Ukraine activist says he was abducted and tortured

The BBC's Duncan Crawford reports how Bulatov claims he was beaten and hung up by his wrists

A leading activist in Ukraine's street opposition who vanished for eight days says he was abducted and tortured before being left to die in the cold.

Dmytro Bulatov, who organised car protests for the opposition camped out in Kiev, is being treated in hospital after being found near the capital.

There are fears that he may be arrested after police arrived at the hospital.

President Viktor Yanukovych has signed an amnesty for protesters and the repeal of harsh anti-protest laws.

The army has called on him to take "urgent steps" to ease the crisis.

Three protesters and three police officers have been killed, and scores injured on both sides, since the protests turned violent on 22 January.

Dmytro Bulatov

Dmytro Bulatov at a news conference in Kiev, 13 January
  • One of the leaders of AutoMaidan, a group of drivers associated with the anti-government protests
  • The group have reportedly used their cars to pick up protesters, picket properties belonging to government officials and, allegedly, block streets to police
  • Mr Bulatov reportedly took to the stage in Independence Square, focus of the protests, on several occasions
  • He vanished on 22 January, only reappearing again on 30 January, injured and saying he had been kidnapped, tortured and finally dumped from a car near Kiev

Opposition to Mr Yanukovych spilled into the streets in November after he abandoned a trade deal with the EU in favour of closer economic ties with Russia.

Mr Yanukovych accused the opposition of seeking to "inflame" the situation on Thursday by continuing the protests despite moves by the government and parliament to ease the stand-off.

On Friday, the president signed a bill passed by parliament which grants amnesty to detained protesters on condition that occupied buildings are vacated. He also signed the repeal of the anti-protest laws passed on 16 January.

Anti-government demonstrators remain in their camp in Independence Square (Maidan) with no sign of the political crisis in the country coming to an end, the BBC's Duncan Crawford reports from Kiev.

Mr Yanukovych, 63, has gone on sick leave, with his staff reporting he has a respiratory illness and a high fever.

'Crucified'

A large number of police and prosecutors have arrived at the hospital where Mr Bulatov is recovering, sparking fears he will be detained.

The injured man is on a "wanted" list published on the interior ministry's website (in Ukrainian), accused of organising mass disorder.

Mr Bulatov, who was found bloodied and bedraggled on the outskirts of the capital, said earlier he had been left to die by his captors after being kidnapped, repeatedly beaten and "crucified". He was, he said, hung up by his wrists.

"They crucified me, so there are holes in my hands now," he said.

"Other than that - they cut off my ear, cut up my face. My whole body is a mess. You can see everything. I am alive. Thank God for this."

The activist reportedly said he did not know who had abducted him but his abductors had spoken with Russian accents.

Vitali Klitschko visits Dmytro Bulatov in hospital Opposition politician Vitali Klitschko visited Dmytro Bulatov in hospital (photo: Paul Ronzheimer, Bild Zeitung)
Protesters in Kiev, 31 January Protesters remained on the streets of central Kiev on Friday
Riot police face protesters in Kiev, 31 January Riot police were deployed again to hold them back
Protesters in Kiev, 31 January Protesters have been trying to keep warm with makeshift braziers

Reaction to Dmytro Bulatov case

"The people who ordered this nightmarish act of barbarity can no longer be called a legitimate government... They are inhuman."

Denys Kazansky, opposition activist

"Our happiness at the fact that he is alive does not in any way mitigate our hatred of the scum who abducted and tortured him."

EuroMaidan group statement

"The aim is to instil horror in those who dare to follow or replace him. Death is only horrifying to the relatives of the deceased, but if you're left alive after torture, this is meant to affect thousands."

Osman Pashayev, journalist

"When we win, the main thing for us will be staying human after all this sadism, fascism and barbarity."

Andriy Shevchenko, opposition MP

"Death squads are active in Ukraine, similar to the criminals which used to serve Latin American dictators."

Vitaly Portnikov, journalist

  • source: BBC Monitoring

According to the Ukrainian news website Gazeta.ua, doctors found no damage to his internal organs or his skull.

Police in Kiev have confirmed Mr Bulatov was bruised and received a cut to one of his ears, Ukrainian news website Ukrainskaya Pravda reports.

They said they had opened an investigation and were posting guards at his hospital.

According to the paper, they also expressed indignation that Mr Bulatov had not phoned them after his release.

Mr Bulatov is a prominent anti-government activist and one of the leaders of the organisation AutoMaidan, which has patrolled streets around Independence Square.

Amnesty International described Mr Bulatov's ordeal as a "barbaric act which must be investigated immediately".

Reaction to news of his ordeal among opposition supporters and journalists was furious, with one journalist, Vitaly Portnikov, suggesting "death squads" were operating in Ukraine.

'Unacceptable violence'

Ukraine's defence ministry put out a statement after Defence Minister Pavlo Lebedyev met staff in Kiev.

"The military and the armed forces of Ukraine have called unacceptable the violent seizure of state institutions, and interference with representatives of state and local governments to carry out their duties, noting that further escalation of the conflict threatens the territorial integrity of the state," it said.

"Laying out their civil position, servicemen and employees of Ukraine's armed forces... called on the commander-in-chief to take urgent steps within the limits of existing legislation with a view to stabilising the situation in the country and reaching consent in society."

Matthew Price compares life inside the "protest zone" in Kiev with the rest of the city, where life continues as normal

Soldiers have not been deployed against the protesters during the crisis, which has seen government buildings occupied.

Responding to the announcement, Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a tweet: "Ukraine's military is highly respected and must remain neutral. I continue to follow developments with concern."

President Yanukovych accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet this week, and offered senior jobs to the opposition - offers that were rejected.

Demonstrators accuse the security forces of being behind the abductions and brutality towards protesters.

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