As the Ukrainian army launched its first major assault on the rebel stronghold in Slovyansk at dawn, a CBS news crew was detained, blindfolded and questioned by pro-Russian militants at a checkpoint just outside the city in the eastern part of the country. As our correspondents reported, rebels have taken several hostages, including journalists and the seven members of a European security monitoring organization.
According to CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward, the men who were holding the team yelled anti-American comments and beat one of her male colleagues, but they were all ultimately freed.
You can listen to Ward's live phone interview on CBS This Morning in the video below.
Speaking over the phone with her colleagues in New York, Ward said that her crew was stopped just outside of Slovyansk and told that the commander needed to ask his senior officer whether they should be let go or taken prisoner. Read the full transcript of the interview below:
CHARLIE ROSE: A CBS News team has just been freed in Eastern Ukraine. Clarissa Ward and her crew were detained this morning.
NORAH O’DONNELL: They were held for hours. Clarissa joins us now on the telephone. Clarissa, tell us what has happened.
CLARISSA WARD: Hi, good morning. We were stopped at a checkpoint just outside the city of Slovyansk where we were trying to go because the Ukrainian military had allegedly started an operation to dismantle some of the pro-Russian separatists who were in the town.
We were stopped and told that the commander needed to ask his commander whether we should either be let go or taken prisoner. From there we were then taken to another nearby tent where we were blindfolded with sort of cloth and masking tape, really quite tightly bound around our heads so we couldn’t see anything at all.
We were then bundled into a vehicle and taken to another location. When we got out of the car there, they were quite rough and quite sharp with us. There was a woman shouting at us not to speak at all. We had to have our hands in the air and put them against the wall. People went through all of our belongings - you know, everything, and put it into bags, which they did give back to us later. But they took our earrings, they took our passports. Then the women were separated. Myself and producer were taken to a separate area and they appeared to have a video camera from what I could hear – although obviously I couldn’t see anything and they were asking, “do you have family?” and “why are you here?” and “where are you from?” Of course when you’re asked in that situation whether you have family, and they were like, “do you have children?,” and “who is your family?,” you start to feel a little pit in your stomach because it’s not clear which direction things are going in.
Our male colleagues were in a different area. One of them was beaten. But then men who were holding us kept telling us not to be frightened and that everything would be ok. Then another group of commanders appeared to come in and gave them instructions to release us ultimately. But all in all I think it’s fair to say that it was an unpleasant and quite frightening experience.
ROSE: Absolutely. Did they ever say to you why they were releasing you and why they were holding you?
WARD: They claimed that, well the sort of more sober-minded commanders that let us go at the end said that the people who had taken us were emotional because of what was happening with the Ukrainian Army in Slovyansk today. Certainly it’s fair to say that when I was listening to the pro-Russian separatists speaking to each other, I can understand Russian and there was a lot of very strong anti-American rhetoric going on. One guy was shouting at me in Russian, you know, “If president Obama was smart he wouldn’t be supporting the fascists in Kiev.” So I think certainly that may have something to do with it.
ROSE: What an incredible experience and thank God you’re safe.
WARD: Thank you.