The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says a group of its monitors overseeing a fragile cease-fire in eastern Ukraine have been barred from leaving their base by Kremlin-backed separatists who are seeking the release of an officer held by Ukrainian government forces.
The pan-European security body deployed its Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (OSCE SMM) in 2014 to report on the security situation in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions and facilitate dialogue in a conflict between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists that has claimed more than 13,200 lives.
Sporadic fighting is continuing despite a new cease-fire deal, which came into force in July 2020.
The OSCE SMM said in a statement late on October 17 that the vehicle gates of its patrol base in the separatist-controlled town of Horlivka in the Donetsk region had been locked with a chain and padlock.
The owner of the hotel where a so-called Forward Patrol Base is located informed SMM staff that they will be "prevented from leaving the premises," citing "orders from the 'mayor' of Horlivka," according to the statement.
Then, at 5 p.m. local time, two men told the SMM staff that they would not be allowed to leave the hotel premises until the captured officer was freed.
The separatists could not immediately be reached for comment.
They claim the officer, named Andrei Kosyak, was captured by the Ukrainian military near the front line last week while he was helping to oversee the cease-fire.
But Ukraine's Defense Ministry describes Kosyak as being part of a group of Russian servicemen who have carried out an undercover reconnaissance mission.
The SMM called for the removal of any obstacles to the freedom of movement of its observers.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted after Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula -- a move condemned by the international community.