Danish OSCE observer remains detained in Ukraine

“Guest” of separatists says he is doing well under the circumstances

John Christensen, the Danish member of a team from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) being detained by pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavjansk, said that he and his fellow detainees are doing the best they can. “Under the circumstances, I am doing well,”  he told DR Nyheder.  

Christensen and seven other members of the OSCE team, including four Germans, a Pole, a Swede and a Czech officer, were arrested last Friday. The Swedish observer has since been released on medical grounds, but there appears to be no immediate plans to free the other hostages who appeared at a rebel-arranged press conference yesterday.

The group appeared unharmed as they sat next to Slavyansk's self-appointed separatist "mayor", Vyacheslav Ponomarev.

Speaking in German, the senior officer, Colonel Axel Schneider, said claims by Ponomarev that the group were NATO spies were false.

"We are not NATO," he said. "Our mission was transparent.”

Schneider said that his team had been following all diplomatic protocols before they were stopped by armed gunmen.

The Ukrainian ambassador to Denmark, Mykhailo Skuratovskyi, called those holding the hostages "criminals".

"The forceful detention of OSCE inspectors by the separatists armed militants is an outrageous act against international efforts aimed at peaceful settlement of the crisis in this region," Skuratovskyi told the Copenhagen Post. "The criminal and terrorist-like nature of these actions show the destructive intentions of the armed separatists, supported and guided by Russian security services."

A statement from Ponomarev that the OSCE observers "are not our hostages – they are our guests" appeared to contradict one from his troops. When they initially captured the group, they called them "prisoners of war" and said they might be bartered for imprisoned pro-Russian activists in Kiev.

Schneider said he had no idea what the method for a prisoner-swap might be and that they had not been mistreated, although he noted "I cannot go home of my free will."

READ MORE: Denmark leading OSCE observing mission in Ukraine

Christensen said that he had no idea what a prisoner swap would entail and that Schneider spoke for the group.

OSCE negotiators will attempt to secure the release of the hostages.