OSCE observers held captive by Russian Cossacks for weeks in Luhansk region

When the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) sent monitors to Ukraine’s southeast in late April, nobody could have predicted how hard and dangerous their mission would be.

Since then dozens of OSCE observers have faced threats and abductions. Eight of them are currently being kept as hostages in Luhansk region after they were captured more than three weeks ago by armed Russian-backed separatists without any promise of when they could be released.

They are being kept in much harsher conditions than a previous group of seven members of an OSCE military observation mission who were captured in Sloviansk, Donetsk Oblast on April 25 and released after a week of negotiations.

“In Sloviansk we had daily contact with our people as well as (Vyacheslav) Ponomarev (then local leader of separatists), we saw the hostages and were able to bring some food for them,” said Michael Bociurkiw, an OSCE spokesman in Kyiv. “But now it’s different.”

No separatist group has claimed responsibility for abducting and holding the OSCE observers, nor has any publicly declared any demands in return for their release, complicating the efforts to rescue them.

But mounting evidence and sources show they are being kept by Russian-backed paramilitary Cossacks, and most likely being used as human shields to prevent airstrikes by Ukrainian military forces.

The first group of four monitors, including Swiss, Danish, Turkish and Estonian nationals, was detained on May 26 in the mining town of Torez, near the border between Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The group was immediately taken east to Atratsyt and is now believed to be kept in nearby Pervalsk, a suburb of Alchevsk, Luhansk Oblast. The OSCE says it believes this is where they are being held because a white OSCE vehicle driven by insurgents that has been seen on the streets of Perevalsk.

The second group of monitors, including a Spanish, Dutch, Russian and German national (a woman), and one local translator were captured on May 29 at a separatist checkpoint in

Sievierodonetsk, where the monitors are still being kept, according to Kyiv Post sources. The translator was later released.

On May 17, the OSCE office managed to establish contact with all the captured monitors, confirming that they are “alive and unharmed,” Botsiurkiv said, adding that many of the monitors used to work in military or law enforcement, or have years of experience in international missions with the UN or OSCE.

Various media and security sources indicate that both groups were abducted and now kept under the orders of Nikolay Kozitsyn, ataman of Army of the Don and a Russian national.

Read more: www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/osce-observers-held-captive