CNN said Thursday that one of its freelancers in Ukraine was abducted by pro-Russian separatists and was still being detained after two days.
Anton Skiba was a “fixer” — a local hired to act as a translator and guide — and was seized by armed men outside a hotel in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, CNN said. He had worked for a CNN TV crew only for one day:
Since his detention, CNN has attempted through a number of different separatist officials, including the office of the separatist Prime Minister Alexander Borodai, to secure Skiba’s freedom.
CNN chose not to report his abduction at the time while making efforts to obtain his release.
That has not happened to date, so CNN is now publicly asking those who are holding Skiba to release him immediately.
CNN said a senior rebel official and armed fighters were waiting outside the Donbass Palace Hotel when its crew returned from covering the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site Tuesday:
The official, who later introduced himself as Alexandr Kalyussky, the deputy prime minister in charge of industry in the Donetsk People’s Republic, initially accused Skiba of “terrorism” and of posting cash rewards for the killing of separatist fighters on his Facebook page. Kalyussky showed a folder of printed documents that he claimed was evidence, including an apparent printout of Skiba’s Facebook page.
Gunmen escorted Skiba to a waiting car. The young man did not resist as he was led away.
Kalyussky seized a cell phone from CNN cameraman Jeff Kehl, who tried to film the detention. Later, Kalyussky apologized and returned the cell phone to Kehl on condition that Kehl delete the video.
In subsequent conversations with CNN, Kalyussky dropped the accusation that Skiba was offering cash rewards for assassinations. Late Tuesday night, Kalyussky said Skiba was being questioned for having multiple forms of identification with different surnames. On Wednesday, another high-ranking separatist official told CNN that Skiba admitted to being a “Ukrainian agent.”
CNN said Skiba made a brief phone call Wednesday in which he said he was being questioned at Donetsk security services headquarters and would “not be available,” before getting cut off. CNN reported it was “unclear whether the call was made under duress.”
Human rights and press freedom groups have condemned the abduction and called for Skiba’s immediate release.