Gonzalo Lira, a 55-year-old citizen journalist with a dual Chilean–American nationality, who was living in Kharkiv, Ukraine when the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, made international headlines back in May, when he was arrested for allegedly spreading Russian propaganda during wartime. Then, in early August, he popped back up again after months of silence in the most unusual way: he posted the English translation of his indictment to his X (formerly Twitter) page, then posted a series of videos to his YouTube channel in which he is heading to the Hungarian border, admittedly trying to flee the country while out on bond.
Since that video upload on his YouTube channel on 1 August, which has garnered a quarter of a million views since, there has been absolutely no word on his condition or whereabouts. Now, however, thanks to the reporting of the right-wing online publication Breitbart.com, we have an update. Unfortunately, it’s not a good one.
In response to their request,
the US State Department has confirmed that Gonzalo Lira is currently detained in a Ukrainian prison.
This means that he was unable to cross the border to Hungary to seek political asylum, as he stated he was planning in his fateful video, and was most likely detained before crossing. Attempting to escape would be an additional charge if he was in the United States. While we are not aware if that is going to be the case under Ukrainian jurisdiction, it is safe to assume that he has blown all his chances of ever being granted any bond again.
The statement by a US State Department spokesperson reads as follows, as published by Breitbart:
‘We are aware of the detention of Mr. Lira in Ukraine. We take our role in assisting US citizens abroad seriously and are providing all appropriate assistance. We are monitoring the situation but have no further comment at this time. We reiterate our message that US citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict.’
The right-wing publication criticizes the Biden administration for not doing enough to free an American citizen who was imprisoned for his political opinions. As they point out, there was no mention in his indictment of even the suspicion of Lira cooperating with Russian state agents; he was simply voicing his honest opinion on the subject, which happened to go against Ukrainian war interest. Breitbart also juxtaposes this with the fact the US government has sent large amounts of aid to the Ukrainian government since the start of the war. President Biden has just asked Congress to approve another aid package, this one for $24 billion, on top of the $113 billion already transferred to the war-torn Eastern European nation since the start of the invasion.
Breitbart speculates that this large amount of military aid would give the Biden administration more than enough leverage to ask for the release of a US citizen—the fact that Lira is still in custody is proof, in their opinion, that the Biden administration was not willing to do that.
In his last video uploaded to his YouTube channel, Lira claimed that the prosecution threatened him with a sentence of multiple years in a prison labour camp, which he stated would lead to his certain death. He was trying to get to Hungary because he thought that he had the best chance of political asylum there among the neighbouring countries, given the government’s more moderate stance on the war.