Injured militant leaves Ukraine after Western pressure
Dmytro Bulatov flew out of Ukraine after a dramatic stand-off between opposition leaders and police
A Ukrainian protester whose account of torture has shocked Europe flew out of Ukraine on Sunday after a dramatic stand-off between opposition leaders and police and a last-minute ruling by a Kiev court.
An ambulance took Dmytro Bulatov directly from the private clinic where he was being treated to the airport for a flight to Riga, and he is expected to travel on to neighbouring Lithuania for medical treatment.
His arrival at the airport just minutes before departure marked the culmination of an intense round of international diplomacy ever since he was found dazed and beaten in a village outside Kiev on Thursday.
Bulatov is a leader of the “Automaidan” movement, which has organised protest motorcades outside President Viktor Yanukovych’s sprawling country estate near Kiev and has been targeted by police.
The 35-year-old father of three said he was “crucified” by unidentified kidnappers who drove nails through his hands and cut off part of his ear while they held him for eight days following clashes in Kiev.
“They crucified me, nailed me, cut my ear off, cut my face,” Bulatov said on Channel 5 television shortly after his release in his only public comments so far.
“I can’t see well now, because I sat in darkness the whole time,” said Bulatov, his face swollen and caked in blood, which could also be seen covering his clothes.
His bloodied face sparked outrage, with the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton saying she was “appalled by the obvious signs of prolonged torture”.
The United Nations and the United States also voiced concern and Germany and Lithuania both offered him medical assistance.
“He will be brought by ambulance to hospital in Vilnius,” Lithuanian Health Minister Vytenis Andriukatis told AFP on Sunday.
“We are ready to help all injured Ukrainians, and we do not separate them into opposition and others in this case,” he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara on Saturday dismissed Bulatov’s account and said his injuries were just “a scratch”, but the ministry retracted the comments saying they wished him a “speedy recovery”.
The interior ministry said it was looking into his disappearance but asserted that the injuries may have been “staged” and a criminal investigation into his role in the anti-Yanukovych protests is ongoing.
Over the last few days, protesters outside Bulatov’s clinic physically prevented police from entering with a formal order for Bulatov to appear in court on charges of “organising mass disorder” in Kiev.
He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Pro-opposition tycoon Petro Poroshenko and other protest leaders said at a demonstration in Kiev earlier on Sunday that they would “liberate” him.
They then travelled to the clinic as riot police gathered outside but a confrontation was averted when a Kiev court gave the go-ahead for Bulatov to leave the country despite the pending charges against him.
“Following a request from prosecutors, the Kiev court has authorized him to go abroad,” Lilia Frolova, the deputy prosecutor general, told reporters.
“This decision was taken after receiving requests from Bulatov, his family, some lawmakers and international institutions,” Frolova said.
Bulatov’s disappearance caused particular concern because it followed other cases of apparent kidnappings of prominent anti-government activists.
One of the activists, Yuriy Verbytsky, was found dead in the forest while another, Igor Lutsenko, survived a severe beating and was hospitalized.
Automaidan’s members have come under immense pressure, and some have gone into hiding or left the country.
After Bulatov’s departure from Kiev was confirmed, Poroshenko said: “I think we just saved his life”.