Hundreds of People Have Disappeared in Eastern Ukraine

From – http://mashable.com/2014/06/30/hundreds-kidnapped-eastern-ukraine/

DONETSK, Ukraine – On a bench in a courtyard shaded by large poplars, Tanya takes a long drag of her skinny cigarette and pauses as she holds the smoke in her lungs. Then, enunciating each word slowly with the exhale, she tells me: “They took him.”

The morning of her husband’s disappearance in late May was like any other: he awoke at dawn and dressed in the police uniform she had pressed for him the night before. He wolfed down the breakfast of sausage and salad she had prepared, and then kissed her goodbye.

It was the last time she saw him.

Tanya is convinced that pro-Russian insurgents abducted her husband who often spoke publicly of the pride he felt wearing the Ukrainian uniform. But, fearing reprisals against herself and her husband — if he is still alive — she asked that his first name and their last name not be published.

The week of her husband’s disappearance, the insurgents came to the Artemivsk police station where her husband worked and delivered an ultimatum: work with us — or else. The officers were given until the end of the day to decide. Most didn’t wait that long, pledging their allegiance right then and there. Tanya’s husband was a notable exception, and Tanya believes that this is why he disappeared.

In the course of this conflict, pro-Russian militants have kidnapped hundreds of activists, journalists, police and civilians, human rights observers estimate, though exact numbers are hard to come by. Some abductees have been released after a few hours, days or weeks in captivity. On Friday, observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were freed, having been held hostage for a month.

But many others — especially local Ukrainians — remain in captivity, hidden inside dark and dank basements, suffering in horrific conditions.

As pro-Russian insurgents tighten their grip on the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, a climate of fear has reared its ugly head, though few locals are willing to talk about the scourge of kidnappings outside the relative safety of their kitchens.

Human rights observers say that, in the months since insurgents seized territory here in April, they have used kidnappings to intimidate the local population. On June 24, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic warned that the situation in eastern Ukraine is “rapidly deteriorating.”

The below Facebook post shows prominent Ukrainian theater director Pavlo Yurov and the art curator Denys Hryshchuk, who have been held in captivity in Sloviansk since late April.

Having been blindfolded, tied up and thrown inside a van or the trunk of a car, many abductees are beaten, tortured with electrical shock, starved and even used as slave labor to dig trenches and erect roadblocks, according to Kateryna Sergatskova, a 26-year-old Russian reporter for the popular Ukrainian news website Ukrainska Pravda, and a leader of the campaign to document the cases of the disappeared.

In an interview with Mashable, Sergatskova said most people in eastern Ukraine are terrified of the pro-Russian insurgents and hesitant to talk about loved ones who have gone missing for fear of retaliation. As a result, it has been hard to compile an exact list of the disappeared. She has a list with about 100 names — gathered from media reports and dozens of interviews in eastern Ukraine — and the list grows by the day.

One of the worst abductions she documented was the case of three disappeared men found floating in a river, their stomachs slashed open, near the city of Sloviansk, an insurgent stronghold about 70 miles north of Donetsk.

In some cases, hostages are being used by the insurgents as human shields to prevent the Ukrainian armed forces from storming the buildings they occupy, and as bargaining chips to negotiate prisoner exchanges, according to Sergatskova, who said insurgents are currently holding as many as 200 people hostage — including activists, journalists and political opponents — in a security services building in Sloviansk.

Another 100 people are held captive in a seized police building in Horlivka, some 50 miles southeast of Sloviansk, according to Sergatskova. The city has been a center of the violence in the region. Volodymyr Rybak, a city council member who tried to replace the separatists’ flag atop a city building with the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag, was reportedly abducted, tortured and killed by insurgents, who left his mutilated body at the bank of a nearby river.

Many others are held hostage for ransom. Sergatskova’s case list includes cases of people being forced to hand over their life savings — as much as $200,0000 — to ensure the safe return of their loved ones. The money is then used to fund the insurgency, she said.

“I spoke with a man whose family needed to raise $60,000 in a matter of three hours for him to be released,” Denis Krivosheev, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Program at Amnesty International, told Mashable by phone after a recent field trip to eastern Ukraine. Among the people he spoke to during his trip was a man who said he had tried to commit suicide while in captivity, unable to endure the torture. Eventually the man was released.

There is little likelihood that his tormentors will be brought to justice.

“There are no police on the streets, and even if there were, there is no trust in the police,” Krivosheev said. “If you get in trouble [in eastern Ukraine], there is nobody there to help you.”

OSCE Freezes Deployment to Eastern Ukraine After Kidnappings

From – http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/502715.html

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday it had scaled back monitoring operations in eastern Ukraine and frozen further deployments after eight of its observers were held hostage for a month.

The security and rights watchdog’s deputy chief monitor, Alexander Hug, said all eight — four set free on Friday and four on Saturday — were unharmed and their release had been unconditional.

But he said the Vienna-based organization had shrunk its activities in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatist rebels have been fighting forces of the Kiev government since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.

The 57-member body sent observers to monitor compliance with a four-way declaration on deescalation of the crisis agreed in Geneva in April.

“We look forward to the day soon when we can resume our activities in eastern Ukraine to full mission strength, but for that to happen we need a number of improvements,” Hug told journalists in Vienna.

“We need weapons to disappear, we need checkpoints to disappear and we need freedom of movement.”

Sporadic violence has continued in eastern Ukraine despite a cease-fire declared by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on June 20 to allow for peace talks with the rebels. The ceasefire is due to expire on Monday evening.

Hug said a planned increase in the number of OSCE observers in Ukraine from 250 to 500 was on hold.

“We do not want to put further monitors at risk,” he said.

He said that should the security situation improve in the ways he described, “we will be able quickly to increase up to those figures that are included in our mandate.”

OSCE freezes Ukraine monitor deployment

From – http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/06/30/uk-ukraine-crisis-osce-idUKKBN0F514S20140630

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Monday it had scaled back monitoring operations in eastern Ukraine and frozen further deployments after eight of its observers were held hostage for a month.

The security and rights watchdog’s deputy chief monitor, Alexander Hug, said all eight – four set free on Friday and four on Saturday – were unharmed and their release had been unconditional.

But he said the Vienna-based organisation had shrunk its activities in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatist rebels have been fighting forces of the Kiev government since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.

The 57-member body sent observers to monitor compliance with a four-way declaration on de-escalation of the crisis agreed in Geneva in April.

“We look forward to the day soon when we can resume our activities in eastern Ukraine to full mission strength, but for that to happen we need a number of improvements,” Hug told journalists in Vienna.

“We need weapons to disappear, we need checkpoints to disappear and we need freedom of movement.”

Sporadic violence has continued in eastern Ukraine despite a ceasefire declared by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on June 20 to allow for peace talks with the rebels. The ceasefire is due to expire on Monday evening.

Hug said a planned increase in the number of OSCE observers in Ukraine from 250 to 500 was on hold.

“We do not want to put further monitors at risk,” he said.

He said that should the security situation improve in the ways he described, “we will be able quickly to increase up to those figures that are included in our mandate”.

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ENDS UNILATERAL CEASEFIRE

From – http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ukraines-president-faces-decision-cease-fire

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was abandoning a unilateral cease-fire in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists and sending military forces back on the offensive after talks with Russia and European leaders failed to start a broader peace process.

Poroshenko’s decision, announced shortly after the much-violated 10-day cease-fire expired, raises the prospect of renewed escalation of a conflict that has killed more than 400 people.

A grave Poroshenko made a televised address early Tuesday vowing that “we will attack, and we will free our country.” The cease-fire expired at 10 p.m. Monday.

There was no immediate sign of a response from Russia early Tuesday.

The idea behind the truce announced June 20 was to give pro-Russian rebels a chance to disarm and to start a broader peace process including an amnesty and new elections. Poroshenko, a wealthy candy magnate elected May 25, had already extended the cease-fire from seven days.

But rebels did not disarm, and the cease-fire was continually violated, with both sides blaming each other. Rebels called the cease-fire fake and did not yield to Poroshenko’s latest push to get them to turn over key border crossings with Russia and permit international monitoring.

“The unique chance to put the peace plan into practice was not realized,” Poroshenko said. “This happened because of the criminal actions of the fighters.” He said the militants violated the truce “more than a hundred times.”

Poroshenko said the government was ready to go back to the cease-fire “at any moment, when we see that all sides are keeping to the basic points of the peace plan.”

“Peace is, was and will be my goal,” he added. “Only the instruments of achieving it are changing. … The defense of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, of the security and lives of peaceful citizens, demands not just defensive but offensive action against the terrorist militants.”

Poroshenko said he made the decision after a meeting of the national security council. “After discussion of the situation, I, as commander in chief, took the decision not to continue the unilateral cease-fire.”

“Ending the cease-fire, this is our answer to terrorists, armed insurgents and looters, to all who mock the peaceful population, who are paralyzing the economy of the region … who are depriving people of a normal, peaceful life,” Poroshenko said in his speech.

Poroshenko’s decision followed four-way talks in search of a solution with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Monday as the deadline approached. He issued a statement after the talks ended, saying the key conditions needed to continue the cease-fire had not been met.

European leaders and the U.S. have urged Russia to use its influence with the rebels to ease the bloodshed and have threatened to impose another round of economic sanctions against Moscow.

While Putin has expressed support for the cease-fire, the West has accused Russia of sending weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine. Russia says any Russians there have gone as private citizens.

Tension between Russia and Ukraine escalated in February when protests by people who wanted closer ties with the European Union drove pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych from office. Russia called that an illegal coup and seized Ukraine’s Crimea region, saying it was protecting the rights of people there who speak Russian as their main language.

The insurrection in the eastern regions near the Russian border started soon afterward, with separatists occupying buildings and declaring independence.

Poroshenko said he meant for a cease-fire to be followed by an amnesty for fighters who had not considered serious crimes, and political concessions such as early local and regional elections, protections for speakers of Russian and, in the longer term, changes to the constitution to decentralize power to the regions.

The end of the cease-fire raises the question of what action the Ukrainian military can take. It has so far been unable to dislodge rebels occupying the city of Slovyansk or to retake control of three key border crossings with Russia. At one point, the rebels shot down a government military transport, killing 49 service members.

EU diplomats unsure of next step on Ukraine crisis

From – http://euobserver.com/foreign/124804

BRUSSELS – EU leaders last Friday (27 June) gave Russia a new ultimatum on sanctions, but opinion differs on when the ultimatum is due and what the reaction will be.

The leaders said they will take “further steps” unless Russia meets four conditions “by Monday 30 June”. The list includes the freeing of “all” hostages by pro-Russia rebels and the return of three border checkpoints to Ukrainian forces.

The rebels over the weekend freed four monitors from the OSCE, a multilateral body, in a move welcomed by the EU foreign service.

But according to the US ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, they still hold “more than 100 other hostages”.

The three other conditions were not met either, as fighting continued over the weekend, causing the death of five Ukrainian soldiers and a Russian journalist.

An EU foreign service spokeswoman told EUobserver on Sunday that member states’ ambassadors will meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss the way forward and that “further steps depend on developments”.

But there is confusion over what happens next despite the detailed nature of last Friday’s EU demands.

One EU diplomat said the ultimatum expired on Sunday night and that she expects an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers on Wednesday to add more names to the EU’s Russia blacklist.

A second EU diplomat said: “I think the ultimatum expires at the end of the day today, at least that’s my reading”.

He added that any new sanctions are more likely to be implemented by the extraordinary EU summit due on 16 July to discuss EU top jobs.

A third diplomatic source said he has “no idea” what the phrase “by Monday 30 June” means in practice.

He added there could be an extraordinary EU ministerial “at any time”. But he noted that if EU countries opt to change the legal basis of the blacklist – to add names of people responsible for financing pro-Russia rebels or to add more Russian companies instead of just individuals – the decision will be left to the summit.

Meanwhile, the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia held a four-way phone call which lasted more than two hours on Sunday.

According to official statements, Russian leader Vladimir Putin urged Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko to extend his unilateral ceasefire beyond Monday, while EU leaders repeated their four conditions.

They also agreed to hold more talks in the same format later today (30 June).

For their part, several hundred protesters in Kiev city centre on Sunday called on Poroshenko to scrap the truce and to renew a full-scale military offensive against the rebels.

Ukrainian NGOs have also voiced concern on whether EU-Russia-Ukraine talks on the implementation of the EU free trade pact, signed at Friday’s EU summit, will delay the process.

The trade pact has “provisionally” entered into force in the 28 EU countries without the need for ratification by each capital. But the Ukrainian parliament must ratify it before it becomes valid.

Poroshenko on Friday promised to do it before parliament breaks for the summer.

The EU-Russia-Ukraine talks on the treaty are to see a first meeting at expert level on 3 July followed by a trade minister-level meeting on 11 July.

“It’s important that these processes [implementation of the treaty and the trilateral talks] are treated as separate, parallel processes, to avoid giving Russia some sort of say in our co-operation with Ukraine”, one of the EU diplomats said.

Another of the EU diplomats added: “Russia must not be given a say on the date for starting implementation because if it is, the date might never come”.

“It’s important to find a modus vivendi with Russia after the signature of the trade treaty, but not to give it a veto right … signature without implementation would be meaningless”.