Authorities in Belarus said on August 31 that a Ukrainian teenager whose disappearance has triggered claims of a Russia-orchestrated kidnapping entered the country a week earlier but that they have no record of his departure.
The case of 19-year-old Pavlo Hryb, whose father reported him missing after his son left for Belarus to meet a young woman, has rattled ties between Kyiv and Minsk and prompted Ukrainian appeals to Moscow to clarify whether Hryb is in Russian custody.
The father, Ihor, wrote on Facebook last week 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.
His father says that after Hryb did not return, he went to search for him in Homel. There, he claims, he learned “unofficially” that his son was wanted in Russia on terror-related charges, though there has 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.
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. But 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’s Belarus Service that, “at the moment,” authorities have 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 have 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.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that he planned to raise the matter with his Belarusian counterpart, Uladzimir Makey, at an international meeting in Budapest on August 31.
The Ukrainian government’s top human rights official, meanwhile, said on August 30 that she had appealed to her Russian counterpart citing “information” that Hryb had been “transferred to the law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation.”
"I ask you to check the information about the fact of Pavlo Hryb’s detention, the legal grounds for his detention, his location, the conditions of detention, and his state of health," Ukrainian Ombudswoman Valeriya Lutkovska wrote in a letter to Kremlin human rights point woman Tatyana Moskalkova.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Belarus and Ukrainian services, Current Time TV, Hromadske, and 5.ua