Family and friends say they have not heard from Victoria Roshchyna, 26, since Aug. 3, when she was returning to Russian-occupied territory hoping to report once more on the brutality of the invading forces.
Her family fears she is being held by the Russians.
Roshchyna, who won the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage in Journalism Award last year, was captured twice by the Russian military in 2022. After each time she got away, she returned to the front lines to continue to chronicle crimes against humanity.
Roshchyna’s family—her mother, father and sister—are heartbroken. “To my daughter, journalism was the most important thing in her life, she was very devoted to her profession,” Vladimir Roshchyn told The Daily Beast. “I asked her to slow down after her first captivity, I said, ‘Vika, I can pay your salary, just please don’t go to the front’ but she was firm, unstoppable—she was not able to stop covering the news of this war on the occupied territories for her readers.”
According to her father, Roshchyna set off from Ukraine to Poland on July 27 and was expected to reach Russian-occupied territories in eastern Ukraine—via Russia—three days later. When they spoke to her on Aug. 3 she told them she had made it through days of border checks but did not tell them exactly where she was. She was first reported missing to the Ukrainian authorities on Aug. 12. The family has also filed an official missing case with the Security Service of Ukraine, Ministry of Reintegration of the Temporary Occupied Territories of Ukraine, and the Ombudsman on Sept. 21.
“The Ukrainian security service confirms to us that Victoria has been captured by Russia. Public officials tell us that there are many ‘frozen’ Ukrainian detainees in Russian jails, she might be among them,” Roshchyn told The Daily Beast.
The Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group, which provides legal support for families of missing Ukrainian citizens, said many people have been held in the occupied Russian territories with no official status—these hidden detainees are referred to as “frozen” prisoners.
“We have many so-called ‘frozen’ cases of our citizens, who were detained on the occupied territories during the war but Russian authorities did not register them at any jail,” the group’s attorney, Yevgenia Kopalkyna, told The Daily Beast. “The missing people can be kept in these jails for months without any help from defense lawyers, it is impossible to find them, unless somebody who gets released tells us that they’ve seen them.”
Russian veteran campaigner Svetlana Gannushkina—one of the founders of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize-winning Memorial human rights organization—said she had requested the whereabouts of Roshchyna from the office of Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Tatyana Moskalkova. “Unfortunately, I have not received any response, yet,” she told The Daily Beast. “The answer can take more than a month, there are many requests.”
Roshchyna, a freelance reporter, was working for the Hromadske media outlet when Russia started the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Her hometown of Zaporizhzhia was under artillery fire and the neighboring Donetsk region was being destroyed. While millions of people escaped from the country, Roshchyna continued to report on the invasion.
On March 7, last year she came across a battalion of Russian tanks, they fired in the direction of her car. Undeterred, she continued to file detailed reports on the tanks, artillery, and violence unleashed on her home by Russia.
A week later, the Russian military detained her in the village of Vasilivka, she told her editors at Hromadske. She managed to escape and spent the night in a basement. She said she tried to convince her driver to walk across a field to safety the following morning but he refused to go. She started to walk to freedom alone before changing her mind and returning for the driver.
On March 11, 2022 she was captured again. This time by Russia’s FSB—according to her own report on the abduction— as she made her way to Mariupol. She said she was blindfolded and had her possessions taken during a week of captivity, mostly at the Berdyansk camp, during which she was accused of being a Ukrainian spy.
On being released, she returned to her home town of Zaporizhzhia, bought replacement equipment and continued to report on the war.
When she received the IWMF award, she explained why she had refused to give up: “I was never afraid to tell the truth. People need to know the truth, and the guilty must be held accountable. I do not consider it courage but, rather, my professional duty.”
Roshchyna wrote gut-wrenching stories including reports from occupied Energodar about the Russians capturing Europe’s biggest nuclear power station, and from Huliaipole about life under constant bombardment.
She was committed to covering the occupation of cities in her country, even though she had never been a war correspondent before. When her editors grew concerned for her well-being, she kept saying: “This is the most important story.”
Sevgil Musaieva, the editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda, has worked with Roshchyna over the past year. “She is a brave journalist, she commits to report the most controversial topics, which require courage,” she told The Daily Beast. “She is not a spy, she is a real journalist; she is not indifferent to the fate of people who remained in the occupied territories. It is important for her to tell their stories.”
“I am calling for Ukrainian authorities to do everything to find her and for Russian authorities to immediately release journalist Victoria Roshchyna.”