Anhar Kochneva is freeMarch 12, 2013
After five months of captivity in fear of execution, Ukrainian journalist Anhar Kochneva has escaped from Syrian rebels, Kochneva’s ex-husband told RT News.
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 15 km before reaching Syrian army forces, who brought her to Damascus.
Kochneva ironically wrote she’s “back from the Wonderland” in a short LiveJournal post, promising some further details later.
She also confirmed the known details of her escape in two brief media interviews, saying that she was held near the central city of Homs by the military council of the FSA and that the captors treated her poorly. She finally decided to run away because she feared that they would kill her and blame government forces for her death. Kochneva said she had to live in a cold room with a broken window, leaving her health in a terrible state.
In a telephone conversation with RIA Novosti Knochneva told, that “the Syrian side, taking all necessary precautions, delivered me to the building of the Syrian foreign ministry, where in the presence of the Russian Ambassador Azamat Kulmukhametov I was handed over to Charge d’Affaires of Ukraine Yevhen Zhupeyev. I am in a safe place now.”
Despite her harrowing experience, 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 on October 9 near the city of Homs. The city, seen as the cradle of the Syrian rebellion, 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 50 million US$ ransom was not paid. They later lowered the sum to reportedly 300,000 US$, 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. The FSA also claimed that Kochneva was armed when she was captured.
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 insisted that it had taken all necessary measures to free the journalist and had urged Damascus for “concrete results” in attempts to release her. The ministry also confirmed on Monday that Kochneva is free, without elaborating on the circumstances of her escape.
In an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukraine newspaper, which was published on March 12, she disclosed the details of how she was abducted, held hostage, and escaped.
She said that near the city of Homs armed men stopped a taxi in which she was traveling, to allegedly check documents.
“They pointed guns at us. The driver and another passenger were stuffed into the trunk, and I, thank God, was not. And they brought us somewhere, and there were some bandits,” Kochneva said.
When asked to comment on the video in which Kochneva says that she works for Russian security services, she said: “I was forced to say that I arrived in Syria on the instructions of the Russian intelligence service and that I’m a chief interpreter of the Defense Ministry here. They made threats.”
Kochneva also said that she was held hostage in Homs near the Lebanese border.
“Houses, villas. The first 40 days were fine, and then, as they say, ‘the guards got tired.’ I was guarded by a person with four years of education, including two years actually spent in a kindergarten. If he was unwell, he threw iron basins at me and constantly insulted me,” Kochneva said.
According to the journalist, two-and-a-half days after her abduction she was taken by the chief of the opposition general staff, who supposedly was planning to save her.
“He told me that he protected me, that checkpoints were everywhere, that he wanted to save me. And, in fact, he lied to me. He lied to me on February 19 that he wanted to let me go, but I heard what he said to another man, that they could get a few million [dollars] for me and buy weapons,” Kochneva said.
She added that she lived in a room with broken glass, so now she has problems with her kidneys and respiratory system.
Speaking about how she escaped, Kochneva said that she was preparing for this for several days.
“I was preparing for a few days. I thought for a few days that someone could help me. But the man who was supposed to help me apparently didn’t find my house, we didn’t meet, and I did everything on my own. That is, I just left the house and walked past their checkpoint that was three meters from my front door,” she said.
She added that she walked about 15 kilometers in one hour and forty minutes and went to the village whose residents helped her escape.
Speaking about her future plans, Kochneva said that she plans to visit Moscow and then return to Syria.
“Then I will probably come to Moscow. I should consult with doctors, and I have a child there. And then I will return to Damascus,” she said.
The news channel breakingnews.sy published a document showing that the Qatari government demanded from the Ukraine the recognition of the Syrian opposition Coalition in exchange for the release of Kochneva. This is clear evidence that Qatar was colluding with the kidnappers instead of working for the journalists release.