'It's Time To Pay': Ukraine Detains Donetsk Separatist Referendum Organizer

KYIV -- The chief organizer of a 2014 Donetsk separatist "independence" referendum in eastern Ukraine condemned by the international community has been detained by Ukrainian authorities, Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko has announced.

"Citizen Lyagin is accused of treason," Lutsenko wrote in a Facebook post , which included a profile photograph of a man handcuffed and sitting at a desk. Lutsenko said Lyagin had been detained by the Prosecutor-General's Office and Ukraine's Security Service (SBU).

Lyagin is believed to be Roman Lyagin, a Donetsk separatist figure who declared himself the head of the separatists' makeshift election commission in the early days of the conflict that still grinds on between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has promised to come up with creative solutions to end the war, which has claimed the lives of some 13,000 people since April 2014. He has said he is ready to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to do so.

Lyagin organized a slapdash "independence" vote on May 11, 2014, as the conflict was deepening. The poll was so rushed that many voting booths were still being erected the morning of the vote and some of the ballot boxes used were still adorned with Ukraine's coat of arms -- a blue and yellow trident -- instead of the black, blue, and red flag of the Donetsk "people's republic" movement.

Later, Lyagin announced that some 90 percent of voters in the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk region had chosen self-rule. The poll was not monitored by any reputable international group and condemned by the international community, except for Russia.

His role in the vote -- as well as his role in blocking the official Ukrainian presidential vote from taking place in Donetsk later that month -- earned Lyagin a spot on the U.S. sanctions list in 2015.

It has also led the Prosecutor-General's Office to accuse him of treason and open a pretrial investigation into his activities, which an official statement released alongside Lutsenko's on June 14 said had included working "in the interests of the Russian Federation to the detriment of the public interest of Ukraine."

If tried and convicted, Lyagin could face 12 to 15 years in prison.

Lyagin served as the Donetsk "people's republic's" minister of labor and social policy from May 16 to September 26, 2014. After that, he again headed its election commission and organized a local leadership vote that November, which he told this reporter would "lend legitimacy to our power, and give us more distance from Kyiv."

Rumors of Lyagin's detention first circulated in March, when a Ukrainian lawmaker claimed to have information that he had fled Donetsk and turned himself in to Ukrainian authorities under an SBU program.

That program, known as "Someone's Waiting for You Back Home," offers separatists who have committed crimes under Ukrainian law the opportunity to turn state's witness in exchange for leniency.

Lyagin is believed to have spent time in a Donetsk separatist detention facility after falling out with and criticizing its leadership. He reportedly fled to Russia before moving to annexed Crimea.

In its own statement , the SBU said Lyagin had been detained as a result of a special operation that brought him to Ukraine. It did not provide more details.

Lutsenko made no mention of the SBU program in his Facebook post or Lyagin possibly cooperating with Ukrainian authorities. But he did have a message for Lyagin: "It's time to pay."