Belarusian KGB Says It's Holding Ukrainian Journalist, Claims He's A Spy

The Belarusian Committee for State Security (KGB) says it has arrested a Ukrainian journalist on suspicion of espionage, accusing him of being a military intelligence agent -- a claim immediately rejected by Ukraine.

In a statement on November 20, the KGB said that Pavlo Sharoyko was arrested on October 25.

The statement came three days after the head of Ukraine's National Union of Journalists, Serhiy Tomilenko, identified Sharoyko as a correspondent of UA: Ukrainian Radio, said he was detained in Belarus on October 25, and demanded his release.

The Belarusian KGB statement alleged that Sharoyko was an agent of the Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine's Defense Ministry and had been working under the cover of a journalist.

It claimed that Sharoyko confessed to having created a network of agents in Belarus to gather information "related to Belarus' military and political spheres." Such statements are sometimes extracted under duress, and there is no way to verify the claim.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry rejected the Belarusian KGB's claims in a November 20 statement.

"The Public Relations Service of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine has been authorized to state that...this information is not true," the Main Intelligence Directorate said in a statement.

Sharoyko's detainment was first reported on November 17 by Zurab Alasania, director of the Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine.

Belarus-based rights group Charter97 quoted Sharoyko's colleagues as saying he had been working on stories related to the search for Pavlo Hryb, a 19-year-old Ukrainian citizen who disappeared in Belarus after being arrested and was later found to have been sent to Russia, where he faces terrorism-related charges.

Also on November 20, the director of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry's Consular Service, Vasyl Kyrylych, told RFE/RL that the ministry had sent a formal note to Belarusian authorities regarding media reports that said another Ukrainian citizen, Oleksandr Skyba, was detained in Belarus on November 16.

The reports said that Skyba, the head of a factory in eastern Ukraine, disappeared during a one-day business trip in Minsk on November 15 and told his wife by phone a day later that he was detained by the Belarusian KGB.

The Ukrainian Embassy "is demanding immediate information regarding the reasons" for Skyba's detainment and wanted to know where and under what conditions he is being held, Kyrylych told RFE/RL. "We received no official information regarding the issue from the Belarusian side."

Relations between Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine -- mostly Slavic former Soviet republics with deep historical and cultural ties -- have been strained since Moscow seized control of Ukraine's Crimea region and threw its support behind armed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus and Ukrainian services