Ukrainian journalist escapes kidnappers in Syria

Kochneva, a 40-year-old Ukrainian citizen, was abducted in October by Syrian rebels as she traveled to the city of Homs, and has been held there by them since, they claim. (Photo courtesy Russia TV)

A Ukrainian journalist escaped from her kidnappers in Syria and was heading to the capital Damascus, according to her nephew Monday.

“She escaped this morning. We spoke by telephone with her for a couple of minutes. She said people were taking her to Damascus,” her nephew, Dmitry Astafurov, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry confirmed Ankhar Kochneva was free after several months in captivity but said it had no further information on the matter.

"She is free and has already contacted our embassy in Syria," said foreign ministry spokesman Yevgen Perebiynis. "Tomorrow she should be at our embassy in Syria.” However, he refused to comment whether she had escaped or was freed.

The 40-year-old Ukrainian citizen was abducted last October near Homs by people who said they belonged to the Free Syrian Army, reported Russia’s RIA Novosti. According to the report, the rebels had demanded a $50 million ransom.

Kochneva has been in Syria since the conflict in Syria erupted in March 2011 and had been reporting for several Russian media outlets. According to RIA Navosti, she was an “outspoken supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

In an interview with RIA Novosti news agency from Syria, Kochneva said she was held near the central city of Homs and was treated poorly by her captors.

She escaped early Monday morning and said she had to walk through mine fields on her trek to safety.

"I was held by the head of the military council of the Free Syrian Army," she said. "The first 40 days I was treated okay, but then they started to hurt me. It was bad, they live poorly themselves, and I was even worse off than they."

"It will take a lot of time and money to improve my health now," she said.

However Kochneva told Russian radio station Business FM that she plans to stay in Damascus and report on the conflict, in which she is an ardent supporter of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"I will stay here," she said. "The world is blind. I will do everything so that people find out what is really happening here."

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Last Update: Monday, 11 March 2013 KSA 20:12 - GMT 17:12
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