Pro-Rus­sians hold­ing 13 hostages

Ukrainian of­fi­cers, Euro­pean ob­servers called spies, POWs

SundayXtra - - NEWS CANADA I WORLD - By Sergei L. Loiko

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

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