Photo by Frederick Paxton
On Thursday, armed gunmen who held me prisoner for three nights and three days released me into the streets of Sloviansk, in eastern Ukraine. My release was as unexplained as my capture.On Monday night I was pulled out of a car at a checkpoint, then blindfolded, beaten, and tied up with tape. After spending hours alone on the floor of a damp cell with my hands tied behind my back and a hat pulled over my eyes, I was led into a room where I was accused of working for the CIA, FBI, and Right Sector, the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist group.
When I refused to give the password to my laptop, I was smacked in the arm with a truncheon. When I was asleep on the floor, masked men came to wake me up and tell me how no one would miss me if I died, and then kicked me in the ribs as they left.But as it turns out, I had it pretty easy, because I was let go.In the nights that I was held captive, a dozen other nameless detainees were ferried in and out of the cellar of the Ukraine state security (SBU) building by the pro-Russia militants who had taken it over. Some were journalists, some were drunks, and others were Ukrainian activists stupid or brave enough to visit what’s become a stronghold for Russian nationalists within Ukraine.I only got to know a few of them. Most had been in that cellar far longer than I had. They had been there for up to two weeks, and are most likely still there now.Their names are Artyom Deyneha, a local computer programmer who was caught setting up a webcam opposite the building where we were being held; Serhiy Lefter, a freelance journalist who was abducted on the main square in Sloviansk in broad daylight; Vadim Sukhonos, a deputy in the Sloviansk city council; and Vitaly Kovalchuk, a former member of the Euromaidan self-defense corps, who by his own admission came to Sloviansk with a group of Right Sector radicals who tried and failed to capture guns from pro-Russia militants.After I was released, I found out that the leader of the pro-Russia forces in Sloviansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, told journalists that we were being held as “bargaining chips” in negotiations with the interim authorities in Kiev. I don’t yet know what he got for my release, but I hope it wasn’t very much, because no one should be allowed to take hostages no matter what their political demands are.Everyone being illegally held in that damp cellar, or any of the other buildings controlled by the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” should be released or handed over to the police immediately.Watch the VICE News dispatch series Russian Roulette: The Invasion of Ukraine here.