On August 7, hours after arriving in rebel-controlled Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine Dmytro Potekhin, a civic activist from Kiev, wandered past the Liverpool Hotel, a boutique guest house – now apparently abandoned – where he once stayed with a girlfriend. He took out his camera. That was a big mistake.
A rebel with a machine gun emerged and demanded to see Mr Potekhin’s passport. Spotting Mr Potekhin’s Kiev registration stamp, the man grabbed him, pulled a bag over his head, and took him into the empty hotel where he was held overnight.
After a brief interrogation the next day, Mr Potekhin was taken to what locals call the “isolator” – the basement of an arts centre near downtown Donetsk that separatists have turned into a security base and, in effect, a dungeon.
So began 48 days of what seems scarcely imaginable in 21st-century Europe: forced labour, intimidation and humiliation, as hostage of the Russian-backed separatists who control Ukraine’s southeast corner.