KIEV (Reuters) – Daria Mastikasheva was one of scores of prisoners exchanged between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in December, but she says she is now being kept against her will in a hospital in eastern Ukraine by the same people who secured her release.
A former taekwondo champion, Mastikasheva spent years in Ukrainian custody on what she says were trumped up treason charges in a case that was documented by rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
She was handed over to separatist fighters in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine in a mass prisoner exchange, one of a number of confidence-building measures agreed by Ukraine and Russia to end the simmering conflict.
Instead of being allowed to return home to her family, she says she is being kept in a hospital for reasons that the separatist authorities refuse to explain. Initially the hospital told her she might be at risk of contracting hepatitis C.
She can eat and sleep for free at the hospital and leave the building, provided she returns by eight o’clock every night. When she tried to cross the border into Russia last week, the border guards refused, saying she was under a travel ban.
“The fact of the matter is that here no one is explaining anything to anyone,” she told Reuters by phone.
“It is impossible to talk to someone, to contact them for some clarification. Three weeks ago we were told – ‘you still need to stay here for a week’. But three weeks passed and nothing has happened.”
She said 13 other freed prisoners were housed at the same hospital, one of them a Russian citizen and the rest Ukrainian.
The separatist authorities declined a request for comment. The hospital did not respond to a request for comment.
The conflict between Ukrainian troops and Moscow-backed fighters has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. Tuesday saw some of the worst fighting since a Paris summit in December.
Mastikasheva is a Ukrainian citizen who was living with her partner in Moscow. She was captured by the Ukrainian security services in 2017 while visiting her mother and son in Ukraine.
She confessed on camera to being an agent of Russia’s Federal Security Service, plotting to recruit Ukrainian war veterans to carry out attacks in Russia that the FSB could then blame on Ukraine.
Mastikasheva said the confession was extracted from her under torture.
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