The United Kingdom has summoned Russian Ambassador Andrei Kelin to express “deep concern” over reports of the death of a British aid worker detained by Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine.
Earlier on Friday, an official in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) announced the death of Paul Urey, 45. A UK charity involved with his case confirmed that Urey’s family had been notified of his death by British officials.
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“I am shocked to hear reports of the death of British aid worker Paul Urey while in the custody of a Russian proxy in Ukraine. Russia must bear the full responsibility for this,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.
“Those responsible will be held to account.”
Daria Morozova, the human rights ombudswoman for the Moscow-backed separatist leadership in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, said a British “mercenary,” whom she named as Urey, died in captivity on Sunday. She said he had died of chronic illnesses and stress.
Urey was detained in April at a checkpoint near Zaporizhzhia, some 470 kilometres (290 miles) southeast of Kyiv, along with another British man, Dylan Healy. The two men had been operating on their own in the warzone, helping to evacuate civilians.
Dominik Byrne, co-founder of the UK charity Presidium Network, said Urey had diabetes and needed a regular supply of insulin.
“It’s obvious that his welfare was not looked after,” Byrne said. “The Russian authorities and the Donetsk People’s Republic knew he had need of insulin but all the way through this, the Red Cross has been denied welfare access to him and has never been able to verify his actual conditions in prison.”
Byrne said “multiple agencies” including the British government and the Red Cross had tried in vain to secure Urey’s release.
“We are formally calling for his captors to release his body and help us repatriate it back to the UK for his family,” he said. “We really feel that is of ultimate importance and the least they can do at this stage.”
‘Not a fighter’
There was no evidence Urey had a military background and that there was “no way” he was anywhere near “mercenary activities”, as DPR officials allege, Byrne told the Reuters news agency.
“They are really using these personnel as political pawns in this conflict – which is disgraceful,” Byrne said of the Russian-backed separatists.
Moreover, a group backing the Kyiv government said on Friday Urey was an aid worker.
“We are saddened by the news of Mr Urey’s death,” the International Legion for the Defence of Ukraine said as quoted by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
“He did not fight in Ukraine. He was an employee of a humanitarian organisation,” the group added.
Two other UK citizens and a Moroccan man, who were captured while fighting for Ukraine, have been sentenced to death in the DPR for mercenary activities.
Two Americans are also being held in the DPR and have not yet been charged. Their families say the separatists are trying to secure a prisoner exchange and push the United States into official communications with the Russian-backed separatists, something which could be seen as de facto recognition.