On March 12, Ukrainian journalist Oleh Baturin got a phone call from an acquaintance asking for a meeting.
When he got to the place they had agreed upon, his acquaintance wasn't there -- "but there was a car with Russian soldiers," Baturin told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3. "They jumped out of the car and began beating me. They put me in handcuffs, dragged me into the car, and took me to the city of Nova Kakhovka."
The abduction marked the beginning of an eight-day ordeal of captivity for Baturin, a correspondent with the Noviy Den media outlet in Ukraine's southern Kherson region, which has been largely occupied by Russian forces since the early days of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
Since the war began on February 24, at least seven journalists have been killed and several others injured, according to Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Project Journalists. The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine said last month that at least 20 media professionals had been killed.
Many others, like Baturin, have been detained, tortured, and interrogated by occupying Russian forces and their proxies in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.
"They told me: 'You know, this is martial law. There is a war going on, and we can try you just like in a war. We'll just summon a tribunal and sentence you to be shot,'" Baturin said. "They began to threaten me, to describe in detail how they were going to skin me with a knife so that I would die slowly in agony, how they were going to pull out my eyes, cut off my ears and limbs."
Baturin said he was taken to the municipal government building in Nova Kakhovka, where he was interrogated by Volodymyr Leontyev, a pro-Russian Ukrainian who had been appointed as the administrator of the occupied city.
"He spoke to me in Russian," Baturin recalled. "'Do you recognize me? You dared to publish photographs of me in a Nazi uniform?' He spoke extremely roughly. It was just a flood of swearing."
Earlier, Baturin had written articles about Leontyev's cooperation with the invading forces and the likelihood that he would be named the city's administrator. The articles were illustrated with photographs of Leontyev wearing a Nazi uniform while participating in a historical reenactment.
"That's when I realized who had ordered my abduction," Baturin said, adding that there were also a large number of armed Russian soldiers in the room. "All of the threats I heard had to be taken seriously. I was completely at their mercy."
Baturin said he was severely beaten during the initial hours of his captivity.
"They beat me when they detained me," he told RFE/RL in April, speaking from Odesa. "They beat me while they were taking me to Nova Kakhovka. They beat me while I was at the police station in Nova Kakhovka. While I was being questioned in the office of the mayor, they beat me there, too."
A medical examination later revealed that Baturin had suffered four broken ribs.
"They let me know clearly that I shouldn't write anymore," he said. "They let me know that they were avenging me for my articles. Particularly Leontyev, regarding the publications with those photographs…. He was very angry that those photographs from a decade ago where he's wearing a Nazi uniform cropped up now."
After more than a day in the custody of the occupation administration in Nova Kakhovka, Baturin was transferred to the custody of Russian forces and taken to Kherson, the regional capital, where he was held under appalling conditions.
It doesn't matter," one Russian soldier said. "We'll capture Mykolayiv and then make it to Odesa, and then we'll take care of all these people once and for all. They won't be conducting any more demonstrations.'"
"There was nothing in the cell except a bench that was quite uncomfortable to sleep on," he said. "The first days it was very cold, because the weather was freezing…. There was a tap with water, which was good because we could drink as much as we wanted."
"There was a hole in the floor that was a toilet," he continued. "But there was no toilet paper…no soap to wash your hands with."
Only cold food was served, once or twice a day. His coat served as blanket and pillow.
"I was very glad I had been wearing a coat when they abducted me," he said. "Because of that, I didn't freeze or get sick."
In Russian custody, Baturin was asked more generic questions, such as to provide the names of "Ukrainian fascists" or "Belarusian journalists and activists who might be in Kherson Oblast."
"For instance, they asked me who is behind various Telegram channels in the Kherson Oblast and to provide the names of active, pro-Ukrainian journalists…[or] the names of activists organizing protests in Kherson," he said.
The protests of local residents against the occupation of Kherson seemed to have rattled the Russians, who couldn't understand that people might spontaneously take to the streets, Baturin said.
He quoted one Russian interrogator as saying: "'It doesn't matter. We'll capture Mykolayiv and then make it to Odesa, and then we'll take care of all these people once and for all. They won't be conducting any more demonstrations.'"
"They are trying to establish their own order," Baturin said. "They want to completely suppress any manifestation of public activity. They told me openly at the first interrogation that they intend to completely suppress journalism and simply prevent journalists from fulfilling their professional obligations…. They are showing through their actions that they consider that territory to be theirs. They believe they will be there forever."
After eight days of captivity, Baturin was released. He was told to stay in his home for an additional five days.
"It is clear to me that they were relatively gentle with me, particularly in comparison with prisoners who had been fighting against them," Baturin said. Those prisoners were "constantly being tortured."
"That treatment and the fact that they released me indicates that the abduction was a warning that I should watch out," he said.
Shortly thereafter, Baturin left the region and made the dangerous trip through the front lines to government-controlled territory, fearing that if the Russians came for him again, "the consequences would be completely different."
"I still remember that first night, the first 24 hours as a prisoner," he recalled. "I don't want to think about it again, but it is constantly in my mind."