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Stanislav Aseyev

A Ukrainian blogger being held by Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's eastern region of Donetsk has declared a hunger strike, a longtime friend and former lawmaker says.

The friend, Yehor Firsov, posted on Facebook on July 5 that Stanislav Aseyev, who writes under the name Stanislav Vasin and contributes to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, began the hunger strike a week ago.

Firsov said Aseyev is being “kept in a damp room, sick, but does not receive the necessary medications” while under separatist custody.

Aseyev went missing in Donetsk on June 2, 2017.

Weeks later, Amnesty International said it had received information from sources in the Donetsk region saying that Aseyev was being held by the self-styled security organs of the Russia-backed separatists.

RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service has been unable to contact him since his disappearance.

Firsov wrote on Facebook in July 2017 that the separatists had confirmed they were holding Aseyev and that his mother had been allowed to visit him.

He said the separatists have accused Aseyev of espionage and threatened him with up to 14 years in prison.

Last month, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service published a book of Stanislav's essays for distribution free of charge.

Ukraine's National Union of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Amnesty International have expressed concerns over Aseyev's whereabouts and said separatists must release him immediately if they are holding him.

Volodymyr Balukh

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- A pro-Ukrainian activist on the Russia-annexed peninsula of Crimea has been sentenced to five years in a penal colony in a verdict assailed by Ukraine as “absolutely arbitrary and illegal.”

The prosecutor overseeing the second trial of Volodymyr Balukh had asked the Russia-controlled Razdolnensky District Court for a four-year prison sentence for the activist, who is currently on hunger strike.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry immediately blasted the court decision, asking “our partners” to influence the Kremlin to release Balukh and all other “political prisoners.”

Balukh was originally arrested in late 2016 and convicted on a weapons-and-explosives possession charge in August 2017. His conviction, and nearly four-year prison sentence, was reversed on appeal and returned to a lower court, which issued the same verdict and sentence in January.

The new case against Balukh was started three months later, in March, after the warden of the penal facility where he is being held sued him, claiming that Balukh attacked him.

On July 2, local prosecutor Dmitry Shmelev asked the Rozdolne district court for a new, four-year prison sentence for the alleged attack.

Balukh, who started a hunger strike on March 19 to protest the new case, contends the prosecutions are politically motivated.

Balukh was arrested in December 2016, after the Russian security agents allegedly found explosives and ammunition in his house.

The search was conducted shortly after Balukh planted a Ukrainian flag in his yard and affixed a sign to his house honoring those killed in Kyiv in 2013 and 2014 during the street protests that ousted the country’s pro-Russian president.

Russia annexed Crimea about a month after the president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the country.

Since that time, Russia has moved aggressively to prosecute Ukrainian activists and anyone who questions the annexation. Among those prosecuted are RFE/RL journalist Mykola Semena, who was convicted in September 2017 on separatism charges.

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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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