US citizen Gonzalo Lira faces a long prison term in Ukraine for criticizing the country’s government. Shunned by the US government, his father is fighting to stop the “slow death of a son.”
When US media have demonstrated any interest in the arrest of an American citizen, Gonzalo Lira, it has been primarily to celebrate his prosecution on the grounds that he has been “shilling for Putin.” The US State Department, meanwhile, refuses to answer questions about the disappearance of an American at the hands of a government substantially funded by Washington.
The Grayzone spoke to Lira’s father, 80-year-old Gonzalo Lira Sr., about his son’s arrest. “I can only say that this episode has marked my life because it is living a slow death of a son,” Lira Sr. said. He fretted that the Ukrainian government was preparing a “kangaroo court” for his son, and lamented that it could lock him up for over a decade for his political speech.
Lira is an American and Chilean citizen who has been living in Kharkov, Ukraine for several years. He first emerged as a novelist, then attempted a career as a filmmaker before marketing himself as a dating coach known as “Coach Red Pill.”
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Lira earned internet notoriety as a war blogger. His analysis of the Russian military operation and harsh criticisms of the Ukrainian government from within Ukrainian territory instantly transformed him into a top target of Kiev’s often rabid band of online supporters. On May 1, Ukrainian state security agents arrested Lira for the second time in just over a year.
The first time he was jailed, Lira emerged after several days, announcing his freedom to the public through new social media accounts. This time, however, Ukrainian authorities charged him with the alleged crime of justifying “Russia’s armed aggression” and disseminating “fakes about the war in Ukraine.” If convicted of these crimes, he faces 13 years in prison.
Lira’s arrest was announced alongside the detention of ten other so-called “internet agitators” living in Ukraine.
“The blogger also denied the facts of Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian cities and mass murders of civilians by ruscists,” the SBU said in an official statement, likely referring to disputed narratives around the massacre in Bucha in March 2022 and missile strikes on the Kramatorsk train station in April of that year. Lira challenged the Ukrainian government’s version of events in both instances.
Following the arrest, the Ukrainian SBU published footage of the raid on Lira’s house and clips from his YouTube videos discussing the war.
While both Chile and the United States have freedom of expression enshrined in their constitutions, neither government has issued a statement on the arrest of Lira.
According to Gonzalo Lira, Sr., the U.S. Embassy in Kiev held a video conference with his captive son on around May 23. He initiated contact with the embassy to ask them to work towards his son’s release, but was told only that his son had been provided a defense attorney by Ukrainian authorities.
When Lira Jr. protested the attorney appointed to him, he was offered a list of other lawyers to choose from, according to the embassy. Presumably, they were all public defenders.
Meanwhile, the State Department has refused to publicly discuss the US citizen’s arrest by a government whose employees are subsidized by US taxpayers. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller refused to answer a question by reporter Liam Cosgove on whether the U.S. was working for Lira’s release.
Gonzalo Lira Sr. speaks out
Lira Sr. told The Grayzone that he and his son have not spoken to one another in 24 years. But his son’s arrest triggered his parental instincts, prompting him to appeal to both the U.S. Embassy in Kiev and media outlets to pressure the Zelensky government for his son’s release.
An affable 80-year-old retiree, Lira Sr. says he does not share the political views his son has espoused, though he is critical of the government in Kiev. Asked about mainstream reports celebrating his son’s arrests in Ukraine and painting him as anti-Semitic and a “misogynist” — allegations which have nothing to do with his legal persecution — Lira, Sr. said that his son “has a very high IQ as detected when he was 10 years old. He enjoys putting people on the spot, playing with them; a bit sadistic.”
Despite becoming estranged from his son following his divorce from his mother, Lira shared warm memories of their time together in New York City. He recalled how they spent hours during the winter building model cars, planes and tanks. In the summer, “we would enjoy the pool,” he said, adding, “Gonzalo is an excellent swimmer.”
Lira Sr. told The Grayzone that he worried his son was being tortured, and could not sleep normally. “I can only say that this episode has marked my life because it is living a slow death of a son,” he said.
He doubts his son will ever be released: “At present they are preparing a kangaroo court. Zelensky and his thugs do not fight for democracy and freedom, they fight to keep themselves in power with the blessings of Biden.”
Lira Sr. said of his son: “He feels that the Ukrainian citizens are not being told the truth as to the results of the war while Ukraine is being destroyed. Gonzalo cannot be accused of being a Russian propagandist nor agent, he simply has openly [expressed] to his near 300,000 followers his impressions of the war. He has never contacted a Russian soldier nor Russian agent. As an American citizen living in the country that his two children live, he has expressed his right of speech.”
Even before his son’s arrest on May 1, Lira says Gonzalo was already a prisoner in his own home. “Gonzalo was literally kidnapped by the SBU,” he said of the first arrest in April 2022. “And after one week of cruel interrogations, he was released under house arrest.”
Lira Sr. told The Grayzone that Ukraine authorities did not have any documents actually charging his son with a crime at the time.
“The SBU destroyed all his communication equipment, and they held his passport,” he added. “Ukraine has enacted laws criminalizing dissent and allowing President Volodymyr Zelensky to ban opposition political parties, nationalize the media. This is in total contradiction for what the United States and we citizens of the free world believe and promote.”
“For the U.S. government, it would only take a phone call to Zelensky to free Gonzalo,” insisted Lira Sr. “The world knows that Zelensky is a US puppet, but he does not respect the right of an American citizen to exercise his freedom of speech.”
Lira concluded our exchange with a blunt statement: “Free my son from political imprisonment!”