Free Austin Tice. And Evan Gershkovich. And…
The days are long, but the years are short. Here’s who we’re thinking about as 2023 ends. And, in the reporter’s notebook, Myroslava walks us through her favorite Ukrainian Christmas traditions.
This is our last formal issue of 2023. We will return Jan 4, 2024.
We are hoping to get another ten paid subscribers by the end of this year, to ensure we’ll be able to exist to the end of next year. If you’ve been a longtime reader just waiting for a little holiday spirit to make the jump to an upgrade, this is the time!
For most of my career, I’ve wanted to be a war correspondent.
I’ve always been inspired by the greats, people like Kim Dozier, Sebastian Junger, Nancy Youssef, Chris Hedges, Nic Robertson… The list goes on.
But the person who has stuck in my mind the longest, long before I ever became a conflict reporter, was a man by the name of Austin Tice.
The winner of the George Polk Award for War Reporting, he was a Marine Corps veteran who went to Syria to cover the civil war as a freelancer.
While traveling south of Damascus in August 2012, he was detained by unknown forces. Soon after, someone released a short video, in which a blindfolded Tice is seen speaking in Arabic through obvious distress, while surrounded by a group of men.
There is good reason to believe that, more than 4,000 days after his capture, he is still alive (learn more about his story here).
And if so, he is enduring a terrible ordeal.
His story always moved me because of his courage, intelligence and tenacity. And because I’ve tried my best to be more like him, though we’ve never met. We both joined the military and weaved it into our journalism careers. We’ve both tried to learn the language of the war we’re covering. And we’re both independent journalists.
This holiday season, we’re dedicating our final issue of 2023 to those who are not able to celebrate with their loved ones: those who have been unjustly detained.
Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was detained in Russia while courageously carrying out his duties earlier this year. During a journalism assignment in Yekaterinburg, east of Russia, Gershkovich was arrested and falsely charged with espionage.
By all accounts he i intrepid and brave: previously traveling to Belarus to watch as Russia’s war dead and injured were evacuated from the frontlines in the early stages of the invasion last year.
Evan has been wrongfully detained for nearly 270 days, and is currently being held in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison, isolated from the outside world (learn more about his story here).
Indeed, Russia has been at the center of a number of egregious and unjust journalist detentions. Here are just a couple more examples:
Russian occupation authorities detained Iryna Levchenko, a Ukrainian retired journalist. Iryna found herself behind enemy lines after Russian forces took Melitopol in February 2022.
Victoria Roshchyna, a Ukrainian freelance reporter, has been missing since July 2022. Despite being shot at by Russian forces, and then later detained and hit by security agents, she continued her journalistic work. She disappeared in the summer of 2022 while traveling into Russian territory to report.
It’s not just journalists. Right now thousands of Ukrainians, most of them soldiers, are spending the Christmas holidays in Russian captivity. We’ve profiled some of them, like Yaroslav and his crusading mother (‘Christmas Without Yaroslav’).
Many of those detained have names that will never be published. There are simply too many. The Ukrainian government lists more than 4,300 Ukrainian citizens in Russian captivity. Other estimates are at 10,000 or more. There are likely many in detention who are currently characterized as ‘missing.’
People like Ukrainian Oleksandr Mazenkov. He is officially listed as missing, but some former POWs said they had seen him in captivity.
This one is personal for our colleague Myroslava, who had worked with Oleksandr at her previous journalism job. When the invasion began, he went to fight.
Here’s what Myroslava had to say about him:
“He was one of my superiors, and I was very afraid to approach him without business or just to talk. He was always very serious – he knew his job and did it very well. You could call him at any time and he would always answer, you could always count on him.
When the full-scale invasion started, I didn't even know that he had gone to war. But I knew that Oleksandr would never run away, and would always protect his family under any circumstances. I think that was the most important thing for him.
Probably no one would have known that he was at war except that one day his wife, a friend of mine, wrote a post saying that she hadn’t heard from her husband for almost six months. It’s amazing what these families endure in silence.
I believe that one day he will return to his family.”
This holiday season, spare a moment to think about the wrongfully detained; the truly brave who are being held behind bars as part of the fight for a free society.
After the paywall: Putin signals willingness to negotiate. Plus, Myroslava walks us through Ukraine’s unique Christmas traditions, including four cloves of garlic.