Seven captured European military observers in eastern Ukraine were released earlier today by pro-Russian hostage-takers, who reiterated that they were never holding the men against their will for over a week in the first place.
The insurgents' leader in Slovyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying he ordered the release because of increasing insecurity in the city. But he later The Associated Press that "they are not being released — they are leaving us, as we promised them."
This delicious contradiction echoed an earlier event in the hostage saga, where the European observers were escorted into a room by masked gunman and forced to give a scripted press conference about how they were not actually being held hostage. At the time, the leader of the observer mission Col. Axel Schneider explained:
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 earlier this week, Ukraine's acting President Oleksander Turchynov conceded that the country had lost control of parts of eastern Ukraine after the city of Donetsk fell to pro-Russian separatists. An offensive by Ukrainian forces continues in the east in the wake of yesterday's fighting in Odessa, one of the deadliest days of the conflict, during which over 40 people died.