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Luhansk's Mysterious Hostages


Pro-Russian protesters gather at a barricade outside the offices of the SBU state security service in Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine earlier this week.

Pro-Russian protesters gather at a barricade outside the offices of the SBU state security service in Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine earlier this week.

On April 8, Ukraine's state security service (SBU) announced that pro-Russian separatists had taken 60 people hostage after occupying SBU's Luhansk headquarters.

There is no evidence to support this claim.

Armed protesters -- some of whom claim to be former members of Ukraine's disbanded Berkut riot police -- have controlled the building since April 6.

On April 8, the SBU said the protesters were "threatening around 60 people with weapons and explosives" inside the building, about 25 kilometers from the border with Russia.

The accusation was widely reported in Western and Ukrainian media.

But leaders of the armed group and local officials have denied the claims. When around 56 people reportedly left the building early on April 9, some reports said they were freed hostages. But since then, no one from that contingent has claimed to have been held against their will.

A reporter for RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in Luhansk says local journalists who have been allowed into the building have seen no evidence of hostages.

Simon Ostrovsky, who has reported extensively for Vice News on the Ukraine crisis and visited the occupied Luhansk building on April 10, rejected the hostage claims on Twitter and said that Ukrainian authorities had provided "disinformation" on the subject.

The gunmen, who are demanding a referendum on autonomy from Kyiv, have asked for Moscow to intervene.

"Russia won't help us if we take hostages," said one, a former Berkut officer, according to "The Guardian."

-- Glenn Kates, with reporting from Luhansk by Andriy Kuznetzov

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