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UPDATE: One OSCE Member Released; OSCE Observers Kidnapped in Sloviansk Want to go Home

UPDATE: One OSCE Member Released; OSCE Observers Kidnapped in Sloviansk Want to go Home

UPDATE: Pro-Russians released one member of the OSCE group they kidnapped last Friday on medical grounds. Ukraine previously said one of the observers was in need of medical aid.

Pro-Russians in Sloviansk kidnapped eight members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Friday and displayed them in front of the media on Sunday.

The forces claim the members are NATO spies since they had maps that pinpointed checkpoints around Sloviansk. However, OSCE’s presence should not be a surprise since Ukraine, Russia, US, and European Union agreed the group is needed in east Ukraine to monitor the situation in cities captured by pro-Russians. The OSCE members said they are not spies.

Colonel Axel Schneider, who was leading the observer mission, said the group came to Slaviansk without weapons and were there strictly in line with their mandate under OSCE rules, to carry out military verification work.

“We were accommodated in a cellar. We had to set up conditions for ourselves,” said Schneider, describing what happened after they were seized. “Since yesterday we’ve been in a more comfortable room with heating. We have daylight, and an air conditioner.”

Schneider, who had a shaven head, a closely-cropped beard and was wearing a plaid button-down shirt, told reporters he had “not been touched,” and that there had been no physical mistreatment of the group.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, self-proclaimed mayor of Sloviansk, promised the group would be kept safe and Schneider believes him. However, Schneider said the OSCE members just want to go home. After the press conference, Ponomaryov said he was headed to meet with mediators over the OSCE members.

“The soldiers are hostages of the situation but I think everything will be OK. We’ll reach some agreement,” said Mr Ponomarev, who claimed to be acting independently of Moscow.

Due to the escalating violence and kidnappings, Germany’s Foreign Ministry told Germans not to travel to east Ukraine and issued a stronger warning to journalists.

“The situation in eastern Ukraine is very tense at the moment,” said the ministry, adding an increasing number of state institutions were occupied by armed individuals.

“In view of the latest developments, it must be assumed that representatives of the media are at special risk of being held or seized by separatist forces,” it said in a statement.

The forces have kidnapped many journalists, including Simon Ostrovsky from VICE News. He was freed after being held for four days on suspicions of being a spy. Ostrovsky said he was blindfolded and beaten.


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