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13 Mar, 2013 20:06

‘If you were a man, we’d kill you’: Captive journalist tells RT how she escaped Syrian rebels

‘I couldn’t bear it any longer’, recalls Anhar Kochneva. The Ukrainian journalist who escaped Syrian rebels five months after she was kidnapped told RT about what she had to go through while in captivity and how she managed to run away.

Kochneva, a journalist and blogger who reported as a freelancer for Russian and Ukrainian news outlets, was captured at the beginning of October 2012 near the Syrian city of Homs.

The kidnappers - members of the Free Syrian Army – repeatedly threatened to kill her if the US $50 million ransom was not paid. The sum was later reduced to reportedly US$ 300,000. The rebels said they had planned to put Kochneva to death on December 16, but decided to "give her a second chance."

Several world powers – including Russia, the US and France - as well as international human right organizations, urged the Syrian opposition to release the woman. 

She escaped on Monday after spending more than 150 days in captivity, which damaged her health. The journalist walked for 15 kilometers in the mountainous area before she was lucky to meet people who helped her to get to the region controlled by the Syrian army.

Kochneva says it was only “thanks to God” that she is free again. In an interview with RT Arabic the journalist shared details of her escape.

RT:How did you manage to escape from captivity?  Who helped you do that?

Anhar Kochneva: No one, but Allah. Though, I know that many tried to help. The problem was that no one knew where I was – even the militants from the same group who were visiting that house did not know that I was kept there.

After I was kidnapped, my health seriously declined and there was a danger that I wouldn’t get cured and simply die. Or [the militants] would kill me, or the [Syrian] army would shoot me down accidentally when returning fire on the militants. It was really dangerous. I spent five months there.

RT:Could you tell in more detail about the escape? Was there security at the door?

AK: I only had to open the door and get outside. I started thinking about the best time to do that so that no one would see me because they could kill me. At night they would open fire every time they noticed any kind of movement and didn’t know what that was – a human or anything else. I had a million things to consider as it was a very dangerous action. If they had caught me, they would definitely beat me and toughen the conditions they kept me in. Angered, they could even kill me.

I opened the door which was locked from inside the house because the guards were there. I got to the street and went down the road. I kept walking and walking.

RT:So, the guards were sleeping at that time?

AK: Yes, yes. They were sleeping.

RT:They simply fell asleep and left the key in the door lock?

AK: Yes. They thought I wouldn’t do anything. Actually, there wasn’t even a key there – just a usual bolt.

So, they were sleeping and I walked out. I wanted to find someone on the road to tell them who I was and ask for help. Of course, there was a danger that they would give me away.

Thank God, I met people who helped me to get out of that district. I knew nothing about that area, I had no idea where were militants, where were [government troops], where were mines. I went across fields where mines could be.

RT:How were you captured? Did you recognize people who did that? How did they treat you all the time you were kept hostage?

AK: Sincerely, for first 50 days I had a very good opinion of them. And they didn’t think that I could go anywhere. For instance, a guy who kept watch over me used to support me most of the time. He would even give me his food and stay hungry himself.

But then they got tired of me staying there because they couldn’t leave and do something else. Sometimes they had to spend their own money on me as they were not given a budget to provide me with food, water or clothes. I was dressed in summer clothes, but when winter came I wanted warm clothes.

My presence there turned into burden for them and they felt angry with me, started abusing me, hitting without a reason and so on. They got harsher with me. They began to close the door. For instance, I needed to use the loo, but the door was closed and no one would open it for me. What did I have to do? I couldn’t bear that any longer.

To be honest, I know that they were saying “If you were a man, we would kill you.” And, naturally, they demanded a ransom for me. That’s why they treated me better than those who they simply wanted to slaughter.