Early Saturday morning, Valery Bolotov, the leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk Republic, was arrested at the Ukrainian border, but his supporters freed him less than an hour later in a gunfight.
Vladimir Gromov, head of counterintelligence of Luhansk separatists, said the press conference that Bolotov was arrested by border guards and customs officers at 5:45 a.m. at the Dovzhansky border checkpoint. Hearing about this, the insurgents organized operation on his release.
“At about 6:15 a.m. several mobile groups drove to Dovzhansky. There were some 150 gunmen, I mean representative of Army of Southeast,” Gromov said, adding that there were up to 60 people on the side of border guards.
He added that after brief negotiations a shootout started and lasted for about 15 minutes and allowed the insurgents to free their leader. “Now Bolotov is in building of the regional administration, he feels fine but a bit tired,” Gromov said promising that soon Bolotov would be able to meet with the press.
Bolotov was allegedly injured in an assassination attempt on May 13 and went to Russia for medical treatment. Ukraine’s border agents arrested him due to an arrest warrant from a Luhansk court for promoting separatism. Luhansk held a referendum on May 11 and claimed independence from Ukraine.
The border guards said there were 200 gunmen, not 150, and there are no reports or anyone killed or wounded. However, military arms expert Dmytro Tymchuk said the scene contradicts the guards and Gromov.
“There are no signs proving that there was ‘severe fight’ near Dovzhansky checkpoint as a result of which Bolotov was allegedly released,” Dmytro Tymchuk, military blogger wrote on his Facebook. “There were no signs of presence of big number of gunmen as well.”
The shootout occurred hours before Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk met with regional leaders to try to ease tensions in east Ukraine.