Kremlin-backed militants have finally released Maria Varfolomeyeva, the Luhansk journalist held hostage since Jan 2015. She was exchanged for a Russian soldier and a civilian, and is now safely on government-controlled territory.
Serious concern for the 31-year-old journalist’s health had been expressed after the promised exchange a week ago fell through. The prisoners who were freed on Feb 29 reported seeing Varfolomeyeva the previous day and said that she was in a bad state and weighed only around 30 kilograms. She was being held in a separate basement cell without any light and by herself. This prompted the militants from the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ to release another video with Varfolomeyeva on March 2. If they wanted it to calm concerns, it did not, since the young woman seems alarmingly thin.
Despite the obvious danger to a pro-Ukrainian journalist who had supported the Luhansk Euromaidan, Varfolomeyeva stayed in the city to care for her elderly grandmother, who died shortly after Maria was taken prisoner.
Varfolomeyeva had been asked by Yury Hukov, a Luhansk journalist now working for the Kharkiv Human Rights Group to take some photographs for him. It was while doing what for any journalist is part of their job that she was taken hostage.