European Military Observers Freed From Eastern Ukraine

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Head of the OSCE observer mission, Axel Schneider, speaks to reporters following his release from a week of captivity. (Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)

Head of the OSCE observer mission, Axel Schneider, speaks to reporters following his release from a week of captivity. (Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)

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MOSCOW (AP) — European military observers who were held more than a week by insurgents in eastern Ukraine walked free Saturday, with Kiev insisting the release proves Russia is fomenting unrest in Ukraine — as Moscow touted the insurgents as courageous humanists.

The latest battling narratives came a day after dozens of protesters died while trapped in a horrifying fire in Odessa, hundreds of miles away. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deaths show Ukraine’s acting leaders are “are up to their elbows in blood,” while authorities in Kiev blamed pro-Russia provocateurs.

The incidents highlight the intractability of Ukraine’s crisis, in which pro-Russia insurgents have seized government buildings in about a dozen cities and towns in the east and Ukrainian forces have tried to regain control in a limited military offensive. Looming on the other side of the border are tens of thousands of Russian troops, whom Kiev fears are waiting for a pretext to invade.

A pact struck between Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States in mid-April aimed to resolve the crisis emphasized the importance of an observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But the mission’s prospects became clouded a week later, when eight of its military observers and five accompanying Ukrainians were detained by insurgents in the city of Slovyansk, the crucible of unrest in the east. The insurgents alleged the observers were spying for NATO and carrying suspicious material; one from non-NATO member Sweden was released two days later, but the rest remained in custody until Saturday.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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