A pro-Russian armed man stands guard at a barricade near
the state security service building in Slaviansk.
Armed pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian
city of Slaviansk are holding a group of international
observers, saying they had found a Ukrainian spy travelling
"They are with us in Slaviansk," the de facto mayor of the
city, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, told Reuters in front of the
seized security service building where, according to the
Ukrainian government, the observers were being held.
"What the situation was I do not know," he said. "It was
reported to me that among them (the observers) was an
employee of Kiev's secret military staff."
"People who come here as observers bringing with them a real
spy: it's not appropriate." Later, a man in a mask and
camouflage fatigues said there would be no more comments on
The detention of the observers, who are working for the
Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE) will heighten Western concerns about
lawlessness and arbitrary rule in separatist-held parts of
It may also increase Western leaders' pressure on Moscow,
which they accuse of backing the militias. The Kremlin denies
interfering in eastern Ukraine.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on his Twitter
account: "Extremely concerned with OSCE inspectors being
abducted in Eastern Ukraine. Including one Swede. They must
be released immediately."
Slaviansk is the biggest flashpoint in an armed uprising in
eastern Ukraine that has widened into the worst stand-off
between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said 13 OSCE
observers had been seized, including three members of the
German armed forces, a German translator and a Danish
national. The German foreign ministry said earlier the group
included military observers from the Czech Republic, Poland,
Sweden and Denmark.
"It is critical that we use all diplomatic channels to free
this team immediately and unhurt," von der Leyen said. "But
at the moment we are still in a situation where we are
gathering information and trying to find out what it is that
those who seized them are demanding."
The interior ministry in Kiev said the group that had been
detained included seven OSCE representatives and five members
of the Ukrainian armed forces who were accompanying them.
"At the moment, talks are going on with representatives of
pro-Russian forces. They have refused to free the hostages,
saying they want to speak to "competent organs" of the
Russian Federation," the Ukrainian interior ministry
Slaviansk, a city of around 130,000, has been for two weeks
under the control of separatists who, like similar groups
elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, oppose the central government
in Kiev after the overthrow of a Kremlin-backed president.
Government forces said on Friday that they were gradually
tightening a blockade on the city in an "anti-terrorist
operation" that was relaunched earlier this week.
The separatists there have also been holding several
journalists, although they released one of them, a U.S.
citizen, on Thursday.
Russia says the pro-Russian militias are a spontaneous
protest against a government in Kiev which it says is
illegitimate, has far-right links, and has committed a crime
by using the army to put down the revolt.
Several of the separatists manning checkpoints on the edge of
the city have been killed in raids by defence and interior
ministry forces from the Western-backed government in