Last week, I heard news I feared might never come: two Russian activists detained in eastern Ukraine had been freed, unharmed.

Seroe Fioletovoe (Grey Violet), a Russian transgender person, and Victoria Miroshnichenko arrived in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) on January 31 and were immediately detained by DNR security services. No one heard from them for two weeks. They had come to the DNR, controlled by Russian-backed separatists, to stage a public performance in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Their story is evidence of the lawlessness of the security services in the separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine.

Seroe Fioletovoe told me over the phone they were detained immediately after crossing into the DNR and taken to the DNR Ministry of National Security (MGB) building in Donetsk. Initially they were held in solitary cells, then transferred to cells with other detainees a couple of days later. The activist said that during one of the interrogations, security officials used a police baton to beat them on the head and body. The interrogators also kicked Seroe Fioletovoe in the ribs several times. The officials accused the activist of working for Ukraine’s security services and asked offensive transphobic questions about their sexuality and personal life.

Seroe Fioletovoe was forced to undergo an evaluation with a psychiatrist and answer questions about their sexual orientation and gender identity. They weren’t allowed any contact with the outside world. On February 9, the officials forced Seroe Fioletovoe to write a post on Twitter, saying they were alive and well and busy working “in remote regions of the DNR” without reliable internet connection in order to reassure friends and family.

I asked Seroe Fioletovoe whether they were ever scared during the ordeal and they told me fears they could be detained in secret for many months grew as the days went on.

Their release came abruptly and without explanation, and they were allowed to leave the DNR. While it is a relief to see them free, their peaceful activities never warranted detention in the first place, far less the type of prohibited unacknowledged detention – an enforced disappearance – they experienced.

The separatist authorities in the DNR, and their backers in Moscow, should investigate what happened and bring those involved in such enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions to account.