According to recent reporting, three officers working for the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) were captured by pro-Russian militia forces while conducting a covert operation in the town of Gorlivka, Donetsk region on Saturday.
Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine has been the main hotbed of activity for unrest since Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula several months prior, as SOFREP has previously reported.
The officers were in Gorlivka in order to find and most likely capture one of the militia’s leaders believed to be responsible for the death of a Ukrainian politician, Volodymyr Rybak, who was found dead approximately one week ago.
According to authorities, Mr. Rybak’s body had been found on the banks of a river in the area, with his body showing signs of torture.
Mr. Rybak’s untimely death comes on the heels of Vice President Biden’s recent visit to Ukraine, and also amidst high tensions between the West and Russia. Russia has recently been accused of “using undercover military to back separatists in eastern Ukraine.” According to recent reporting, at least nine cities and towns in eastern Ukraine are now under pro-Russian militia control. Naturally, Russia denies any covert involvement.
The officers, who have been officially confirmed by the SBU as members of the organization’s anti-terrorist “A Directorate,” were detained, searched, blindfolded, and put on display for regional media outlets during a press conference Sunday.
According to the militia forces detaining the officers, the three men had initially resisted arrest, and showed signs of physical abuse. On display with the officers were their weapons, documents, identification papers, and other belongings.
Initial reports suggest the three officers – a colonel, major, and captain – were part of a seven-man team that was tasked to infiltrate the city of Gorlivka in support of covert Ukrainian efforts to regain control over the cities and towns that have fallen under pro-Russian militia control since the Russian invasion of Crimea in late February.
The capture and detainment of these officers comes amidst several additional instances of pro-Russia militias detaining both individuals and groups, with reports of detained journalists, pro-Ukraine activists, and even official OSCE (Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe) members being detained as well.
With tensions escalating among the various players involved in gaining a greater sphere of influence in eastern Ukraine, it remains to be seen whether or not a deal will be brokered that secures the release of the detained officers.
Militia forces have released the majority of detained personnel previously, but have never before detained official members of a covert Ukrainian operation.
With the detainment of these officers coinciding with the detainment of the OSCE contingent, the West will be under heavy pressure to successfully secure the release of the OSCE members while ensuring the safety of Ukraine’s captured SBU officers.
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(Feature image courtesy of ITAR-TASS/Bancroft Media)