Masked pro-Russian gunman in Slovyansk showed their softer side on Sunday by releasing a hostage from a European military observer mission who is suffering from diabetes. The hostage-takers also forced the eight captured observers to give a heavily scripted press conference.
In an afternoon of political theater, the de facto public authority here, Vyachislav Ponomaryev, had the detainees led into an auditorium by masked gunmen, who placed the observers in seats once used by the city’s administrators. He then yielded the floor to the German officer leading the observers, Col. Axel Schneider, who held a long question-and-answer session with journalists."
Schneider explained that they were "guests" in Slovyansk and certainly not "prisoners of war," but when he was asked a question about whether he could leave, he explained, “I cannot go home on my free decision.”
As we noted yesterday, the members of German-led mission were captured just hours after the United States, European Union, and leaders of the G7 announced that they would be introducing more sanctions against Russia. The sanctions are in response to Russia's reported efforts to destabilize life in eastern Ukraine as the government in Kiev seeks to regain control of cities and towns held by pro-Russian militias. Yesterday, the Pentagon also accused Russian jets of repeatedly violating Ukrainian airspace.
The one bright spot was the release of Maj. Thomas Johansson, a Swedish member of the observer mission on grounds of health; Johansson suffers from diabetes.
Elsewhere, there were reports of scuffles between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian mobs in the northeastern city of Kharkiv.
And Donetsk, which is never dull, had some activity as well.