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Captive Ukrainian journalist escapes Syrian rebels

Published time: March 11, 2013 15:02
Edited time: March 11, 2013 18:36
Anhar Kochneva (Photo from facebook.com/anhar.kochneva)

Anhar Kochneva (Photo from facebook.com/anhar.kochneva)

After five months of captivity in fear of execution, Ukrainian journalist Anhar Kochneva has safely escaped from Syrian rebels, Kochneva’s ex-husband told RT.

Relatives and friends of the journalist said Kochneva managed to escape the building she was kept in, and hid from the pursuers in the mountains. She then had to walk about 15km before reaching Syrian army forces, and is now travelling to Damascus in safety.

Kochneva ironically wrote she’s “back from the Wonderland” in a short LiveJournal post, promising some further details later.

She also confirmed the details of her escape in two brief media interviews, saying the captors mistreated her, and she decided to run away for the fear that they would kill her and blame government forces for another death. Kochneva said she had to live in a cold room with a broken window, leaving her health in a terrible state.

Despite this, the journalist vowed to remain in Syria and continue to highlight the ongoing conflict.

“The world is just blind… I will definitely do everything for the people to discover, what is really going on here,” Kochneva told Business FM, saying Syria is “a friend in need”.

Anhar Kochneva, who had reported critically about the Syrian rebels for Russian and Ukrainian news outlets, was captured in the beginning of October 2012 near the city of Homs. The city, seen as the cradle of the Syrian revolution, has recently been going through frequent fighting outbursts, which Kochneva was following at the time of her capture.

The kidnappers, members of the Free Syrian Army, had repeatedly threatened to kill the journalist in December, if a US$50 million ransom was not paid. They later lowered the sum to reportedly $300,000, and announced they had “spared” Kochneva for the time being.

Kochneva’s relatives said they had been unaware of her fate since New Year, and accused the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry of being “inactive” and “ignoring the negotiation process.”

Syrian rebels, who had been in contact with the journalist’s former husband, also claimed that Ukrainian authorities were doing nothing. The rebels uploaded several videos of Kochneva last year, in which she admitted to having participated in the fighting, and of working as a military interpreter with Syrian and Russian officers.

International groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists, ARTICLE 19, the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders have questioned the objectivity of these videos, saying the journalist appeared to be speaking under pressure.

The groups urged the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Opposition Coalition to ensure that the journalist is safe and set free, and called for world governments to assist in her release.

The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine has said that it was taking all necessary measures to free the journalist and urged Damascus for “concrete results” in attempts to release her.

The ministry has confirmed on Monday that Kochneva is free, without elaborating on the circumstances of her escape.