Released military observer: several moments for hostages were ‘critical’

Josef Přerovský, photo: CTK

A Czech military observer who was held hostage by pro-Russian separatists along with other members of a team from the OSCE was released at the weekend. Forty-one-year-old lieutenant-colonel Josef Přerovský described several moments during the team’s capture as ‘touch-and-go’; thankfully, he and other members of the team have since safely returned home.

Josef Přerovský,  photo: CTK
The seizing of eight international observers from the OSCE, together with five Ukrainian officers in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian was widely condemned by western leaders, who pointed to Russia to step up pressure for their release. In the end, the matter was resolved without conditions, with the local separatist leader in the town of Sloviansk saying it was a voluntary act which coincided with his birthday.

One member of the team suggested he and other hostages had been treated as well as possible under the circumstances during their one week-long detainment. Czech observer Lieutenant-Colonel Josef Přerovský was more revealing, saying in his estimate there were three moments in the team’s capture that were particularly sensitive, situations that could presumably have spun out of control. He spoke to Czech TV shortly after his release.

“In our view, there were several moments that were life-and-death: the first was when we were captured and taken into a basement where we were fully searched. We had to pull out our laces, they searched even the soles of our boots, we were pushed against the wall and our hands were tied and we were blindfolded.”

According to the lieutenant-colonel, the observers listened for hours as their guards tinkered with weapons. The following day they were moved to a somewhat more comfortable area on the building’s fourth floor, but were they were told they would be split up and used as human shields – apparently part of a psychological game. The last critical junction, Lieutenant-Colonel Přerovský said, was on the final evening, when fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists erupted nearby.

Ukrainian National Guard troops guard a checkpoint outside of Slovyansk,  Ukraine,  May 4,  2014,  photo: CTK
“The third moment that was very unpleasant was when intense fighting broke out in Sloviansk. It lasted for two hours and we had no idea what would come next.”

There is no questioning the week of captivity must have been a sobering experience for members of the team, now released. The situation in Ukraine, meanwhile, remains highly-volatile: following heavy fighting, Ukrainian forces on Monday were reported to have driven back pro-Russian separatists in Sloviansk but it is unclear what turn the conflict will take next.