SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — Pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine have shown journalists what they said were three captured Ukrainian security service officers, bloodied and blindfolded with packing tape as mediators were on their way to try to free detained European observers.
Stripped of their trousers and shoes, the captive security officers sat with heads bowed in the security service headquarters in the city of Slovyansk early Sunday morning.
Pro-Russian rebels also on Sunday presented eight detained European members of an international military observer mission to a news conference. the eight men, all apparently unhurt, were led into the main room of Slovyansk’s town hall occupied by the insurgents, where around 60 journalists were assembled.
A German observer held in told Reuters news service all the detained European observers are in good health.
Later in the day, pro-Russian separatists seized control of the offices of regional state television in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk and said they would take it off air and broadcast a Kremlin-backed Russian channel instead.
A Reuters reporter said four separatists in masks, with truncheons and shields, were standing at the entrance to the building controlling access, while more separatists in camouflage fatigues could be seen inside. About 15 police officers were standing a short distance away but were not trying to resist the separatists.
It was the first time the station had been seized by the separatists, though previously a transmission tower in the Donetsk region had briefly been seized and technicians forced to broadcast Russian stations' output.
There are now more than a dozen hostages being held in Slovyansk, including the foreign military observers traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. The self-proclaimed mayor of the city has accused them of being NATO spies.
Igor Strelkov, who has been identified as the commander of the armed insurgents, said the three Ukrainian officers were on a mission to seize leaders of the pro-Russia force when they were captured.
Earlier, the leader of separatist rebels holding a group of international observers said he was scheduled on Sunday to meet a delegation of mediators who were on their way to negotiate the observers' release.
He said he spoke by telephone on Saturday to the OSCE and provisionally agreed a meeting with the visiting delegation.
"When the representatives of the OSCE come, we will talk to them about it (the detained observers)," Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the de facto mayor of Slovyansk, told reporters
Asked about the possibility of freeing the detained military observers in exchange for the release of separatists held by the Kiev authorities, he said: "It's the fundamental option."
"The soldiers are hostages of the situation, but I think everything will be OK. We'll reach some agreement."
Ponomaryov said he had not been in contact with the Russian authorities about the detained observers. He said they were being provided with food and medicine, and that all their needs were being taken care of.
He said his men had overnight captured three officers with Ukraine's state security service who, he said, had been mounting an operation against separatists in the nearby town of Horlivka.
"Last night we detained three officers . . . who were on our territory with the aim of carrying out a mission, that is the capture of the leaders of a group that seized (buildings) in Horlivka. They were discovered. Their group was made up of seven people, we got three of them," he said.
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