Russians kidnapped journalist Dmytro Khyliuk, who was captured in the Kyiv region, and illegally took him to Russia.
Slidstvo.Info journalists talked to Dmytro Khyliuk’s parents, who last saw their son in March 2022. This is described in the documentary film Occupation: The Price of a Word. The video has English subtitles.
“WE WERE VERY AFRAID THAT HE HAD BEEN KILLED”
Dmytro Khyliuk, a journalist with the UNIAN news agency, was in the village of Kozarovychi, Kyiv region, with his parents during Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Halyna Khyliuk, Dmytro’s mother, holds his photograph and proudly tells about her son’s path to journalism.
“This is a recent photo taken just before the war… Who knew it would happen… He graduated from university, did postgraduate studies, was a philologist, a teacher of Russian and Ukrainian. But he chose journalism because he liked it,” says Halyna.
According to the journalist’s father, Vasyl Khyliuk, Dmytro is a very principled person, he always has his own opinion and is not ready to work for anyone else’s interests.
On 1 March 2022, the journalist wrote on his Facebook page that the Russian occupiers had entered the village, and that neighbouring villages on the left bank of Irpin were cut off from Kyiv. After that, the connection with him disappeared.
The executive director of the Institute of Mass Information, Oksana Romaniuk, recalls that she and her colleagues feared that Dmytro had been killed.
“In early March, we lost contact with the UNIAN journalist Dmytro Khyliuk… We were very afraid that he had been killed. We had no confirmation, we searched through law enforcement agencies and the military,” says Oksana Romaniuk.
“BURYATS ARE BREAKING DOWN DOORS”
On 1 March 2022, Russian soldiers broke into the Khyliuks’ house with weapons.
“Five men come in, they look like… Asian… Buryats. They break down the door. They said: “We will spend the night on the second floor”. They didn’t ask if it was okay or not. What can you say? Go ahead,” Vasyl Khyliuk recalls.
The next day, a shell hit the house directly, and the Khyliuk family went to spend the night at a neighbour’s house.
“The windows were smashed, it was still cold outside. So we decided to move to a neighbour’s house. We spent the night there. And then Dmytro and I were going to go early in the morning to see what we could do in the house, to clean it up,” Vasyl says.
When the men reached the house, Russians attacked them and knocked them to the ground.
“They came at us and said: “Hands up, lie down”. They ran up, put us down, searched us. They were looking for Dmytro’s tattoo. They found nothing… I only had cigarettes. They put jackets on our heads – both his and mine…. And they dragged us away. And in such a zigzag way that you didn’t know where they were going,” Vasyl recalls.
“THERE WAS NOTHING TO BREATHE”
Vasyl Khyliuk tells journalists that he and his son were taken to a nearby warehouse.
“There, in the warehouses, they tied our heads with tape… I can still hear Dmytro saying that he couldn’t breathe. Well, they taped his eyes and head. There was nothing to breathe. And he (the occupier — ed.) doesn’t listen, he keeps twisting the tape. And that’s it, I’m sitting there. And Dmytro was taken away,” Vasyl says.
After interrogation, the men were thrown into a truck. Vasyl recalls that there were many captured people there.
“They were standing for a while, when Dmytro came up to me… He was wrapped up. His hands were tied all the time. I couldn’t climb on that truck with my hands. He said: “Dad, it’s you!”. I said: “Of course it is me. What are you doing here? They said they had released you,” says Khilyuk.
The men were held captive for two days. Vasyl says he was with his son, but the Russians did not allow them to talk.
“You can’t talk much there, because if you speak louder, he (the occupier — ed.) shouts through the door that he will throw a grenade if you talk. He threatened that he would hand us over to the bearded Chechens, if there was anything there,” Khilyuk recalls.
During interrogation, Dmytro told the Russian military that he was a journalist. His father says they would have found out anyway, because they took his phone.
“I think they understood. If they already had his phone in their hands, they… His contacts are there. They knew. He said that yes, I said I worked for UNIAN… Although I said that Dmytro was a teacher,” Vasyl says.
“WE KICK ZELENSKY OUT, AND HE WILL RETURN”
After the Russians found out that Dmytro was a journalist, they did not let him go home with his father.
“I didn’t know where they were taking him. He (the occupier — ed.) just read out the list of people he was releasing and then said: “Dmytro, come out”. I went straight to him: “Where are you taking him, why are you taking him? His mother is waiting there, how can I come home alone?” And he said: “Don’t worry, the war will end and we’ll let him go.” He said that Zelensky will be kicked out and he will return,” Vasyl says, smoking another cigarette.
Dmytro Khyliuk has been in Russian captivity for the second year. The international non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders has published an investigation into where the occupiers are holding the journalist.
“These reporters said that no one had seen Dmytro, but they said that he was being held in solitary confinement. The man who was in the adjacent cell heard that he was interrogated, that Khyliuk was a journalist, and then he was taken somewhere,” says Dmytro’s father.
In August 2022, through the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dmytro Khyliuk’s parents received a letter from him, dated as early as April 2022. Vasyl carefully takes the piece of paper out of the envelope with the Russian Post stamp and reads it: “Dear Mum and Dad. I am alive and well. I am doing well. Dmytro”.
At the end of May, it became known that the police of the Kyiv oblast had transferred the criminal proceedings into the disappearance of the UNIAN journalist Dmytro Khilyuk to the Main Department of the Security Service of Ukraine in Kyiv and Kyiv oblast.
The Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets, said that he was personally monitoring the issue of the Ukrainian journalist’s release from captivity.
Khyliuk’s parents are waiting for their son to return home and hope that he is okay.
“Of course, they should be punished. God, especially when you hear what they are doing there… sadists. Of course, they should be punished. And try to get them all… Maybe our guys are doing something there, but… The main thing is that Dmytro returns, to hug him. (Crying) And punishment is not my business anymore,” says Vasyl Khyliuk.