KYIV, UKRAINE— Ukrainian officials are accusing separatists in Eastern Ukraine of using hostages as human shields to prevent the military from taking action against them. But some observers in Kyiv disagree. They say the hostages, including some observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, are being held to swap for detained pro-Russian activists.
In the southeast Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, pro-Russian militants have detained a number of OSCE observers, journalists and local officials.
Ukrainian authorities say they have been taken hostage to deter the military from attacking. But Ukrainian political analyst Sergey Slobodchuk disagrees and says,
“I don't think that they had a far reaching plan to use them as human shields. They did not take enough hostages to protect them if the military takes action.”
Slobodchuk says the separatists do not fear retaliation from the military or police in the region, because neither group is strong enough - nor do the pro-Russian militants want to get involved in what they see as a political power struggle.
Igor Dyomin, the police spokesman for the city of Donetsk, says authorities are using dialogue rather than force to deal with the protesters who have taken over government buildings.
“We are negotiating with them and the main goal for us is prevent bloodshed. Everybody should understand that if either side takes up arms this can grow into a war against brothers,” he said.
Separatists in Slovyansk say they want to exchange their prisoners for pro-Russian activists who were arrested in Kyiv. Bogdan Ovcharuk, with the human rights group Amnesty International, says his organization is calling for a full investigation into these detentions.
“And from the reports what we see that these separatist groups are using people as a bargaining chip," he said. "It's appalling. It unlawful. And this should be tackled urgently.”
Amnesty International says both pro-Kyiv and pro-Russian groups have been involved in illegally detaining people and there seems to be no national authority able to stop either side