Pro-Russian forces detained a team of military observers traveling across eastern Ukraine with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an official said late Friday.
The team was being held in the eastern city of Slovyansk, a Pro-Russian stronghold, said Stella Khorosheva, a spokeswoman for the town’s self-proclaimed mayor. Khorosheva said the group possessed “suspicious materials,” but said they were unharmed and would be released after further investigation. The OSCE wrote on Twitter that they had lost communication with the German-led team, but that all members of the OSCE monitoring team were safe.
Germany’s Defense Ministry said it had lost contact with the team, which it said was made up of eight people: three German soldiers, a German translator and one soldier each from the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and Denmark.
Contact broke off around lunchtime and, as of Friday evening, “we are still not in contact,” a German Defense Ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. However, he said the ministry couldn’t confirm reports from Ukraine that they were being held by separatists. But Czech military spokesman Jana Ruzickova confirmed that the team was detained.
“At the moment, we cannot rule out that the international OSCE military observers are being held in Ukraine,” said German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on ARD television’s website. “We have not had contact since midday … they are in Ukraine on a neutral, international mission to give the international community an objective picture of the situation,” she said, adding that Germany is using all diplomatic channels to restore contact.
Pro-Russian insurgents have seized police stations and government buildings in at least 10 cities and towns in eastern Ukraine in April. Militia groups have kidnapped several journalists over the past week in the increasingly unstable region.
This report compiled with information from The Associated Press.