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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– An ethnic Polish priest who was abducted by armed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has been freed, but his release did little to ease tensions as Ukrainian government forces advanced to the rebel-held stronghold of Donetsk.
Catholic officials confirmed that Wiktor Wasowicz, 39, was freed late Saturday, July 26. ” He was freed on Saturday night following successful negotiations,” said the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia Jan Sobilo on his Facebook website.
The was abducted July 15 while on his way from Donetsk for Mass in the southeastern city of Horlivka, Polish media reported. The clergyman, who was born and raised in Ukraine, was the third known priest to be kidnapped by pro-Russian separatists in recent weeks.
Roman Catholicism and Greek Catholicism are minority faiths in the largely Orthodox region, and non-Russian Orthodox Christians have complained of persecution, while several churches were attacked or occupied by pro-Russian rebels.
News of his release came while Pope Francis appealed for an end the violence in Ukraine and urged to remember children suffering there.
While the priest’s freedom was welcomed by his denomination, it did not end fighting, forcing an international team of police and experts to halt their journey to the site where a Malaysian passenger plane was shot down from rebel-held territory.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the Netherlands-led mission has to reach the area, amid frustration about reported looting and mishandling of human remains. “The Australian Federal Police will be deployed to the site as part of an unarmed, Dutch-led international humanitarian mission,” Abbott told reporters.
“…There should be 49 on site of whom 11 will be Australian and I expect that there will be considerably more on site in coming days,” he explained. “.. Our objective is principally to recover the bodies – that is what the Australian people expect of us. That is what grieving families around the world deserve,” Abbott added.
Dutch team leader Jan Tuinder cautioned however that he and his colleagues need more Ukrainian support.
“This is an enormous terrain to be searched, so we need an enormous amount of people and material to do that. So we really need the Ukrainian government to support us in that,” he said.
Despite difficulties, 227 wooden coffins containing human remains have been flown to the Netherlands for identification, and the first passenger, a Dutch citizen, was already identified.
Over 200 forensic experts are working at a military barracks in the central Dutch town of Hilversum to identify bodies and human remains recovered from the wreckage of flight MH17, which downed was on July 17 in Ukraine, killing everyone including dozens of children.
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(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since May 2004).
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