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Alarm mounts over rise in abuse claims in Ukraine

Dmytro Bulatov stumbled out of a snowy forest after he had been missing for a week. He said his abductors nailed his hands to a door, beat him for days, and crucified him.

Via REUTERS

Dmytro Bulatov stumbled out of a snowy forest after he had been missing for a week. He said his abductors nailed his hands to a door, beat him for days, and crucified him.

KIEV, Ukraine — Alarm mounted Friday among Western diplomats and rights groups over the scale and severity of abuses during the civil unrest in Ukraine after an anti-government protest leader who had been missing for a week stumbled out of a snowy forest to say he had been crucified.

The activist, Dmytro Bulatov, said his captors had nailed his hands to a door after holding him in a dark room and beating him for days.

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Bulatov, 35, who owns a garage in Kiev, said an ear and cheek had been cut with a knife and that his captors had threatened to gouge an eye out.

“There is no place on my body that doesn’t hurt,” he said.

He spoke from his hospital bed in a video released online by fellow protesters. But the drama continued at the hospital, a private clinic in Kiev. As police officers arrived to investigate the kidnapping, other officers came for another purpose — to arrest Bulatov on charges of causing a public disturbance during the protests.

Opposition lawmakers at the hospital, however, talked the second group of officers out of making an arrest.

The demonstrations that have roiled the Ukrainian capital for two months seem to be taking a darker, ominous hue as reports of beatings and abductions of demonstrators and activists, once seen as isolated, if unnerving, are now made quite regularly.

Four protesters died during clashes with the police, and hundreds have been arrested. Evidence is mounting that the authorities or their surrogates have kidnapped, beaten or even tortured demonstrators. Human Rights Watch issued a statement Friday documenting 13 instances in which the police beat journalists or emergency workers during clashes last week, and noted dozens of other reported cases.

“It’s possible to accidentally hit one journalist or medic during violent confrontations, but not dozens,” Anna Neistat, a program director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “Police faced enormous challenges during the street fighting, but there’s no excuse for deliberately targeting reporters and medics.”

EuroMaidan SOS, a group that tracks missing people, now counts 27 protesters as missing, not including Bulatov and two others, Ihor Lutsenko and Yuri Verbytsky, who were found in the same wooded area outside Kiev last week. Lutsenko survived, but Verbytsky froze to death after his release.

The protests began in November after President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a free-trade agreement with the European Union and turned to Russia for financial assistance instead. No direct evidence ties the government to abductions.

Yanukovych’s government has lately been offering concessions to its opponents. On Friday, a day after Yanukovych announced that he had gone on sick leave, he signed two measures into law — an amnesty for protesters and a bill that rolled back recent restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.

Andrei Telizhenko, a friend of Bulatov who picked him up at the house where he had gone to call for help, then drove him to a hospital, said in an interview that Bulatov’s hands were punctured with wounds about the diameter of knitting needles.

Bulatov had been nailed to a door and left for several hours with his head covered in a bag, Telizhenko said. His captors asked how the protests were being financed and suggested that Western governments were playing a role. In particular, Telizhenko said, they asked, “‘What orders do you take from the United States ambassador?’”

On the drive to the hospital, Telizhenko said, his friend was in a state of shock, sometimes seeming aware of his surroundings, and sometimes not. At one point, according to Telizhenko, Bulatov said, “I want to go fishing.”

Doctors who treated him at the clinic, the Borys hospital, declined to discuss his wounds in detail; the hospital director said Bulatov had been moved from intensive care Friday morning and was in “satisfactory” condition. Later Friday, though, he had been transferred back into intensive care to discourage the police from making the disorderly conduct arrest.

With the police on contradictory missions, and politicians and activists in the corridors, the hospital became a tense, confused place, illustrating, perhaps, the widening schisms and uncertainty in this country.

Among those at the hospital were Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion and leader of the opposition Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party, who is scheduled, along with other opposition leaders to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday at a conference on European security in Munich. Ukraine is expected to dominate discussions at the conference.

“What they did to Dmytro is an attempt to intimidate all politically active citizens,” Klitschko said in a statement.

The Interior Ministry on Friday posted Bulatov’s photograph and name on its wanted list. Separately, it issued a statement saying he and his relatives had not cooperated in the investigation into his abduction.

The episode, however, prompted sharp responses from Western governments. Stefan Fule, the European Union minister who oversees the joining of new members, tweeted a demand for an immediate investigation into the Bulatov case and others involving charges of abuse of activists.

“Urge authorities to act swiftly on kidnapping and torture,” Fule tweeted. “This kind of violence and impunity is deplorable and must stop now.”

The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, tweeted that “we are extremely relieved that Dmytro Bulatov is alive, but shocked and outraged at the torture inflicted upon him.”

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