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February 1, 2014

Ukraine activist's story fuels torture squad fears

(Continued)

Later Friday, the ministry dispatched investigators to Bulatov’s hospital to interrogate him, saying that besides being a kidnapping victim, he was also suspected of organizing mass disorders in the protests. Opposition lawmakers and Bulatov’s supporters feared he was about to be arrested and rushed to the hospital to shield him from police. The standoff continued late into the evening.

Yanukovych adviser Hanna Herman urged a thorough investigation into Bulatov’s disappearance. But she also branded Turchynov a “provocateur” and accused the opposition of seeking to further inflame tensions instead of working toward a compromise in the protests, which call for Yanukovych’s resignation and other demands.

“I think the opposition now is doing all it can to again ignite the situation which had already begun to calm down,” Herman told The Associated Press.

Bulatov’s group, car owners known as Automaidan, started out by picketing the residences of top government officials and their allies, but soon took an active part in the protests that have rocked Ukraine. The group, which took its name from Kiev’s Independence Square — known as Maidan — blocked streets and monitored police cars.

Bulatov went missing on Jan. 22, prompting his friends to organize 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, fellow activist Oleksiy Hrytsenko said.

Hrytsenko grew all the more worried about Bulatov’s fate because Automaidan members’ cars were being torched and their activists detained, harassed and threatened. Hrytsenko showed an Associated Press reporter a text message he received from an unknown number that read: “Go ahead, go ahead, your mother will be happy to see her son dead.”

Bulatov was dumped in a forest Thursday night after eight days in captivity and made it to a house outside Kiev where he got help and was able to call friends, according to an Interior Ministry statement. He went missing one day after Igor Lutsenko, another prominent opposition activist who had also disappeared, was discovered after being taken to woods and beaten severely by unknown attackers.

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