A Ukrainian teenager whose disappearance in Belarus has triggered claims of a Moscow-orchestrated kidnapping is being held in a detention center in Russia, his father and Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) have confirmed.
Belarusian authorities said on August 31 that 19-year-old Pavlo Hryb, whose father reported him missing after he left for Belarus to meet a young woman, entered the country a week earlier from Ukraine but that they have no record of his departure.
The case has rattled ties between Kyiv and Minsk and prompted Ukrainian appeals to Moscow to clarify whether Hryb is in Russian custody.
The teenager's father, Ihor, said on September 7 that his son is being held in one of the detention centers of Russia's FSB in the southwestern city of Krasnodar.
"Pavlo is currently detained in Krasnodar's Prison 5," Ihor Hryb told RFE/RL, adding that he received the information from Ukraine's Foreign Ministry.
FSB officials later on September 7 confirmed the information. No further details were immediately available.
Ihor Hryb last month wrote on Facebook that his son departed the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv on August 24 to meet the woman, whom he’d met on social media, in the Belarusian city of Homel.
He said that after his son failed to return, he went to search for Pavlo in Homel. There, Hryb claimed, he learned “unofficially” that his son was wanted in Russia on terror-related charges, though there had been no public confirmation of this from Russian authorities.
Hryb’s father has alleged that his son was lured into meeting the woman by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and kidnapped by its agents.
“I immediately understood that an FSB special operation was conducted,” he told Current Time TV, a Russian-language television network run jointly by RFE/RL and Voice of America, on August 31.
He said his son had published social-media posts criticizing Russia for its 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine. He added, however, that Hryb had not served in the military due to a disability.
Ukrainian media outlets say they identified and interviewed the woman, reportedly a 17-year-old resident of the southern Russian city of Sochi. They have quoted her as saying that she persuaded Hryb to meet her under pressure from the FSB.
For a week after Hryb’s disappearance, Belarusian authorities had yet to confirm whether the Ukrainian man had entered or left the country. Belarusian border officials on August 31 said Hryb had entered that country legally on August 24.
But Anton Bychkouski, a spokesman for Belarus’s state border committee, told RFE/RL that “at the moment,” authorities had no record of Hryb leaving the country.
Diplomatic tensions have flared between Kyiv and Minsk over the case. In an August 30 television interview, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal criticized Belarusian efforts to locate Hryb.
She accused Belarus of acting “like a partner in words, but in reality they behave in a completely different way” and suggested that Kyiv might not support Minsk’s bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Minsk hit back a day later, calling Zerkal’s comments “unacceptable” and saying that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry had called in the top official at the Ukrainian Embassy in Kyiv over the matter.
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dzmitry Mironchik said in an August 31 statement that several law enforcement and security agencies had been looking for Hryb “on the entire territory of the country” based on an August 29 request from the Ukrainian Embassy.
Mironchik added that “people, unfortunately, disappear for all kinds of reasons” and that “if a 19-year-old young man’s parents and own government didn’t keep track of him, that’s no reason to shift the blame.”
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, Current Time TV, Hromadske, and 5.ua