NEW YORK – Journalists from CBS News, Buzzfeed and Sky News who were covering the unrest in eastern Ukraine have been freed Friday after being detained by pro-Russia insurgents.
CBS correspondent Clarissa Ward and her crew, and Buzzfeed Mideast correspondent Mike Giglio, were taken into custody after being stopped at a checkpoint outside the city of Slovyansk. Sky News said its four-person crew was similarly detained and released, but offered few details.
Friday's incidents came three days after the Committee to Protect Journalists expressed alarm at how reporters and media organizations were being targeted in the Ukraine.
Ward said she and her crew were bound with tape and transported to another location, and one of her male colleagues was beaten while being held captive. Ward and Giglio said they both heard discussions among their captors about keeping the journalists as hostages.
"Men who were holding us kept telling us not to be frightened and that everything would be OK," Ward said in an interview on "CBS This Morning." "Then another group of commanders appeared to come in and gave them instructions to release us, ultimately. But all in all, I think it's fair to say that it was an unpleasant and quite frightening experience."
The commanders who released them said the people who had taken them into custody were emotional because the Ukrainian Army had begun an offensive against the insurgents in Slovyansk, Ward said.
"It's fair to say that -- when I was listening to the pro-Russian separatists speaking to each other -- I can understand Russian and there was a lot of very strong anti-American rhetoric going on," she said. "One guy was shouting at me in Russian, you know, `If President Obama was smart, he wouldn't be supporting the fascists in Kiev."'
Giglio said via Twitter that his ordeal lasted about three hours. He said it appeared to be motivated by fear and panic among the militiamen.
"They were very spooked," he said.
He said he was unharmed, although one journalist had been beaten. It was not immediately clear if Giglio and Ward were referring to the same beating.
Giglio was asked to name the U.S. capital and pronounce the word `garden' to prove he was an American. He said his belongings were taken and returned, except for his flak jacket and helmet.
Once it was decided they would be released "the pro-Russia militiamen politely served us tea," Giglio tweeted.
Late last month, correspondent Simon Ostrovsky from the Canadian-based Vice News was taken into custody and held for three days by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine. He said later he was beaten and handcuffed and appeared to have been specifically targeted for his reporting: the men taking him captive in Slovyansk had a picture of him.
"I don't think they wanted to kill me," he said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show after his release. "They just wanted to put a scare in me. It was very scary."
Natalia Ligacheva, head of the Ukrainian media watchdog Telekritika, said as of Thursday, at least four Ukrainian journalists continued to be held hostage by pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine. She said Ukrainian media groups have recommended that journalists refrain from traveling to insurgency hotspots unless they have undergone security training.
"This situation is completely horrible and absurd because even during open military hostilities, journalists and medics and Red Cross workers are not subjected to violence," Ligacheva said. "And here journalists have become a key target."