nb_cid nb_clickOther -tt-nb this.style.behavior='url(#default#homepage)';this.setHomePage('http://www.aol.com/?mtmhp=acmpolicybanner072814 network-banner-promo mtmhpBanner
Search AOL Mail
AOL Mail
AOL Favorites

In Ukraine's East, Mayor held hostage by insurgent

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) - When armed men seized the police station in this eastern Ukrainian city, mayor Nelya Shtepa declared she was on their side. She changed her story a few days later. Then she disappeared - the victim of an apparent abduction by the man who now lays claim to her job.

On Tuesday, she resurfaced, expressing support once again for the pro-Russia insurgents - but possibly no longer as mayor.

The mayoral mess, which pits the flamboyant leopard print-clad Shtepa against a mysterious rival who favors black baseball caps, reflects the anger, confusion and lawlessness that have gripped eastern Ukraine as armed groups opposed to the country's interim government seize police stations and government buildings.

In town after town in the beleaguered east, it's hard to tell who's in control - and the situation in Slovyansk is just one of the most dramatic examples. Since the unrest began, pro-Russia insurgents have adopted a strategy of electing so-called people's leaders: mayors and regional governors who claim to represent the people's will, despite their questionable background and skills for the job. One reportedly is under criminal investigation, another is an Internet blogger.

Caught in the middle of the turmoil are bewildered and anxious residents, for whom daily life proceeds blocks away from seized buildings surrounded by barricades and manned by masked gunmen.

"We're tired. We need only one thing: peace and quiet. It's not important who guarantees it, Moscow or Kiev," said cook Irina Grivets.

The man who now claims to be mayor says Shtepa was under the care of his comrades in the pro-Russia forces. But Vyacheslav Ponomarev is himself a dubious figure: No one seems to know his past and Ponomarev refuses to give any clarification.

Shtepa, famous for her platinum-blond hair, championed the insurgents' cause when they seized the police station on April 13 - saying she agreed with their demands of holding a referendum on the region's status.

"These are not some kind of out-of-towners from western Ukraine," Shtepa, dressed in a bright pink down jacket and high heels, told a crowd through a loudspeaker, as masked men in body armor cheered her on.

But as central authorities dispatched troops and military vehicles to retake the buildings and key infrastructure facilities in the east, Shtepa quickly changed course. She called the men insurgents and their presence an "occupation." She complained that they had seized and demolished her office and began referring to army troops dispatched by the Kiev government to fight the gunmen as "our, Ukrainian troops."

Shtepa explained her U-turn, saying that she had pretended to be on the gunmen's side in order to free dozens of hostages from the buildings that the insurgents stormed.

Speaking on a popular TV show last Wednesday, Shtepa complained of lootings by the insurgents and claimed that they were the Russian military: "Today, these already are Green Men," Shtepa said in a reference to military men aligned with Moscow. Little is known about the armed men other than their pro-Russia sentiments; it's not even clear whether they are Russian or Ukrainian or a mixture of both.

The following morning, she walked into city hall for a meeting with Ponomarev - and wasn't seen again for five days.

On Tuesday, the Russian news site LifeNews ran a video interview with her - in what the site said was her former office - praising the insurgents as men with "strong souls" and thanking Russian President Vladimir Putin for annexing Crimea. The report also showed what it said was a resignation letter that Shtepa willingly signed.

Unlike Shtepa, who was elected in 2010, Ponomarev's identity is a mystery to everyone.

By his own account, he served in the Soviet army and in special forces after the fall of the Soviet Union. Until recently, he was running a tailor's shop and now heads a company that produces soap. Asked about the specifics, or even his residence and citizenship, he typically answers: "I'm not going to tell you."

Tanned and rugged like a construction worker, Ponomarev sounds like a military man although his accent is difficult to pin down and it's not clear whether he has any ties to Slovyansk.

He is usually seen in an entourage of masked gunmen and two women, one of whom is a local lawmaker. The women seem to be clueless about Ponomarev's past, too.

Ponomarev brushes off questions about his legitimacy or even details of how he was elected. Residents seem to be unaware of exactly how the army veteran came to replace the middle-aged woman and are only praying the stand-off will end.

"Under Shtepa, things were quiet and the streets were clean," said teacher Andriy Khoronenko. "Now we've got barricades and drunken activists with automatic rifles and Russian flags. How am I supposed to feel about it?"

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
ramonbatt April 22 2014 at 11:43 PM

Putin needs to annex Ukraine. What would the west do if Russia annex Ukraine? No much!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
Brian Hope ramonbatt April 23 2014 at 12:29 AM

About as much as we did regarding Czar Vladimir's ripping two provinces from the Republic of Georgia in 2008.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Suzie & Dickie April 23 2014 at 8:21 AM

During WWII, the Germans on the Eastern Front were in full retreat from the Russians. The Russians stopped just before Warsaw and waited for the Germans to annihilate the Polish Resistance which was took quite a period of time. The Polish resistance had few weapons and made explosives and whatever they could find to protect themselves. They pleaded with the Russians, only miles away, for help but none came. Finally, the Polish resistance surrendered to the Germans and the Russians then started after the Germans again. So, Russia now owns Poland at the expense of thousands of Polish citizens lives. Poland suffered terribly during WWII as well as the Russian citizens of Stalingrad did from the Germans. But why from the Russians? The moral is: Putin, don't be another Stalin. I had some great hopes for your turning Russia into a democratic country. Unfortunately, here in the US, there are some leaders who are trying to get away from democracy.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Don April 23 2014 at 5:51 AM

Obama's wonderful flexibiltiy at work in the world. More and more loss of freedom for millions all over the world.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
2 replies
Mark Don April 23 2014 at 6:29 AM

OK Don. What do we do? Iraq went well. Afganistan went well. Wall Street went well. Banks went well. More billionaires then ever. Tax cuts for the rich. Deregulate. More military spending.Tell us Don?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
3 replies
Mark Don April 23 2014 at 6:31 AM

9/11 under Bush Jr. Iraq invades Kuwait under Bush Sr. Give me a break.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
AsianPlanet April 22 2014 at 4:23 PM

Only the Ukrainians can save Ukraine.
Not much different than United States declaration of independence from England.
France did help USA. Since Poland and Germany are right next door, perhaps they can help.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
pepelaputr April 22 2014 at 2:58 PM

Putin's extortion plot rolls on.
"His overall strategy (isn't) to absorb economically stressed Ukraine (let the West pump its money into those dire streets) but to appear that he might invade in order to earn grace when he didn't. The sin of annexing Crimea thus would be forgiven."

Putin needs Ukraine to pay their gas bill, and we will knee-jerk send boatloads of money to Kiev, which will then be used to pay their (Russian) debts.
He holds hostage Ukrainian military equipment that was captured in Crimea; they can have it back for "pennies on the dollar".

Putin doesn't need a costly civil war next door, someone might blow up those money-making pipelines strewn throughout the country.

This whole affair is purely economic in nature; Putin has Crimea and no long has to pay rent for berthing the Black Sea fleet there. Ukrainian "insurgents" are doing the heavy lifting of scaring the fool out of Kiev. If they're pawns, they may be liquidated when the time is right, or be left in place to eek out the last bit of cash possible.

Meanwhile, we'll display a whole bunch of weapons in eastern Europe that will allow Russia to assess our capabilities.

Even if he "backs down", it's win-win for Vladimir.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
atisonc April 22 2014 at 9:29 PM

Nothing to be proud about.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
waltervlod April 23 2014 at 2:08 AM

There is NO free will under Moskva rule. The Little Green Men have seen to that.
When a mayor is held hostage and then forced to resign by these POS then it's time to retaliate in a large manner.

Putin is the father of LIES!
Someone once wrote:
If Putin were Pinocchio, the world would never run out of lumber.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
JOHN LYNN TERRY April 22 2014 at 11:39 PM

When the Obama administration, his friend George Soros and others support the rebels which ousted the duly elected leader of that country, they did not fully realize who and what they were dealing with. Now the entire Ukraine is in turmoil and the West, as Putin stated many times, is totally responsible.

George Soros is known as a man who destabilizes nations and banks. He makes a fortune doing this and Obama is pretty much under his control. He is wanted in France and would be immediately arrested if he shows his face there.

Good old George Soros will be supporting Hillary Clinton next because he could not get what he wanted from Obama. His goal according to his own words is to destabilize the United States of America and feels that the United States prevents him from creating his new world order or rather, his OPEN SOCIETY an he often calls it.

At first he supported Obama because he thought he would be able to cause so much trouble with the Occupy Movement, which George Funded, create division while Obama claimed to bring people together. As we have seen, most of Obama's promises were all lies.
My favorite was "If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it, PERIOD"
But there are many others.

This administration has been a complete disaster both here and abroad.

It is not totally Obama's fault though. We, the people knew that he had no experience in the real world. No jobs and no business experience. But we were all taken in by his ability to speak and his words, although empty, sounded good to our ears because he told us what we wanted to hear. Nevertheless, his words were only words and even his healthcare did not receive the effort it deserved and was haphazardly designed.

Now 8 Million is the claim but for all we know, they are mostly put on welfare and those who lost their healthcare had no choice to buy into this system.

Just wait till people find out how much of a BAILOUT it is going to need, the deductibles and full time jobs lost because of Obama and his outright lies to the people.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Brian Hope April 22 2014 at 11:47 PM

Anschluss, Slavic style.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
EzinWy April 22 2014 at 3:51 PM

Let me simplify it for everyone / Позвольте мне упрощение ИТ для каждого ...

Vacheslav Ponomarev ... mofia thug / Северной Кореей mofia.

Peace. / Мира.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
aol~~ 1209600


More From Our Partners