Posted: Jan 31, 2014 4:42 AM
Updated: Jan 31, 2014 4:43 AM
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) Police on Friday opened an investigation into the kidnapping of an opposition activist, who said he was held captive for more than a week and tortured, in the latest in a string of mysterious attacks on anti-government protesters in the two-month-long political crisis.
Dmytro Bulatov, 35, a member of Automaidan, a group of car owners that has taken part in the protests against President Viktor Yanukovych, went missing Jan. 22.
Bulatov was discovered outside Kiev on Thursday. He said his kidnappers beat him severely, drove nails against his hands, sliced off a piece of ear and cut his face. He was kept in the dark all the time and could not identify the kidnappers. After more than a week of beatings, they eventually dumped him in a forest.
"They crucified me, they nailed down my hands. They cut off my ear, they cut my face. There isn't a spot on my body that hasn't been beaten," Bulatov said on Channel 5 television. "Thank God, I am alive."
Bulatov's face and clothes were covered in clotted blood, his hands were swollen and bore the marks of nails.
Opposition leader Petro Poroshenko rushed to the hospital where Bulatov was taken Thursday night.
"Dmytro asked to pass his greetings to everyone and to say that he has not been broken and will not be broken," a grim-looking Poroshenko told Channel 5. "That he is full of energy and despite the fact that his body was been beaten, Dmitry's spirit is strong."
Police said the car he was driving when he disappeared had been found.
Bulatov had been missing for eight days, and the protesters organized a campaign for his release. They pleaded with top government officials for assistance, offered a $25,000 bounty to anyone who could help locate him and even consulted psychics, said Oleksiy Hrytsenko, Bulatov's friend and fellow activist.
Hrytsenko said Automaidan members had come under tremendous pressure during the protests, with their cars burnt and activists detained, harassed and threatened. Hrytsenko showed an Associated Press reporter a text message he had received from an unknown number that read: "Go ahead, go ahead, your mother will be happy to see her son dead."
The AP was not immediately able to interview Bulatov.
He is among three activists whose disappearances have shocked the country, especially after one of them was found dead.
Bulatov went missing one day after Igor Lutsenko, another prominent opposition activist who had also gone missing, was discovered after being taken to the woods and beaten severely by unknown attackers.
Lutsenko was kidnapped from a hospital, where he had brought a fellow protester, Yuri Verbitsky, to be treated for an eye injury. Verbitsky was also beaten severely and was later discovered dead.
The disappearances prompted an outcry from protesters, who accused the government of intimidating the opposition.
The protests started after Yanukovych backed out of an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union in November, but quickly came to encompass an array of discontent over corruption, heavy-handed police and dubious courts.
Negotiations between the authorities and the opposition on finding a way out of the crisis appeared to have stalled on Thursday, after Yanukovych took an unexpected sick leave and told opposition leaders that it was now up to them to make concessions.
This week Yanukovych accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the parliament, which he controls, and rescinded harsh anti-protest legislation that sparked last week's violence. But a bill passed by Yanukovych's allies in parliament offered to grant amnesty to protesters only after they vacate scores of government buildings they have seized across the country, a demand rejected by the opposition.