Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pro-Russians holding 13 hostages

Ukrainian officers, European observers called spies, POWs

  • Print

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine -- Pro-Russia gunmen refused Saturday to release a group of European observers and accompanying Ukrainian army officers seized a day earlier in this eastern Ukrainian town, the epicenter of the pro-Moscow rebellion.

"These guys are not hostages but they are our POWs, and we intend to keep them in custody," Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, a separatist leader and self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "They are NATO officers and spies who infiltrated our territory illegally, without our permission."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe inspectors -- from Germany, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Sweden -- "represent the countries that supply the illegitimate government in Kyiv with arms and money," Ponomaryov said. "We may exchange them for our activists held by the fascist junta in Kyiv."

The abduction of the 13-member OSCE team, including the five Ukrainian officers, and a driver could not have been undertaken without direct orders from the Kremlin, "which coordinates and openly supports armed terrorists who seize buildings, capture hostages, torture and kill people," acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov was quoted as saying in a post on the Ukrainian parliament's website Saturday. "The political leadership of the Russian Federation must bear responsibility for supporting and promoting terrorism."

Adding heft to the allegations, Russian national Igor Strelkov, identified earlier by Ukraine's Security Service as a Russian military intelligence agent and a principal organizer of the armed mutiny in Slovyansk and other eastern Ukrainian communities, appeared in a video interview published Saturday by the popular Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda.

In the video, Strelkov, a lean and lanky man in his mid-40s dressed in an unmarked camouflage uniform, acknowledged his group was behind seizing a police station in Slovyansk on April 12 and downing a Ukrainian military helicopter on Friday.

"I won't deny that the unit I led to Slovyansk was formed on the territory of Crimea," Strelkov said. "A majority in the unit have combat experience."

His men, he said, include Russian and Ukrainian citizens who have fought in Chechnya, Central Asia, Yugoslavia, Iraq and Syria.

The fighters are seeking an independent "Donetsk Republic" in the region around the eastern city of Donetsk, but are inclined to see it join Russia, he said.

"People in central and western Ukraine seriously think bands of mercenaries are acting here ready to kill or hide from bullets behind women and children," Strelkov said. "This is not so. The people of the Donetsk rebelled against the junta and will fight against it."

Strelkov is wanted by Ukrainian authorities in the killing of a high-ranking Ukrainian law enforcement officer this month and on suspicion of organizing the kidnapping and slaying of Volodymyr Rybak, a councilman from the neighbouring town of Horlivka. Rybak was buried Thursday.

Strelkov and his team from Russia are deeply respected by a small army of several hundred local volunteers, said Valery Rusanov, 47, a local carpenter and former Soviet army tankman.

"Our task is to assist in organizing a regional referendum that would split the (Donetsk) region away from Ukraine," said Rusanov, garbed in a camouflage uniform and a tall, black woolen Cossack hat, with a Kalashnikov rifle in his arms. He stood outside an Orthodox temple where a service was held for a comrade killed in a clash with government troops on Wednesday.

Outside Slovyansk, Ukrainian military helicopters hovered low over the local woods and fields Saturday as convoys of Ukrainian armoured vehicles circled bumpy dirt roads. Their mission appeared to fully encircle Slovyansk, a strategy announced Friday by Ukrainian authorities.

Russia is conducting an undeclared war against Ukraine, acting Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval charged.

"After annexing Crimea, the Russian Federation concentrated troops along the eastern borders of our state, and its operation in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions aimed at cutting these regions away from our state is in full swing," Koval told journalists in Kyiv, the capital, on Saturday. "In fact, we are talking about an undeclared war unleashed by our northeastern neighbour."

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2014 A5

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Wasylycia-Leis tops in most issues important to Winnipeggers

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • KEN GIGLIOTTI  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / July 23 2009 - 090723 - Bart Kives story - Harry Lazarenko Annual River Bank Tour - receding water from summer rains and erosion  damage by flood  and ice  during spring flooding -  Red River , Lyndale Dr. damage to tree roots , river bank damage  , high water marks after 2009 Flood - POY
  • Down the Hatch- A pelican swallows a fresh fish that it caught on the Red River near Lockport, Manitoba. Wednesday morning- May 01, 2013   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Have you decided which mayoral candidate will get your vote?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google