In occupied Melitopol, Russians kidnapped the father of a journalist, Svitlana Zalizetska, to persuade her to cooperate. The woman managed to leave the occupied city and save her life.

Slidstvo.Info spoke to Svitlana Zalizetska, a journalist for the Ria.Melitopol website, about the abduction of her father by Russians and how she managed to escape. The documentary film Occupation: The Price of a Word tells the story. The video has English subtitles.


On 26 February, the Russian military occupied Melitopol. People began to rally en masse against the occupiers.

Svitlana Zalizetska, a journalist for the website Ria.Melitopol, says that she and her colleagues tried to report on the events in the city, despite Russia’s constant hacker attacks on the news site.

Svitlana Zalizetska, a journalist from Zaporizhzhia Oblast

“We were very strongly dedosed (cyberattack to disrupt the website — ed.) by the rashists, and it was all very planned. They did not want anyone to know what was happening. On the contrary, we wanted to show everyone that we were being bombed here,” says Svitlana.

Local journalists filmed and recorded the rallies of Ukrainians who took to the streets to protest. Russia brought Rosgvardia to Melitopol, which began to violently disperse civilians.

“Then they brought punishers to the city… At first, they surrounded the square, took away phones, and forbade filming themselves. Then they started beating us with truncheons, gassing us, taking us out of town… It was a ‘lesson’ that we shouldn’t come out tomorrow. But people kept coming out until they were taken prisoner,” Svitlana recalls.


Halyna Danylchenko, the self-proclaimed ‘head’ of the occupation administration of Melitopol, wanted to meet personally with Svitlana Zalizetska to persuade her to cooperate with the Russians.

“Halyna Danylchenko met with me. She did not publicise this meeting. She said that she was offering and ‘advising’ me to work for the occupiers, for the media to work for the occupiers, and that the commandant wanted to meet with me. I said that I do not want to work with you and will not work with you,” says Svitlana.

Illustration of Svitlana Zalizetska’s meeting with collaborator Halyna Danylchenko

Svitlana Zalizetska recalls hearing about the lists on which the occupiers came to journalists.

“When we talked to Danylchenko, she said that they didn’t need any journalists, they needed leaders who people would follow and listen to, and people with authority. They had lists that they followed,” the journalist says.

On the same day, she learned that the Russians had kidnapped the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov. Svitlana realised that they had also met with the mayor and offered him cooperation.

“And then I realised that they must have met with him and he said no. If I meet (with the commandant — ed.) and say ‘no’, the same thing will happen to me. And then I started looking for ways to leave,” the journalist recalls.


Svitlana decided to leave Melitopol immediately to avoid being captured by the Russians. The woman got someone else’s passport because she was on the list, so the occupiers would not let her through the checkpoint.

Illustration of Svitlana Zalizetska leaving occupied Melitopol

“I was leaving under someone else’s passport and disguised as a doctor. According to the legend, we were going to treat or take away a person who had a stroke. I was travelling in an ambulance, I was told to take only the most necessary things,” the journalist recalls.

Svitlana hid her SIM cards in a sock so that the Russians would not find them. The woman says that they passed about 18 Russian checkpoints in the ambulance before they managed to reach Zaporizhzhia.

Illustration of Svitlana Zalizetska leaving occupied Melitopol


While the journalist was fleeing from the occupiers, they came to her parents’ house and searched it.

“They started searching, asking where I was, why I left. They looked at photos and asked: ‘who is this, what does he do, where does he study, where is the daughter, where is the husband’. The search was conducted by the military and the FSB officer talked to my parents. And then they told my father: ” He should pack up and come with us,” says Svitlana.

The occupiers called the journalist late in the evening from her father’s number and ordered her to return to the city.

“And I said: “Dad, can you tell him that I’m not going back… I said: “Dad, endure it”… He said: “I’m enduring it”. And that’s it, that’s where the connection was broken… (crying),” says Zalizetska.

The Russians held Svitlana’s father captive in one of the basements. He was taken for night interrogations and constantly asked the same question: “Why are you in prison?” and he answered: “For my surname”.

Svitlana Zalizetska’s father

The occupiers demanded that the journalist publicly give up her work in the media in exchange for her father.

“I received a call from an FSB officer called Sergei. He started saying that I had to give him all the passwords to the website, the telegram channel, all the social networks… I said that I didn’t have all the passwords: “We will let your father go if you write publicly that you are no longer working for your media outlet,” says Zalizetska.

Screenshot of Svitlana Zalizetska’s page

After publishing the refusal of the media, the occupiers returned Svitlana Zalizetska’s father home.

“For some reason, I received a message from Halyna Danylchenko, who wrote: “Thank you for your cooperation”. Maybe she thought I would really start working with them, I don’t know,” says Svitlana.


Oksana Romaniuk, the executive director of the Institute of Mass Information, says that Ukraine’s goal should be to punish all Russian criminals fairly.

“Without fair punishment, this story will repeat itself. These crimes will continue to be committed in other countries. Russia itself will continue… without punishment, there will be no end to these terrible crimes,” says Romaniuk.

Now Svitlana Zalizetska lives in the territory free of Russian occupiers and is waiting to return home to her native Melitopol.

Svitlana Zalizetska

“I believe that not all of them will escape. Kherson shows that not all of them have fled. Some are hiding there, but I don’t know what they hope for. They will be punished,” says Zalizetska.

READ ALSO: “We will cut off your head”: how Russians tortured a Ukrainian journalist during the occupation of the Kherson region