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Desperate plea from Luhansk hostage facing 15-year ‘sentence’

22.05.15 | Halya Coynash

30-year-old Luhansk journalist Maria Varfolomeyeva is clearly seen as a trophy by her Kremlin-backed militant captors with a second video just broadcast of the terrorized young woman, this time on Russia’s LifeNews TV channel.  The same Luhansk militants were responsible for capturing Nadiya Savchenko, and the charges they have now concocted are similar to those which Russia has brought against Savchenko.  According to the militants, the journalist faces a ’trial’ and 15-year ’sentence’. 

In early February the militants posted a video of Varfolomeyeva’s interrogation, and now they have handed her over for the pro-Kremlin Life News television channel to come up with a carefully doctored report for its viewers.  This is nothing new with the same channel having taken an ‘interview’ of Nadiya Savchenko back in July 2014. 

Neither Savchenko nor Varfolomeyevka have provided the anti-Ukraine propaganda clearly sought.  This was harder to conceal with Savchenko whose kidnapping to Russia, detention and Russian prosecution had attracted attention and probably made the authorities cautious of using overt methods of pressure.  Varfolomeyeva was heard on video being tormented by militants back in February and it seems clear from her words to Life News that she has been facing, at very least, a psychological beating from her captors. 

Her obvious distress during the interview and difficulty speaking made it easy for Life News to add their version of the journalist’s supposedly changed attitude towards Ukrainian volunteer fighters.

The LifeNews headline claims that the volunteer battalions “Aidar and ‘Right Sector’ have abandoned their spy captured by the insurgents”.   The channel goes on to repeat the allegations about the journalist made by the militants and to claim that she herself has had time to “change her attitude to the Ukrainian nationalist battalions and understand that she has proven unneeded to her former comrades.”  The presenter asserts that Varfolomeyeva made remarks against the Ukrainian side which are not on the tape.  At the end of this recording, the journalist makes an emotional plea to her government to help bring about her release or exchange.  From this it is clear that she in fact denies having done anything wrong.   The report then leaves the journalist and goes on to assert that the militants have released a large number of ‘prisoners’, and are willing to release them all, but the Ukrainian side is preventing this.

It is worth noting that LifeNews speaks of ‘captured prisoners’ with the term used implying soldiers.  In fact, Maria Barfolomeyeva is one of a large number of civilians held hostage by Kremlin proxies in eastern Ukraine.

Varfolomeyeva was captured on Jan 9, 2015, when there had not been any shelling in Luhansk for some months, making the militant claim that she was helping the Ukrainian armed forces as a spotter and ‘spy’ quite nonsensical. 

The militants claim and LifeNews presents as proven that Varfolomeyeva photographed buildings where militants were living and provided the information to Aidar, with these buildings later shelled.

The only truth in the claims seems to lie in the fact that the journalist was captured while carrying out an activity fully in keeping with her profession, namely, taking photos.  She told the militants then that she was taking photos for a journalist acquaintance now living in Kharkiv.

In an earlier report, on the Russian official RIA Novosti, the dates were slightly fiddled to imply that Varfolomeya is accused of shelling that took place on Jan 27.  By that stage she had been in custody for almost 3 weeks. 

As reported the case bears disturbing similarity to that of Nadiya Savchenko, with both young women being captured by militants in the Luhansk oblast.  There is no originality at all, with both women accused of being spotters, however Savchenko, as a military ‘prize’ was taken against her will to Russia, where Russian courts have proven willing to take part in a monstrous parody of justice.. 

Despite the words about ‘trials’ and ‘sentences’, there is scarcely even any pretence in the case of journalist Maria Varfolomeyeva, with the videos providing distressing clarity that the young woman is being subjected to severe psychological pressure and terror.   

see also:
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Kremlin-backed militants prove nobody is safe in Donbas
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Will the West accept Potemkim elections in Donbas?
Kremlin-backed ‘republic’ bans Ukrainian media
Special Zombie Status? Kremlin-backed ’republics’ block all independent media
Call for Action to Free Luhansk Journalist held Hostage for 5 Months
Luhansk militants hold journalist hostage, threaten 15-year ‘sentence’
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Concern for civic activist and journalist seized by Luhansk militants
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Five journalists not on the list of Kremlin-backed militants’ hostages
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Kremlin-backed militants seize parents of a local journalist