In a press conference on Aug. 6, Sergey Belous confirmed that pro-government Ukrainian forces kidnapped him and his two colleagues Roman Gnatyuk and Sergey Boyko. Thank you very much to Rachel Ruvarac for an English transcript.
Even if Sergey does not blame the entire Ukrainian army, we know that the Ukrainian government was aware if the kidnappings all the time, as you can read in the article Journalist kidnappings, many questions. Therefore, it is inexcusable that the Ukrainian government allowed the three journalists to be stripped of their clothes, documents, technical equipment and other belongings.
Since the kidnappers were loyal to the government in Kiev, the journalists should have been surrendered to the police in an orderly fashion, not to leave them naked at the side of the road. The police investigation of the kidnappings should also include the Ukrainian government.
Sergey used my video camera, and I demand that this will be returned or that the Ukrainian government will buy me a new one.
Until Sergey is safely back in Belgrade, the campaign for the release of the journalists will be active. Thank you very much to the more than 1,700 who signed the petition until now. I am looking forward to give my friend as much Nesquik chocolate milk as he can drink 🙂
And this is what Sergey wrote on Facebook yesterday:
Glory to the Lord – I’m alive, safe and free! God is good! I express EXTREME GRATITUDE AND APPRECIATION to all friends and concerned persons who have done huge work to publicize and share information on the issue of our illegal detention thereby contribute and facilitate to our release!
And thank you once more to our good friend Rachel Ruvarac for providing this English transcript. I know that Sergey appreciate her friendship very much.
Sergey Belous press conference
“Here is a live press conference in Dneproderzhinsk with journalists captured in the Donbas region:
Vitaly Gusyatnichenko, TVO Head of the Dniproderzhinsk GUM: “A crime was committed against them in the Donetsk Oblast. On August 1st they were kidnapped by a group of unknown armed people in camouflage uniforms. Then until August 5th they were held in isolation with blindfolded eyes and bound hands, unable to move, and taken from place to place without seeing anything. On the night of August 5th these men were loaded into a car, taken in an unknown direction to an unknown location, and released from the car, one at a time, forced to undress, and left. The young men took off their blindfolds, made their way to the nearest road, stopped a passing car, and found someone to take them to the nearby town of Dneproderzhinsk. They stopped at a hospital on the left bank of the city, where they were given clothing, and then traveled to the right bank of Dneproderzhinsk, where they were found by the police. A criminal case has been opened, in according to Statute 46 of the Legal Codex of Ukraine, related to taking away the freedom of another.”
Gusyatnichenko: “The men explained that the three of them were together. They were traveling together in the direction of Donetsk. Roman Gnyatyuk was together with them. He was also taken t an unknown location, and got in touch with his TV station.”
Gusyatnichenko: “Crimes are investigated according to where they took place. The crime was discovered in Dneproderzhinsk, but was committed in the Donetsk Oblast. Therefore in accordance with the Ukrainian Criminal Code initial investigations will take place in Dneproderzhinsk, after which territorial jurisdiction will be determined.”
Gusyatnichenko: “I am not ready to answer that question, because it can only be answered after further investigation and communication with the victims.”
Gusyatnichenko: “We will figure that out. I am not responsible for the medical institution. I don’t know if they communicated with the young men about whether or not a crime was committed. They have their own instructions.”
Policewoman: “Are there any other questions?”
Gusyatnichenko: “As far as I know it was in the Chergovka region in the forest line. I think Sergey can respond to that in more detail. We do not yet know the identity of those who brought them to Dneproderzhinsk.”
Gusyatnichenko: “I assume so. He will answer that now. Only the victims can answer that, and you have to realize that that’s subjective – what distance they were released at. Each of them has a different recollection of the time periods between when they were released, and their condition was not the best after hearing a shot and not knowing what had happened to their colleagues.”
Gusyatnichenko: “They contacted TV channels. They came to the regional police division, and they found their photos on several websites.”
Policewoman: “I talked directly with the head of the TV channel in Kiev. They confirmed that they know these three guys, and the assignment that they were on. Dates… they fully confirmed everything. Let’s hand the microphone to Sergey then.”
Sergey Belous: “Good Day. I’m sorry that I’m not dressed appropriately, but I have not had the opportunity to put myself in order after these, let’s say, unpleasant events. I will try to be brief, and should say immediately that some details of this affair cannot be revealed due to the ongoing investigation, the interest of the Ukrainian government, and our personal safety. It was said that we passed check points, but in reality we did not. We were bound and blindfolded. Also, I will not be giving details about the individual persons or battalions who committed this crime. In the Obroshevka region a mistake was made, which lead to us being passed on to other people, which greatly worsened the consequences of that mistake. If everything had ended in Obroshevka, where we were first apprehended, there are a lot of good guys there, and of course we understand they were upset that some of their colleagues had been killed. These are the risks of our profession, and we do not complain about such things. However afterwards we experienced methods of pressure and conditions that were unacceptable, violating the Geneva convention and the Constitution of Ukraine. One of our biggest complaints was that they absolutely did not allow us to contact our publications, saying that they would do so themselves, which, of course, did not happen.”
Sergey: “The next thing regards time. Regarding 5 kilometers, I guess that’s what Roman said, but we are not sure, it may have been 3km, it may have been 2km. On the last night we were driven around, and we were thrown out of the car one at a time. We were held in a vehicle with this kind [gestures] of bottom, two of us were placed on their stomachs like this [gestures], like a boat, and Roman was put on top. Plus there were two machine gunners, as far as we could tell from the sound of the weapons and by conversation and the voices. We were all in a very small car driving on very bad roads, which could have lead to injury, but thank God it did not. First they let Roman out, and this is more or less how it happened. They told him to get out, asked him for his name and last name, told him to undress, which he did completely, and then told him to lie on the ground and crawl. And then we heard two loud shots. And then we continued – someone jumped in the car and gave the command to drive, and we drove in an unknown direction.”
Sergey: “We didn’t understand what had happened, and then a little later the same thing happened, just in a different location. They asked for the name and last name, and then there were two shots. I thought that my colleagues had been killed. The same thing happened to me, except that there was no one to hear what I said and there was no one to intimidate. They also made me get on the ground and crawl, and they yelled at me for a while. I committed my soul to God, which is a personal detail, but it was a serious moment. There had been threats to kill us before, and we had every reason to expect and fear that they could kill us. Unfortunately at the moment we see that the lives of soldiers in Eastern Ukraine are not valued. Hundreds of them are dying daily, and this is not talked about in the media. We learned about this from the same people who held us. They complained about this, and asked why we were talking about three journalists who were non-combatants, they have no military value to us.”
Sergey: “We could have also been killed, so of course we were emotionally traumatized. But praise God that did not happen. We made it out of the forest in that condition, and a driver picked us up. First he picked me up, then we saw Sergey also standing by the road. We made it to the regional hospital. At the hospital they did not have a duty to report us to the police – we could do that ourselves at the time that was right for us. The guard found some clothes for us, for which we are extremely grateful. I ask that you not bring up the hospital any more. Our condition is alright, though of course it was a big shock, we did not expect it, we would have understood such treatment from other parties, but from our, Ukrainian side it was to me unexplainable. It speaks to very bad tendencies in the Ukrainian armed forces. Maybe they are taught that, or maybe it is because there are people in there who should not be there.”
Sergey: “I would like to thank the leadership of the Dneproderzhinsk police, and all Dneproderzhinsk authorities who helped us a great deal. They gave us basic help, such as clothing which can hold us through until someone picks us up and we leave all of this in the past. I am extremely grateful that we are alive and healthy, although all of our technology, was stolen, taken away. We don’t know by whom, but at some point it was confiscated. We also had confiscated some cash, which for us was a significant amount. We also had bullet-proof vests and some personal items taken away. Are there any questions?”
Sergey: “I will repeat myself, we were taken captive in Obroshevka. Under what circumstances? I won’t give a long explanation now, but I will say that it had to do with the nervousness and unprofessionalism of Ukrainian military members, who, despite our Ukrainian press credentials, started looking at our materials and saying that we were on Russia’s side, even though we went there to record the plight of refugees, but they began to pick on details, for instance saying that my colleague looked like a military member, which is ridiculous. Or my other colleague had photos, which they found problems with. I think that they were probably worked up and upset over something else. At first they were rough with us, but then they realized that it was a misunderstanding. However the problem was that they had already communicated to their base that they had apprehended us, so they had to bring us to the base. And the problem was that we were not handed over to, from what I understood, the leadership, but rather to other representatives of the Ukrainian side of the conflict who behaved themselves completely inexcusably. You will find out about that later, for now I will not lift the curtain that, you could say, protects our lives.
Sergey: “Let’s put it this way: I don’t want to get into details now, but at certain times, certain individuals… I’m not talking now about Obroshevka… forgot about the limitations on their powers, which lead to physical injuries to us. Praise God they were not serious injuries, so far there have been no serious injuries.”
Sergey: “What kind of accreditation? SBU? [Ukrainian Security Services] We gave them our documents, and they told us that our accreditation would be completed shortly. We should have had it a long time ago, from what we heard from other newspapers and TV stations having accreditation means that our names are on lists that the SBU has and that list can be checked at any check point to see if such and such a person is on the list and is allowed to work in that particular zone, the zone of the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation].”
Sergey: “We should have had accreditation – Channel 8 had told us that they would arrange it. Over two weeks had passed, and logically we should have had that accreditation a long time ago. When we ran into problems at the check point we didn’t know whom to call and why we should call. We had no idea, but they were claiming that we should have been accompanied by someone. Although I had never seen or heard before of journalists needing or having accompaniment. If journalists are visiting territorial battalions, then it is perfectly possible that there could be accompaniment there. But when you cross several check points – DPR, Ukrainian, etc. – there is and can be no accompaniment, at least from the Ukrainian side. You can imagine how it is with the Ukrainian military entering Donetsk, but of course right now that is impossible. So I can say that such requirements are impossible, especially from Russia’s side. It’s either absurd or it’s a misunderstanding, or the mistake of individual members of the Ukrainian military. But that is understandable, there is a considerable amount of misinformation right now. And they have a lack of information on the field, which is very much forgivable.”
Sergey: “I don’t know, after Аmvrosyevka, I did not notice any other check points. After that we did not visit check points, but rather some kind of bases. But I will not talk about those bases right now.”
Sergey: “Whether or not you should believe me? … Right now if I could give you some of the names of battalions or towns where we were, but first of all that will not make my story more trustworthy, and secondly, it will not change the overall picture of events. And thirdly, that’s your personal decision whether or not you will believe my words. I am a man of principles, and I speak only what I know and what I have seen. At the moment I can confirm that everything I said happened. All I can say is that we suffered at the hands of the Ukrainian side.”
Sergey: “When they brought us in there was not a single basis for that, neither in documents or in any other way. I will repeat myself: If anyone wants to find out whether or not we are spies, there’s something called a cell phone, and they can call the number of our publication, written on our business cards, the number can also be found in our phones, and you can call our editor and talk to him. And he will confirm whether such people exist. Call the TV channel or contact the SBU and have them contact Channel 112, but on August 1st that did not happen. Maybe it happened on August 5th, the day we were released, and that just wanted to scare us one more time in parting. But they did not take even the most elementary steps to find out whether or not we are spies. They did not do even the most minimal required procedure.”
Policewoman: “In answer to that question, we know that Roman made contact, and he was a freelancer. His editor said that he was supposed to get in touch on August 1st or 2nd…”
Policewoman: “…and he did not get in touch, and then his editor started looking for him. That was Roman Gnyatyuk. But no one was looking for the two of you.”
Sergey: “The thing is…”
Policewoman: “But they knew that he was accompanied by two other journalists.”
Sergey Belous: “The thing is that Roman is, so to speak, on the front line, he is always appearing on camera, whereas we had more secondary roles, we would record things for him, record things, interview people, collect material. We had a complete team. Gnyatyuk himself has been working longer than us for the channel, he is almost, you could say, on staff, whereas we started working for them relatively recently. Of course our presence there was agreed on with the director; he knew our names, and we had received business expenses in order to make the trip there and back. So of course all of our names were known, but they did not announce our disappearance too soon.”
Sergey: “How long have I been working for the channel? That is private information, I do not plan to disclose that at this time. Not long.”
Policewoman: “We know relatives were worried”
Sergey: “Relatives were worried. My last name was originally not disclosed, but later it appeared in social media.”
Sergey: “I received a press card at the very beginning, from the very first time I travelled to the ATO I received a press card and all documentation, so all proper procedures were followed. I could have received a peskata and been a full-time employee, but those are completely different things, as you know.”
Sergey: “No, as I said, Roman Gnyatyuk…”
Policewoman: “He was not on staff.”
Sergey: “He was not on staff, but worked on a freelance basis. We would work on a story by story basis. When there is a higher demand we will start to work on the same basis as Roman Gnyatyuk. So far there is no such demand, therefore we work as much as the channel’s needs dictate.”
Sergey: “What do you mean? Who apprehended us? I would like to repeat: I have already revealed that unfortunately, or not really unfortunately because it doesn’t make much difference to us either way, though to our surprise, though again not so much, because we have run into similar things before, conflicts between the DPR and the LPR, though it never got to that point there – there were conflicts, but they were small and nothing terrible. But such a thing had never happened before, and I was surprised that such a massive misunderstanding happened on the Ukrainian side. I think this situation needs to be carefully studied in order to avoid discreditation of the Ukrainian army, and so that Ukrainian journalists are not exposed to such dangers in their own country. “
Sergey: “I’m not saying that the Ukrainian army is responsible, but rather that individuals broke the rules and made mistakes. These individuals will eventually be identified, and I do not have to give identifying information right now. I did not see them, and I cannot give names or any identifying information. Therefore I cannot give more detail now. We have presented all the information we have to those investigating the case, the SBU, and they will be investigating in the near future. I have shared plenty of details, such as which side, where we were released, how we got to the city – I don’t understand why you need these details, they are needed by law enforcement agencies.