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Ukrainian journalist escapes Syrian captors

By CNN Staff
updated 2:43 PM EDT, Mon March 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Report: Syrian rebels demanded a $50 million ransom for Ankhar Kochneva's release
  • "I thought they would have killed me eventually," Kochneva says
  • The reporter defends Bashar al-Assad regime's war against the rebels
  • In separate matter, U.N. commission is investigating 20 massacres in Syria

(CNN) -- A Ukrainian journalist taken hostage by a faction of Syrian rebels in October escaped from her captors Monday, according to a Russian media report.

The rebels had demanded a $50 million ransom from the Ukrainian government for Ankhar Kochneva's release, the Russian state-run RIA Novosti reported.

"I thought they would have killed me eventually and would say that it was the army who did it," Kochneva told Russian radio website BFM.ru on Monday. "So I made a decision to escape. I simply came to the street and (left) and maybe in 15 kilometers I met normal people who helped me to get to the army's side."

Her ordeal as a captive took a toll on her health, Kochneva said. "I lost about 30 kilograms," or 66 pounds. "My health condition is very bad because they didn't treat me at all. I spent the whole winter in a room with a broken window. When the snow fell it was in the room, too, and on the ceiling. It's a miracle that I didn't become seriously sick."

Photographer: World has failed Syria
Journalist escapes from Syria

She walked around minefields to escape, she told RIA Novosti.

Kochneva, who specializes in tourism writing and not war reporting, told BFM.ru that she planned to remain in Syria, saying it is "like a friend who got in trouble. You need to leave everything and help your friend to outlast this trouble and emerge from it."

She defended Bashar al-Assad regime's war against the Syrian rebels.

"Everyone shouts that Syria is doing something wrong, but I'm sorry, what should it do?" she said. "What would, for example, Germany do if someone would destroy its railway, kidnap its people and ask money for them, kill them? What would they do? None of the countries were in Syria's shoes. The world has gone blind. People need to hear about what's going on here. I will definitely let people know what is really happening here."

The opposition activist organization Local Coordination Committees of Syria said 84 people were killed in war-related violence across Syria on Monday, including 18 in Damascus and its suburbs, and 31 in Aleppo. CNN cannot independently verify those figures.

A U.N. commission is investigating 20 massacres in Syria, its chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, told reporters Monday.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, a U.N. commission investigating human rights violations, issued a report Monday saying the "main cause of civilian casualties, mass displacement and destruction is the reckless manner in which parties to the conflict conduct hostilities."

"In a disturbing and dangerous trend, mass killings allegedly perpetrated by Popular Committees have at times taken on sectarian overtones," the report said. "Moreover, the commission has received consistent testimonies of persons who alleged having been harassed and at times arbitrarily arrested by members of these committees because they originated from regions perceived as being 'supportive of the revolution,' " the report said.

Syrian government forces "have targeted civilians and have conducted indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks," Pinheiro said. "Although we have some evidence that the situation amongst anti-government armed groups is improving, they also do not take the necessary precautions, particularly when detonating bombs where high numbers of civilian casualties are likely to result."

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