'I Hope She Is Alive': Family Seeks Answers To Disappearance Of Crimean Health-Care Activist

Health-care activist and blogger Iryna Danylovych was returning home from work at a boarding home in southeastern Crimea on April 29 when she went missing, purportedly detained by the peninsula's Russian authorities for allegedly passing information to a nongovernmental organization.

But her family and lawyer cannot be sure. They have been unable to determine Iryna's whereabouts despite filing a kidnapping complaint with the police and appealing to the Russian authorities who have controlled the seized Ukrainian peninsula since 2014.

More than a week after her disappearance, Iryna's family and legal representation have few clues to work with.

Her father, Boronyslav Danylovych, told the Crimea Realities desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that video footage from a local gas station has emerged, showing a woman who resembles his daughter standing at a bus stop when several people in civilian clothes jump out of a black vehicle and force her into the car.

Her lawyer, Aider Azamatov, determined that she was not at the local detention facility where she would be most likely to be held, in the Black Sea town of Sudak, and expanded his search throughout Crimea.

When it became clear that Iryna was not in any of the regional detention centers spanning the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, Azamatov appealed to the territory's branch of the Russian Investigative Committee and the Black Sea Fleet's Military Prosecutor's Office. Azamatov has yet to get a response.

Despite subsequent reports by the Crimean Tatar Resource Center that she was in the Simferopol pretrial detention center, Azamatov was told by the facility on May 6 that she is not there.

The situation has left Boronyslav Danylovych hoping that his daughter -- who was to celebrate her 43rd birthday on May 6 -- is still alive.

"How can this be in a democratic country?" the elder Danylovych asked in an interview with Crimea.Realities. “Let her be the worst serial criminal if you want to believe that," he said of the Russian authorities, "but you should tell me where she is."

The 75-year-old father of two said that, even during the upheaval of the 1990s, when he recalled organized crime groups holding sway after the fall of the Soviet Union, "they would have said something."

"It already seems that she is not alive," he said of his youngest daughter, "and we need to look in the morgues."

Iryna was born in the Vitsebsk region of the then-Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic and moved to Crimea along with her family in 1983.

"Here she went to school, entered the medical institute, and graduated with a degree in addiction medicine," her father said. "There was no money at that time, so she transferred to study at the Simferopol Medical College."

From there she studied obstetrics and moved to work in Belgorod, a region in western Russia where troops massed before the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

After returning to Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, shortly before the Russian invasion and seizure of the territory that year, Iryna found work as a nurse at a drug-treatment center in the eastern city of Feodosia, not far from her parents' home in Vladyslavovka, and eventually became the head of the Alliance of Doctors medical trade union.

"I know that she treated this work conscientiously. She respected the opinions of others, and that through her natural qualities she could protect people," her father said. "She was not afraid, she was not shy, and she entered the struggle openly.”

Candid And Outspoken

Her reputation as one of the few medical workers who would speak candidly about the health care situation in the Crimean Peninsula grew during the coronavirus pandemic, and she was outspoken about medical workers' rights and issues with the territory's Health Ministry.

After the Alliance of Doctors in Feodosia demanded bonus payments promised to medical professionals by Russian President Vladimir Putin in early 2020 -- which doctors in Crimea said they had not received despite the funds being sent to the territory -- she and her colleagues came under administrative pressure.

Iryna, who worked for the narcotics service of the city's medical association, continued to appeal for the payments until the department was disbanded and she and fellow employees were dismissed in 2021.

She continued her advocacy for health workers as a blogger and on social media and contributed as a source to stories about the health-care system in Crimea by media outlets including Crimea.Realities. She was most recently working as coordinator of the initiative Crimean Medicine Without Cover.

Boronyslav Danylovych told the regional desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that he and his wife were preparing breakfast, waiting for their daughter to return from her shift, when their home was raided by riot police.

“They showed me a court order [for the search] and said: 'Do you want us to read it to you, or can you do it yourself?'" he said. "I said: 'Read it.' And they read it and half I understood, half I did not understand. Then they said: 'Sign it.'"

The officers who conducted the raid, the elder Danylovych said, did not introduce themselves and confiscated numerous items, including a laptop and mobile phones, leaving him without communication.

They also failed to provide a copy of the search papers and inventory of the seized items, which he noted when he signed the documents under protest.

When Boronyslav Danylovych asked the officers where his daughter was, according Azamatov, they replied that she was being detained for 10 days for transferring what the lawyer described as "unclassified information to some nongovernmental organization."

With no phone or computer, he was unable to reach out for help until May 2, when his daughter's colleagues came looking for her when she did not show up for work.

With communication restored, he filed a missing persons report with local police and got in contact with Azamatov. Following the discovery of surveillance video that appeared to show Iryna's abduction, he filed a new complaint demanding that a criminal case be initiated and that the video footage be submitted as evidence.

Boronyslav Danylovych said he was not allowed to have a copy of the video, which he said on May 6 had still not been viewed by police, and RFE/RL was unable to verify the footage.

On May 4, the Prosecutor's Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the formal name of the territory recognized internationally as part of Ukraine, announced that it had launched a criminal case regarding the "violation of the inviolability of the home, and imprisonment of a citizen journalist who covered health problems in the temporarily occupied peninsula."

Calling Iryna Danylovych's detention illegal, the office said that "occupying security forces first unjustifiably searched the apartment of the activist in the Feodosia region of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and later took her away in an unknown direction, while her whereabouts and legal status are unknown."

Unable to celebrate Iryna's birthday with her in person, her friends made a show of support by leaving gifts and flowers outside the Simferopol pretrial detention center on May 6. But, with her whereabouts uncertain, the group could do little but express their concerns about her fate.

Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Michael Scollon based on reporting by Serhiy Mokrushyn of the Crimea.Realities desk of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, with additional reporting by Current Time.