Sunday 19 November 2017

Pro-Russian separatists arrest journalist for her 'war crimes'

A pro-Russian armed man escorts Ukrainian journalist Irma Krat
A pro-Russian armed man escorts Ukrainian journalist Irma Krat
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
Ievgeniy Gorbik, a spokesperson for the pro-Russian militants occupying Slovyansk, speaks to the press in front of a tank parked near the Ukraine Security Service building
A pro-Russian activist stands guard outside of the Donetsk Regional Administration building
Pro-Russian militants guard a barricade near the Slovyansk Police Station
A pro-Russian militant stands guard in front of the occupied Ukraine Security Service building
A statue of Vladimir Lenin stands in the town square near the city council building

Roland Oliphant and David Blair

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine yesterday released a video of an abducted and blindfolded female journalist whom they accused of "war crimes", even as the Kremlin said the country's leaders in Kiev had "crudely" broken an agreement to restore calm.

As separatists refused to relinquish their grip on government buildings across the Donetsk region – despite the Geneva agreement that supposedly compels them to leave – Joe Biden, the US vice-president, became the most senior Western politician to visit Ukraine since the revolution in February.

Mr Biden landed in Kiev, where he is expected to announce a new package of assistance for Ukraine's faltering economy, which has suffered from the abrupt withdrawal of Russian support.

But his arrival coincided with a further escalation of the confrontation between the new government and pro-Russian groups in the east.

On Sunday, gunmen who control the town of Slavyansk in the Donetsk region detained Irma Krat, a Ukrainian journalist.

She was blindfolded and placed before a camera for a video that was posted online yesterday.


"I was arrested for allegedly opposing the referendum," she said in the video, referring to the vote that separatists plan to hold on the status of Donetsk region by May 11. "But this is speculation. I came to Slavyansk to tell the impartial truth."

The video was posted by Life News, a Russian website with close links to the security services. A man in camouflage gear whose name was given as Pavel said the journalist was being investigated for "war crimes" in the Kiev protests. Ms Krat (29) appeared composed yesterday when she briefly met journalists at the occupied security service building in Slavyansk.

"Conditions are okay," she said. "It is a bit cold, but they are giving me food and water."

She said she was detained while reporting on the shootings in Slavyansk in which three pro-Russian protesters were killed. Her captors suspect her of attacking policemen during the revolution that overthrew Ukraine's previous government in February.

Ms Krat was a founding member of the only all-female unit of the 'self-defence' forces, which played a crucial role in the revolution.

That will have made her an instant figure of suspicion for the separatists in Slavyansk, who fear a possible assault by Ukraine's security forces or nationalist militias.

Slavyansk was in mourning yesterday after the killing of three separatists in Sunday's bloodshed.

Both Russia's foreign ministry and Vyachelsav Ponomarev, the new "people's mayor" of the town, have blamed the attack on Pravy Sektor – a Ukrainian nationalist street militia that was prominent in the revolution. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, accused Ukraine's government of failing to curb the militia, describing the "crime" in Slavyansk as proof that Kiev had broken the Geneva agreement.

"All the signs show that Kiev can't – or maybe doesn't want to – control the extremists who continue to call the shots," he said. "Steps are being taken, above all by those who seized power in Kiev, which crudely violate the accords reached in Geneva."

However, Western governments point out that Russia's allies in eastern Ukraine are still occupying government buildings in nine towns and cities across Donetsk, in breach of the Geneva agreement. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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