Slavyansk is clearly now being built up as what looks like a permanent “separatist” enclave in eastern Ukraine (“bridgehead,” bargaining chip, who knows?), and part of that process will involve discouraging outsiders from coming to see what is going on.
Eight European military observers kidnapped by pro-Russian gunmen in eastern Ukraine have been shown off at a press conference in the rebel-held city of Slavyansk.
The group, looking tired but unharmed, appeared next to Slavyansk’s self-appointed separatist “mayor”, Vyacheslav Ponomarev. They include four Germans, a Pole, a Dane, a Swede and a Czech officer. The rebels did not exhibit five members of Ukraine’s armed forces captured at the same time on Friday.
Speaking in German, the senior officer, Colonel Axel Schneider, defended his mission to the region, under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). He said claims by Ponomarev that the group were Nato spies were blatantly false. “We are not Nato,” he said. “Our mission was transparent. All OSCE members including Russia knew about it.”
John Schindler writes:
A few days ago, the SBU [Ukrainian security service] released a videotape that implicates Colonel Strelkov [allegedly a colonel in Russia’s GRU], as well as GRU Lieutenant Colonel Igor Beltzer plus Slovyansk’s self-proclaimed “mayor” Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, as the culprits behind the 17 April abduction and subsequent murder of Volodymyr Rybak, a local lawmaker who was loyal to Ukraine.
Rybak is not the only local to have been abducted, brutalized and killed. Nacht und Nebel.
[D]etailed information about what’s really going on in Slovyansk is hard to come by, not least because Russian-backed militants capture and kill people they don’t like.
However, as Schindler reports, a Belarusian (opposition) journalist was able to get into the town.
It’s well worth reading what he had to say in full, but here are some excerpts:
Slavyansk is the center of the Bermuda Triangle, which is now located in the Donbas. We arrived there from Donetsk at somewhere around eight a.m. At this hour, the city looked like a ghost town, rather scary: There was no one on the streets, the streets were completely empty, just some people or other at the roadblocks…
[N]othing at all remains of Ukraine in Slavyansk apart from a Ukrainian flag on the building of Donetsk Pedagogical University. There are no Ukrainian police there at all.
Regarding the city council: I had heard from many journalists, including from Paul Gogo, who had tried to get into the building three days before this, but had been unable to so, that it was impossible to obtain permission. During the same attempt, a Moscow Times journalist, Oleg Sukhov, was arrested as a member of Right Sector. He was even taken into some kind of room where opposite him sat, evidently, Serhiy Lefter [Ukrainian journalist previously arrested]; his hands were bound to the chair, and he was guarded by a ‘little green man’ with an assault rifle….
We crossed the bridge without problems, took a taxi, went to the station, and there, completely by chance, we met the last Roma left in Slavyansk.This person was terribly scared. He had come back to fetch some children’s things or other, and was in a state of genuine terror. I stopped him and asked him to tell me what was going on.
It turned out that, a day before this, the entire Roma community had left the town en masse. Because, in his words, their homes had been fired on from the street. And all representatives of the community had received threats that they would be destroyed en masse, including the children, unless they fled.
This man said that the armed men want only Russians to remain in the city.
This has affected not only the Roma. For example, he cited the example of his neighbors, who speak Ukrainian in everyday usage; they too have received similar threats.
Nothing at all remains of Ukraine in Slavyansk apart from a Ukrainian flag . . .