Vice News journalist Simon Ostrovosky has reportedly being taken "hostage" by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine, where a number of journalists have been targeted in recent days.
Earlier today, the self-proclaimed "people's mayor" of the city of Slaviansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, said that his men were holding an American journalist, but did not mention a name, according to Reuters. Journalists in the area, however, noted that Ostrovsky had been missing since Monday, when a number of reporters were taken by separatists.
It wasn't entirely clear what was going on when Ponomaryov first made the announcement, but there seems to be some dispute about whether he is actually a prisoner:
"Mayor"of #Sloviansk:"Simon Ostrovsky is in the SBU building.He is working.His parents called.He's fine.He will be with us for a while."— paralel universe (@ignis_fatum) April 22, 2014
According to Russian language site Gazeta.ru, Ponomaryov said Ostrovsky is being held, but is safe, and isn't a hostage. Here's a rough translation:
It is noted that the press conference was briefly interrupted Ponomarev called parents journalist militia leader Sloviansk assured that their son is well. "Nobody stole , nobody holds hostage, he is now with us, the SBU, prepares materials, works," said Ponomaryov.
Ostrovsky has been stationed in Ukraine for months, and his most recent tweets suggest that he was detained following an odd press conference:
Sloviansk pro-Russia 'mayor' threatens to throw journalist out for "provocative" question about former mayor being held under guard— Simon Ostrovsky (@SimonOstrovsky) April 21, 2014
Now he's not letting reporters leave the press conference: "you'll go as you came in. In a group." That's one way to guarantee coverage.— Simon Ostrovsky (@SimonOstrovsky) April 21, 2014
Vice said on Twitter that is aware of the situation and is working to make sure Ostrovsky is safe.
We are aware of @SimonOstrovsky's situation and are working to ensure the safety and security of our friend and colleague.— VICE News (@vicenews) April 22, 2014
According to BuzzFeed, the State Department is also aware of the situation, but did not provide any details.
A representative from Organization of Security and Co-operation (OSCE) issued a statement today condemning the incident and the threat for journalists in Ukraine more generally:
“I remain deeply concerned about the ongoing negative pattern in relation to journalists’ safety in Ukraine” [OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović] Mijatović said. “I call on all those responsible to stop harassing and attacking journalists and let them do their job. Simon Ostrovsky should be released immediately.”
According to a seemingly-fruitless agreement reached between the U.S., UK, Ukraine and Russia, OSCE should play a key role in helping de-escalate tensions in the region.
This arrests seems to be part of a general Russia's effort to squelch negative coverage of its role in Ukraine, which would be in keeping with the Kremlin's rather ruthless effort to maintain a friendly face internationally. Freedom of the press has become an increasingly concerning issue in Ukraine. Pro-government journalist Irma Krat is still being held, but appears to be safe. However, another Ukrainian journalist was found dead earlier this month.