Britons die in jail in breakaway region of eastern Ukraine

A view shows the embassy of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in Moscow, Russia July 12, 2022. REUTERS / Evgenia Novozhenina

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July 15 (Reuters) – A Briton detained by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and accused of being a mercenary has died, an official of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said on Friday.

Paul Urey, 45, was confirmed by a British charity, describing him as a humanitarian worker and denying he had any military background.

Urey was captured in southeastern Ukraine in late April while trying to help a woman who had been allowed to travel to Britain leave Russian-controlled territory, said the Presidium Network, a charity that had advised him on security.

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He was stopped at a checkpoint, detained and charged with “mercenary activities” by separatists in the DPR, a breakaway unit recognized only by Russia, Syria and North Korea. Read more

The Presidium Network said the UK Foreign Office had informed Urey’s family of his death. A Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters it was “rapidly seeking clarification from the Russian government on media reports that a British aid worker has died in Ukraine.”

Asked about Urey, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “They are clearly alarming reports and our thoughts go to his family and friends.”

Daria Morozova, who holds the title of human rights ombudsman for the DPR, said on social media that Urey had suffered from diabetes and respiratory, kidney and cardiovascular problems.

“On our part, despite the seriousness of the alleged crime, Paul Urey received appropriate medical attention. But because of the diagnoses and the stress, he died on July 10,” she said.

Urey and another Briton, Dylan Healy, were detained at a checkpoint controlled by separatist forces in late April.


The co-founder of the Presidium Network, who was in contact with Urey before he was detained, said Urey had diabetes that needed to be treated with insulin injections.

“Without insulin and proper care, his life would still be in danger,” Dominik Byrne told Reuters.

The British Foreign Office and the Red Cross were able to carry out remote monitoring of Urey by telephone while he was in captivity, but no one other than his prison guards had been in physical contact with him since the end of April, Byrne said.

There was no evidence that Urey had a military background and that he was “in no way” close to “mercenary activities,” as DPR officials claim, he added.

“They are really using this staff as political peasants in this conflict – which is shameful,” Byrne said of the Russian-backed separatists.

Two other Britons and a Moroccan man captured while fighting for Ukraine have been sentenced to death in the DPR for the activities of mercenaries.

Two Americans have also been detained in the DPR and have not yet been charged. Their families say the separatists are trying to secure a prisoner exchange and force the United States into official communication with the Russian aides, something that could be seen as a de facto recognition.

Urey’s family is now urging the DPR to release his body back to Britain, Byrne said.

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Reporting by Jake Cordell and Elizabeth Piper, editing by Mark Trevelyan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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