A correspondent for a Russian newspaper that has challenged the Kremlin's narrative about the conflict in Ukraine says he was detained, struck in the face, and deported by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Novaya Gazeta special correspondent Pavel Kanygin told RFE/RL that he was punched in the eye while handcuffed during an interrogation by a separatist representing the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR).
Kanygin was detained on June 16, a day after he covered a rare rally outside the separatist leadership's offices by local citizens calling for an end to the war with in eastern Ukraine and the removal of rebel rocket launchers protesters said were drawing government forces' fire to civilian neighborhoods.
Kanygin spoke to RFE/RL on June 17, after his return to Russia. He said that he was accused of illegal drug use, spying for Ukraine and the United States, and working on territory controlled by the separatists without accreditation.
Novaya Gazeta quoted Kanygin as saying one of the separatist security officers who questioned him "pointed a pistol at me and said that if I moved, he would shoot me."
Kanygin said he was then asked which side he was on in the conflict between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian government forces, which has killed more than 6,400 people since April 2014.
"I said I am for peace. At that moment, he punched me in the eye," Kanygin said.
Kanygin told RFE/RL that the men who held and questioned him had served as Ukrainian Security Service personnel before the conflict broke out.
He said he had applied for accreditation with the separatist authorities several days earlier, but was not granted accreditation and did not know why.
Kanygin was the first Russian journalist to interview two men who were detained last month by Ukrainian forces and who Kyiv says are members of the Russian military.
In their interview, Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev said that they were on a reconnaissance mission for Russia's military when they were captured, contradicting Moscow's claim that they were not active servicemen.
Russia's Defense Ministry said Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev had served in the military but were not employed by the state at the time of their capture.
Despite mounting evidence, Russian President Vladimir Putin denies accusations by Kyiv and the West that Moscow has provided weapons, training, and personnel to the rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev have been charged with involvement in "terrorist activity," and a Kyiv court on May 22 ordered them to be placed in pretrial detention until July 19.