and military schools on March 18.

Wife Of Jailed Belarusian Blogger Speaks Out In Video Statement
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Ihar Losik, a popular blogger and RFE/RL consultant jailed in Belarus since last June on charges his supporters say are trumped up, ended a hunger strike on March 15 and is now in solitary confinement. Prior to that, he tried to cut his wrists while in custody after fresh, unspecified charges were leveled against him. He had been charged already with allegedly using his popular Telegram channel to "prepare to disrupt public order" ahead of an August 9 presidential election that Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed he won by a landslide amid allegations of widespread fraud. On March 11, his wife, Darya Losik, issued a video in support of her husband.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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