An insurgent leader in east Ukraine has said his fighters are holding four observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed “people’s mayor” of Slovyansk, a city in the Donetsk region, said on Thursday that the four were safe and promised that they would be freed soon, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. He did not set any conditions for the monitors’ release.
The OSCE said it had lost contact with one of its four-person monitoring teams in Donetsk on Monday evening. Rebels have previously kidnapped OSCE monitors in eastern Ukraine.
Ponomarev said his men had advised members of the OSCE not to travel across the region, but “there were those four most-zealous ones, and they were detained”.
OSCE observers have been deployed to Ukraine to monitor the security situation following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and a pro-Russia separatist insurgency that has engulfed parts of eastern Ukraine. They also observed Sunday’s presidential vote, won by the confectionary billionaire Petro Poroshenko.
He has promised to negotiate with people in the east, where insurgents have seized government buildings and fought government troops for a month and a half. But he also vowed to continue a military operation to uproot the armed rebels and bring the insurgency to a quick end.
In the most deadly battle yet, rebels in Donetsk tried to take control of its airport on Monday but were repelled by Ukrainian forces using combat jets and helicopter gunships. Dozens of men were killed and some morgues were overflowing on Tuesday. Some insurgent leaders said up to 100 fighters may have been killed.