Zvezda TV crew freed after harsh interrogation, ransom demands by Ukraine radicals

Zvezda TV channel correspondent Evgeny Davydov, left, and sound engineer Nikita Konashenkov who were detained in Dnepropetrovsk are welcomed on their arrival at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport after the release. (RIA Novosti/Alexey Kudenko)

Zvezda TV channel correspondent Evgeny Davydov, left, and sound engineer Nikita Konashenkov who were detained in Dnepropetrovsk are welcomed on their arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after the release. (RIA Novosti/Alexey Kudenko)

Reporters from Russia’s Zvezda TV channel have been freed from captivity in Ukraine, where Right Sector fighters detained, interrogated, and beat them for ransom. Risking their lives, they didn’t turn off their phones, which was crucial for their release.

A plane carrying Evgeny
Davydov and Nikita Konashenkov landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo
Airport at 15:44 GMT on Monday. A few hours before their arrival
in the Russian capital, the two journalists were handed over to
Russian naval attaché Eduard Belashev in the city of

The journalists spent two days in captivity, and were subjected
to long questioning, intimidation, and beatings.

Recent images of the two men show the areas around their eyes
covered in bruises. Their colleagues say that Davydov has
complained of pain in his ear and partial hearing loss.

Zvezda TV channel has shared details of the reporters’ detention
and release. The channel’s head, Aleksey Pimanov, said that
Davydov and Konashenkov were freed due to “diplomatic
The station’s management sent pleas to new
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the Security Service of
Ukraine (SBU), and the Ukrainian judiciary demanding the
journalists’ immediate release.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called the release “good
and the “result of persistent work of all of our
structures with the active participation and support of the
Russian media.”
Moscow says the “illegal practice of
detaining journalists in Ukraine”
must stop, and that the
right to peaceful and objective press coverage of events in
Ukraine must be safeguarded.

Zvezda TV channel correspondent Evgeny Davydov, center, with his family and sound engineer Nikita Konashenkov on their arrival at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. (RIA Novosti/Alexey Kudenko)

The reporters were detained on June 14 while on their way to the
airport. Saturday was meant to be the last day of their business
trip in turbulent Ukraine and they were expected to fly home.
They had been in Ukraine for over a month.

Constantly on the phone with Zvezda TV channel’s editors, Evgeny
and Nikita successfully passed several checkpoints. However, they
were stopped and detained at a post of the Ukrainian National
Guard near Pokrovskoye, and the connection with the reporters was
temporarily lost.

Zvezda journalists in Moscow launched a massive operation trying
to find their colleagues. Both the Right Sector and the Ukrainian
Security Service (SBU) refused to comment on the detentions.

Eventually, the channel managed to determine the address of where
Evgeny and Nikita were being held. This finding showed that Right
Sector fighters were behind the detention – the building is
shared by the SBU and the radical group. As Zvezda journalists
found out later, the man who interrogated their detained
colleagues was Maksim Miroshnichenko, the Right Sector’s press
secretary in Dnepropetrovsk.

During the interrogation process, the journalists kept one of
their phones constantly connected to the channel’s headquarters.
The recording will now be transferred to authorities, who will
launch a torture case. The use of force against the reporters can
be heard on the recording.

Throughout the questioning, which was full of cursing,
Miroshnichenko reportedly tried to force the journalists to admit
they lied about the true purpose of their visit. Under pressure,
the interrogators forced the Russian crew to denounce their
reporting on the use of white phosphorus by the Ukrainian military in
an aerial assault on the outskirts of Slavyansk on Thursday.

After the channel managed to determine the journalists’
whereabouts, representatives of the Right Sector contacted Zvezda
demanding a US$200,000 ransom for the reporters, who they called
“scum.” Failure to provide the money would result in
consequences, with the captors sending a message to family
members that the journalists would be “kept for some 10

On Monday, a YouTube video surfaced showing Davydov and
Konashenkov with bruises on their faces. In the footage, the two
are seemingly being forced to say they have “no complaints” about
their treatment by the Right Sector, and that the visible
hemorrhages on their bodies were caused by a fight with a

Their documents also surfaced on the internet, showing they were
accredited by the Central Election Commission of Ukraine. But, in
violation of all norms of international law and the Geneva
Convention, the reporters were forced to sign statements which
falsely declared their lack of professional ethics.

“Everything is done on the orders of the Kremlin in order to
use this information in international politics to the detriment
of Ukraine,”
Davydov’s forced statement allegedly read.

Konashenkov’s written testament apparently claimed that they
covered Ukrainian roadblocks, “also on Moscow’s orders,”
in order to make “untrue photographs.”

Upon their safe return to Russia, the journalists were taken to
hospital for treatment. Before they boarded the ambulance, they
gave a few comments to the press crew that greeted them at the
airport. They thanked the Russian authorities and media channels
for helping secure their release. They also briefly shared the
details of their abduction.

“We were traveling from Donetsk to Dnepropetrovsk. We had a
direct return flight from Dnepropetrovsk to Moscow on Saturday.
About 120 km from Dnepropetrovsk, we were stopped at a roadblock.
This was the National Guard’s checkpoint. They stopped us, asked
us for our documents, checked all our personal possessions,
examining everything,”
the duo told journalists.

“Seeing our Russian passports and that we are Zvezda TV
staff, their face expressions changed. They smirked and said that
they have a jackpot in their hands. They abducted us, blindfolded
us, and placed us in a car, before driving us somewhere to a
field, then to some base. They threw us in a cellar.”

A press conference with Konashenkov and Davydov is scheduled to
take place later on Tuesday.

Russian journalists from a range of media outlets have been
repeatedly detained during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Another set of Zvezda crew members were abducted two weeks ago and released after
several days of interrogation on accusations of espionage. RT
contributor and UK national Graham Phillips was detained for over 36 hours by Kiev military forces
back in May. Earlier, two Russian journalists working for
LifeNews TV channel were also captured by
Kiev forces, forced on their knees at gunpoint and taken to Kiev
for interrogations which lasted almost one week.

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