A British journalist working for the TV channel Russia Today, who had not been seen since his detention by the Ukrainian government on Tuesday, has said he is "free and fine" after being released.
Graham Phillips, a blogger hired on a freelance basis by the Kremlin-funded channel, gained notoriety during the conflict in the east for his gonzo-style subjective reports and his sharp online criticism of the Maidan protests and the new Ukrainian government, declaring several times that he believes the country "does not exist" any more.
Phillips, 35, tweeted to his nearly 11,000 followers that he had been released from custody, and revealed he was not facing any criminal charges or deportation threat following his arrest. He was arrested at a checkpoint near the flashpoint city of Mariupol on Tuesday and was transferred to Zaporozhye where he spent the night in detention, according to RT.
In a string of Tweets to this followers, he said: "I've just recently been released after being detained by Ukrainian authorities at #Mariupol yesterday. Was then transferred to Zaporozhye where I stayed the night, under armed guard. Removed by armed guard today, questioned thoroughly on my work for RT-com"
He said: "All my work in order, no charges, no deportation, no one laid a hand on me in anger, Ukrainian authorities treated me fairly. All ok"
He thanked the public for their messages of support, adding "I'm free and fine."
The journalist denied claims he had been armed when he was arrested, tweeting: "As for comments I was 'holding a firearm'. Was holding my Canon camera, filming, just like I always do. Tomorrow will see if files still there."
His reports, often from the centre of armed clashes, have become popular among pro-Kremlin bloggers and hated by pro-Ukrainian internet users, many of whom Phillips claims have threatened him. He has been accused of reporting wildly inaccurate claims as fact.
It is believed he was detained with his local driver at around noon on Tuesday on the outskirts of Mariupol, where he had been filming at the morgue. "They've taken my bulletproof jacket and my helmet, but on the other hand they haven't in any way inflicted any form of injury or any actions on my person," Phillips said in a phone call to Russia Today shortly after his detention, before his phone was apparently confiscated.
The driver was released about six hours later, and was told that Phillips would be taken to Kiev. The channel said he was detained by the country's national guard, and handed over to the SBU security services. There was no immediate confirmation from any Ukrainian authority that he had been taken into custody.
Russia Today said it had been unable to contact Phillips since the phone call, and believed he had been moved to Kiev. The channel said it had made British consular authorities in Russia and Ukraine aware of the detention.
Ukrainian authorities have begun screening Russian journalists at entrance points to the country and many have been denied entry. At the weekend, two journalists from the Russian internet channel LifeNews were also detained in the east of the country and taken to Kiev. LifeNews has close links to the Kremlin.
Ukrainian media reported that the pair were helping the insurgents. A video showing the men – their hands tied behind their backs and bags on their heads – purported to show they were carrying portable anti-aircraft missiles in their car. The OSCE's representative on freedom of the media has called on Kiev to release the pair immediately.
In a short video message released on Tuesday, cameraman Marat Saichenko admitted that the pair had entered Ukraine on the pretence they were going to a concert, and not as journalists. Ashot Gabrelyanov, the general director of LifeNews, tweeted that the Ukrainian security services were "terrorists" and "acting like al-Qaida".
Earlier in the conflict, the separatist militias operating in eastern Ukraine detained a number of Ukrainian and western journalists. Simon Ostrovsky, a reporter for the internet channel Vice News, who was beaten and held in a cellar for several days in the rebel stronghold of Slavyansk. He was eventually released, though it is believed that many locals are still being held hostage in the area.