KYIV -- International rights groups have urged separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine to disclose the location and ensure the safety of a Russian LGBT activist and a fellow performance artist who went missing there two weeks ago.
Friends of transgender activist Seroye Fioletovoye (Gray Purple) and musician Viktoria Miroshnichenko say they have not heard from the two since they entered separatist-controlled territory on January 31.
The Kremlin-loyal tabloid news outlet Life News on February 13 cited an unidentified source with the separatists as saying that the two were detained because Fioletovoye had planned to stage a protest in support of sexual minorities in a separatist-held area of Donetsk.
There has been no formal confirmation of that claim, and Amnesty International said in a February 13 statement that it has "serious concerns" about the safety of the two Russians.
The international rights group published a petition calling on separatist leaders to reveal the location of the two Russians and protect them from "physical and psychological" abuse.
Russia-backed separatists control areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine's east nearly three years after the start of their war against Kyiv's forces that has killed more than 9,750 people.
International rights watchdogs and Western governments have repeatedly accused the separatists of illegal detentions and abuses, including torture.
Fioletovoye, who was born Oleg Vasliyev and also goes by the name Maria Shtern, is a former member of the Russian art group Voina, which drew international attention with its daring antigovernment stunts and spawned the dissident art collective Pussy Riot.
The activist typically uses "it" in self-reference, and rights advocates became increasingly concerned after a February 9 update appeared on Fioletovoye's Twitter feed referring to the activist as male.
The tweet was subsequently deleted and replaced with a new post consistent with the activist's typical gender identification.
"Friends, I am in the far-flung regions of the DNR," the tweet reads, using an acronym used by the separatists that stands for Donetsk People's Republic.
"I am busy with a film. There is almost no Internet. I'm alive and well," it continued.
The Twitter feed had been dormant since August, and the sudden tweet has raised suspicions that the activist was not the person who posted it.
"It was very, very creepy, and very concerning, too," Tanya Cooper, a Ukraine researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, told RFE/RL.
Miroshnichenko is a musician who previously collaborated with Fioletovoye. She staged a performance-art piece at a 2013 event related to LGBT issues that Fioletovoye moderated.
In her most recent Facebook post -- on January 31 -- Miroshnichenko wrote that she would be online infrequently until February 15. She added in a comment to the post that she was traveling to the southern Russian region of Rostov, which borders the Donetsk region.
Human Rights Watch said in a February 10 statement that it feared the two had become the victims of "forced disappearance."
"Their disappearance demands an immediate and effective investigation," Cooper said in the statement.
Based on reporting by Christopher Miller in Kyiv and Carl Schreck in Washington